Selling You on Joe Blanton

The Angels at one point recently had a threadbare starting rotation, but it was considered pretty likely they’d be able to re-sign Zack Greinke. The Angels, since then, have all but dropped out on Zack Greinke, and added Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton. Hanson cost the Angels Jordan Walden. Blanton cost the Angels two years and $15 million. The Angels aren’t necessarily done, but instead of having four starters they’re sitting on six, and it looks like the rotation isn’t going to add a high-profile arm. They might have to make do with what they have, and because they now have Joe Blanton, we should probably talk about him.

Last year, over 30 starts, Blanton posted a 4.71 ERA. That was his lowest ERA since 2009. He’s nearly 32 years old, he can’t stop coughing up dingers, and he missed a lot of 2011 with an elbow problem. There’s a reason Blanton wound up with the contract he did, and there’s a reason he didn’t seem to be highly sought after in the market. My role now is to try to sell you on him. There are elements of Joe Blanton’s game that should appeal to you quite a lot. You, being the avid reader of FanGraphs.

First and foremost, we can look at the strikeout-to-walk ratio. This has been Joe Blanton’s statistical calling card, of sorts. Last season, Blanton finished with 166 strikeouts and 29 unintentional walks, for a 5.7 ratio. Out of 186 starting pitchers, that ranked fourth-highest. It’s never a bad thing for a starting pitcher to rank fourth on a list behind Kris Medlen, Cliff Lee, and Colby Lewis. Strikeouts and walks aren’t everything, but they’re a lot of things, and in this regard Blanton excels.

Now we’ll turn to contact rate. I’m not really doing this in any order. You might think of Joe Blanton as a contact-heavy starting pitcher, but those strikeouts didn’t happen by accident, and last season Blanton allowed a contact rate of just over 78 percent. He allowed less frequent contact than Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez. Not only does Blanton pound the strike zone; it’s not that easy to put the bat on the ball. He isn’t just grooving it in there.

And then there’s the curious matter of Blanton gaining velocity. Compared to the previous few seasons, last year Blanton’s average fastball was up a full tick. His slider got a little faster, his cutter got a little faster, his curve got a little faster, and his changeup got a little faster. There are the usual questions of sustainability, but Blanton’s velocity has shown no signs of decline, which bodes not poorly going forward.

Truth be told, I could’ve just pointed out this:

2012 ERA: 4.71
2012 FIP: 3.91
2012 xFIP: 3.39

We all know not to believe very strongly in ERA. We also all know not to believe very strongly in unusually elevated home-run rates. We can’t just take Blanton’s xFIP as an accurate measure of his true talent, but if you have a guy with a large spread between his ERA and his xFIP, you usually expect him to pitch more like his xFIP than his ERA. This is not a radical statement, even if it might be interpreted that way by some.

Of course, Blanton’s been in the National League. Of course, he’s not one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and you can’t ignore his home runs, and things are going to be more challenging with the Angels. He’s getting older, and his repertoire is Joe Blanton’s repertoire. There are elements here to like and there are elements to like a lot less.

But for the Angels, Blanton isn’t a nothing addition. He’s an unsexy addition in just about every sense of the word, but he throws strikes and, for the sake of the fan base, he also works quickly. His home-run problems should be reduced to some extent playing in Anaheim instead of Philadelphia, even after accounting for the league switch. Blanton should be at least all right for the next couple of years, and that’s all the Angels are paying him to be. And maybe, just maybe, he can be better than that.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

29 Responses to “Selling You on Joe Blanton”

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  1. JoeS says:

    I’ve always been a Blanton fan because the peripherals are all there. Thought he could have really benefited going to St. Louis. AL might rough him up a bit

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    • Wil says:

      He started in the AL so I don’t think he’ll have a problem.

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        Yes, but his K/9IP increased when he went to the National League, making one wonder a bit about whether he’ll lose most of those gains returning to the American League. Obviously, correlation doesn’t always imply causation though.

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  2. BurleighGrimes says:

    The problem is that Blanton has historically underperformed his peripherals. If we are starting to come around to the idea that the Johan Santanas of the world may have the ability to induce the sort of contact that helps them outperform their peripherals, then there may very well be the reality that Blanton’s bloated ERA is closer to who he is than his xFIP would indicate.

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    • We’re talking about 18.4 career RA9-Wins and 20.4 career FIP-Wins. There’s a difference there, but it isn’t enormous.

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      • kman says:

        You can’t use career numbers, because he only started outpitching his peripherals in 2010. 2011 was a lost season, so he’s really only underpitched his peripherals for two full seasons. I feel like that’s kinda borderline whether you see that as a real trend yet or not.

        Moreover, his skills really did start to spike in 2011 (when he missed most of the year), so with his current improved peripherals, you could argue it’s really only been 2012 that he dramatically underpitched his peripherals. When you’re just talking one year, it’s a lot easier to chalk that up to bad luck and expect a turn around next season.

