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Joe Blanton: More Sinkers, More Success?

In today’s ultra-focused edition of NL Starting Pitchers, we take a look at Joe Blanton of the Philadelphia Phillies.

After pitching okay in his first three starts of the season, Blanton was placed on the disabled list with an elbow problem. Fifteen days later, Blanton was taken off the DL and started a game despite still feeling some discomfort in his elbow. It sounds like the Phillies intend to have their 30-year old right-hander work through the small amount of discomfort he is having, but there is reason to believe he won’t spend any more time on the DL.

While Blanton’s ERA this season hasn’t been great, he FIP and xFIP sit at career low levels. But why?

During the 2010 season, Blanton was primarily throwing a sinking fastball — at least according to pitch f/x data — and he was throwing it a little less than 30% of the time. His results were exactly what you’d expect, as the sinker was rarely missed, but Blanton wasn’t afraid to throw it for strikes. While Blanton only has five starts under his belt this year (and he can fit so many more under that thing), it looks like Blanton may have made some slight changes to his approach, and it’s paying off big time.

Blanton has thrown his sinker more often this year, electing to use it over 40% of the time. Now, if this change in approach came at the expense of his cutter (or some other useful pitch), it may not have been as effective, but Blanton has simply decided not to throw his four-seamer, instead.

So, what? Blanton changed his approach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a better pitcher, right? Yes, but it looks like it has worked thus far, as Blanton’s GB% has risen from 41.9% all the way to 56.7%. While I doubt that rise will completely sustain itself, there’s still a pretty good chance that Blanton’s ground-ball rate could be above 50% this season, and that would be the first time he’s ever done such a thing.

Blanton still has an extremely sexy changeup and a nice slider to go along with his sinker and cutter, so he has the ability to pitch against batters standing on both the right and left sides of the plate. Blanton’s biggest problem was the dinger, but if he keeps that ball on the ground more, it may not hold him back any longer. You should certainly own him in NL-only leagues, but I’m still not sure he’s worthy of a roster spot in mixed leagues.