Sunday, June 22, 2008

Joe Blanton is the Same Fat Load He's Always Been (The Oakland A's Monday #27)

Any time I come out and bash our double-wide Kentucky bumpkin, Joe Blanton, I'm always shouted down in the blogosphere cafeteria and assorted A's message boards.

Last week, Blanton was serving up hot meatball heroes from high atop the pitcher's mound during a dreadful start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. His record fell to 3-10, with calls from the fan base to demote him to the bullpen or worse – to Triple-A Sacramento in the summer.

To that end, I ask who YOU'D rather have in your team's rotation:

Pitcher A: H/9 IP: 11.1 BB/9: 2.7 K/9: 5.0 HR/9: 0.8 WHIP: 1.539
Pitcher B: H/9 IP: 10.3 BB/9: 2.4 K/9: 4.1 HR/9: 1.0 WHIP: 1.417

Yes, they're both Joe Blanton.

"Player A" is his 16-win season from 2006 and "Player B" represents his 2008 numbers this season.

I've been telling anyone who'd listen that Blanton wasn't without value. For his career, he's thrown about 215 IP per season with a career ERA that's almost exactly the league average. But, he's also got some really big flaws:

Strikeout Rate - Blanton's top three comps over at Baseball Prospectus are Chris Bosio, Danny Cox and the right-handed version of Bobby Jones. All three had stretches of extended serviceability, but none of them were effective starting pitchers after their mid-to-late 20s. Bosio's K/9 deteriorated after a good start to his career and all three eventually paid the price for allowing so many balls to be put in play. Blanton's 4.1 K/9 rate is a career low and it's rare for anyone other than extreme ground-ball pitchers to succeed at that level.

Reliance on Run Support/Defense - Blanton's run support in each season from 2005 to 2007 was 4.32, 4.95 and 4.62, respectively. This year, it's 3.76. The A's offense hasn't been much to write home about in the last three seasons, finishing 9th and 11th in runs scored in '06 and '07, respectively (they're ninth this season) and it was only a matter of time before Blanton's W-L record took a hit. Considering how many balls Blanton puts in play, he should be thankful that Oakland remains one of the best defensive teams in either league.

Conditioning - Interestingly, there are two more pitchers in Blanton's top 10 comps – Joey Hamilton and Bob Milacki – who shared something with Fat Joe besides a pedestrian strikeout rate. Both carried quite a bit of weight on their already large frames and began breaking down before their 30th birthdays. Hamilton and Milacki were out of the big leagues for good around the age of 32. Yeah, yeah…it's easy to cherry-pick the worst-case scenarios, but Blanton sure seems to start laboring out on the mound after his first time through a line-up. After five seasons, it's safe to say he'll never be svelte and even safer to say that this is a problem that won't improve with age.

So, what should the A's do with Joe Blanton?

I was saying they should've traded him this past offseason when his value never would've been higher. Depending on which reports you choose to believe/dismiss, there were offers from the Dodgers and Reds, but the A's (1) wanted teams to overpay during an offseason absent in top tier free agent pitching talent and (2) REALLY needed Blanton's innings in 2008, considering the inherent softness of Rich Harden's arm and unknown rotation elements like Justin Duchscherer.

Oakland has no choice but to ride this out. Blanton isn't a very good pitcher, but he's not this bad, either. Regardless, trading him for five cents on the dollar right now would be lunacy and a bullpen/minor league demotion would reduce his negligible value even further.

The solution?

Score more runs when he starts, anemic Oakland offense.

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