There’s nothing like the threat of being sent down to light a fire under a player, and while Kyle Blanks had started his climb out of the depths before he was given his reprieve, Yonder Alonso’s broken hand may yet prove to be the turning point in Blanks’ season.
Simply put, Blanks doesn’t hit well when he doesn’t start. So far this season, Blanks has come into the game as a sub in 12 of the 41 games he has played in. In those 12 games, Blanks has hit .182/.250/.273 without a single home run or even an RBI; if he isn’t in the starting line up, he isn’t providing any type of fantasy value. If he does start, Blanks hits .311/.395/.538 with all six of his home runs, 21 RBI, and a stolen base for good measure, and this is where Alonso’s injury comes into play.
Through the first two months and change of the season, Blanks has yet to start more than six games in a row. If he were a catcher, this would be relatively normal, but as an outfielder and/or first baseman, Blanks could easily go 2-3 weeks between days off if Bud Black so chose. If Blanks continues to hit well, it will be hard for Black to take him out of the lineup as long as Alonso is gone, so it falls to Blanks to make that decision a no-brainer.
Though he didn’t see much time in April, Blanks put up some workable numbers –.281/.333/.406, though the fact that he made just eight starts and got 36 total PAs in the month means few fantasy teams reaped the benefit of his production – but little about them seemed sustainable. He posted that .281 largely thanks to a .333 BABIP, which isn’t grotesquely inflated, but was more than a little lucky considering Blanks’ paltry 8 percent line drive rate and 52 percent groundball rate.
Unsurprisingly, the wave function collapsed and Blanks’ average dropped from .281 to .241, which would be completely as predicted except for two things. First, Blanks increased both his on-base percentage and slugging up from .333/.406 to .371/.420. Second, Blanks dropped his average and BABIP while nearly tripling his line drive rate, which rose to a quite workable 23.7 percent. He went from lucky to unlucky in the span of a month.
Now in June, Blanks looks to be stabilizing a little bit. His line drive rate is still up at around 23 percent, which helps explain his .407 BABIP and .400 average. This, too, is unsustainable, but at least all the factors are working in concert they way they typically do instead of rising and falling seemingly of their own accord. He may see some regression, but I don’t expect him to collapse during the time when playing time won’t be his primary concern.
It would be fallacy to talk about Blanks and not mention his health, specifically how if he were a pitcher, he’d be in far more trouble than he is as a hitter following both Tommy John surgery and a torn labrum. The elbow issues are now largely behind him, but the torn labrum is still an injury worth remembering. Hitters do come back from it more consistently than pitchers do, but their subsequent track record still isn’t great.
While it’s tempting to start comparing Blanks to players like B.J. Upton, who had a similar procedure after the 2008 season, the differences in their style of play will largely obscure any real truth there. Hanley Ramirez is a more positive example, given that he hit 33 home runs in the year after his procedure, but his surgery was also less complicated than Blanks’. Luke Scott was much older than Blanks was when he went under the knife, which is always a complicating factor in recovery times. The list of partial parallels goes on, but there isn’t one that seems particularly instructive.
It all comes back to the place we started: playing time. If Blanks does continue to hit and does earn Black’s trust, will he hold up? While there’s no way to know for sure, many other labrum patients play full seasons after their surgery and show more signs in their production than their availability. In any case, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Blanks is going to show any ill effects in the time it takes for Alonso to recover from his broken hand. Grab Blanks with confidence for the time being, but be well aware that playing time could become an issue, even if Blanks is hitting well, when everyone is healthy in San Diego.
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