        On the other hand, maybe Blanton is just a less talented version of Greinke. Greinke also has much better peripherals than his ERA would show, and it has been suggested that he has an inflated HR/9 because he purposely tries to keep his FIP down, and to limit his walks he leaves too many pitches down the pipe when behind in the count. Maybe Blanton has a similar problem?

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  3. Wellhitball says:

    Blanton and Ricky Nolasco stink. They pitch well for most of the game and then they serve up a meatball at the most inopportune moment of the game. They’d fair better as sport starters.

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  4. Schide says:

    I would have liked the Pirates to pick him up for this type of contract because I think he’d play well in PNC park. But I don’t think they ever really considered him so that’s moot.

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  5. Synovia says:

    “We all know not to believe very strongly in ERA. We also all know not to believe very strongly in unusually elevated home-run rates. We can’t just take Blanton’s xFIP as an accurate measure of his true talent, but if you have a guy with a large spread between his ERA and his xFIP, you usually expect him to pitch more like his xFIP than his ERA. This is not a radical statement, even if it might be interpreted that way by some.”

    Its funny that fangraphs keeps posting stuff like this, when Fangraphs is the site that posted an article last year showing that in roughly 40% of ballparks, ERA is more predictive than FIP.

    FIP is not a good stat. You guys have plenty of other good stats. Use those.

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    • FIP is a relatively simple stat that contains some interesting information. You can’t look at it in isolation, but there’s no reason not to look at it.

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    • Wil says:

      So I guess the 60% of parks that FIP is more predictive are just thrown out? Because 40% is greater than 60%?

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      • Synovia says:

        No, you use a better stat that isn’t wildly misleading in 40% of the parks, like SIERRA. Or another stat that adjusts for park factors.

        FIP isn’t more predictive in 60% of parks. FIP and ERA are about equally predictive in neutral parks (the middle ground), and FIP is more predictive in pitchers parks. ERA is more predicitve in hitter’s parks.

        The point is, the article intones that FIP is more predictive than ERA, when the difference is really marginal, and for every situation where ERA is misleading, there’s a situation where FIP is misleading.

        Despite its name, FIP isn’t fielding independent.

        They’re both bad stats.

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    • No Season Ticket Holder says:

      pretty sure that article said SIERA, not ERA. if something ever came out that said ERA was a good predictor of anything, there would be quite a hullabaloo about it

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      • Synovia says:

        Sierra is more predictive than both ERA and FIP in almost all cases.

        ERA is more predictive that FIP for players who have compiled their stats in hitters parks. FIP is more predictive for players who have compiled their stats in pitchers parks.

        Go back and read the damn article.

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      • Synovia says:

        Also, the point isn’t that ERA is a good predictor. Its NOT.

        The point is that FIP isn’t either.

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  6. marlins12 says:

    Should try to sell us on Jeremy Guthrie next.

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  7. beardcrabs says:

    not sold…

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  8. David says:

    Unsexy is right. As a Mets fan I’m very happy to see Blanton leaving the NL East. Forget his sexiness as a signing, the guy is basically a monster and consistently has facial hair that is dreadful, even by MLB standards. My life will be improved now that I’ll be looking at him less frequently.

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  9. DD says:

    Jeff, you stopped just short of adding that the Angels ballpark will help him out with the long flyballs.

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  10. jim says:

    statcorner gives angel stadium an 82/80 LHB/RHB home run factor, that sounds pretty perfect for a guy like blanton

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  11. richman says:

    Angels ballpark won’t help him out, Mike Trout and Bourjos will help him out. Trumbo will fail terribly at helping him out, though

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  12. Gomez says:

    Blanton’s often sported a LD rate as thick as his waistline. 2011 was his lowest to date, but save for that he’s exceeded 20% four times, including 23% last year (his highest LD rate since his rookie year). He underperforms his peripherals because his stuff is quite hittable.

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  13. Brett W says:

    Remember when he sat at the news conference table with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt? Talk about out-performing your peripherals!

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  14. Edhqrv says:

    As an Angels fan, the way I see it, they swapped out the 2012 version of Dan Haren at $13M for a pitcher that should pitch more innings and provide more or less the same numbers for about $6M less. He should be supported by a better ballpark, defense and bullpen. From a fantasy standpoint – he’s unsexy, likely to win 12 games, approach 200 innings and ready to be streamed from your waiver wire.

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  15. Jimmy D says:

    Blanton can’t be any worse than Ervin Santana last year, right?

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  16. Baltar says:

    Blanton is almost the definition of a solid, average MLB player. I don’t understand why he gets so much static.

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  17. Loop D says:

    Joe Blanton needs to avoid being fat. And get out of Philly. Which he did.

    20 1st half taters, only 9 in the 2nd half. (Citizens vs Chavez Ravine factor)
    Also 20 solo HR allowed. Also 9 HR allowed in his 1st 15 pitches.

    He needs a better warm up routine and some regression to the mean.

    I’m sold. Strike throwers are great. He’s in a nice group of pitchers when looking at a list of k/bb ratio leaders.

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