What’s Eating Joe Blanton?
Rob tackled the Phillies’ Blanton issue on his blog:
When Blanton pitched for the Athletics, he gave up relatively few home runs, just 0.82 per nine innings. But then Blanton joined the Phillies, and that number jumped to 1.35 over 2008 and ’09 despite the shift to a less powerful league (if only because of the pitchers hitting). This year it’s 2.1 home runs per nine. And it’s not just the difference in Blanton’s home ballparks. Since joining the Phillies, Blanton’s ground-ball rates have trended steadily and dramatically downward.
Essentially, everything that could go wrong is going wrong. Blanton’s striking out fewer hitters. He’s giving up more fly balls, and a higher percentage of those fly balls are flying over the wall.
Some of this will naturally self-correct. But some of it, maybe a lot of it, will not. Right now, without a major rebuilding effort, the best case for Blanton might be a decent No. 5 starter. Which would be fine, except the Phillies already have two of those.
Joe Blanton has a 7.28 ERA but a 4.82 SIERA. While a near-five SIERA is pretty bad — Blanton’s ranks 108th out of 140 pitchers with at least 47 innings — it is much, much lower than his ERA which leads us to conclude that Blanton has been the victim of some bad luck along with his poor pitching.
His BABIP so far is .332, even higher than Hamels’ was in his tumultuous 2009 season. Since he isn’t striking anyone out (averaging just under five K’s per nine innings), BABIP becomes more of an issue since hitters are putting more balls in play.
Additionally, while Blanton’s HR/FB rate is at about the same spot as it was last year, Blanton is allowing six percent more fly balls (and six percent less line drives). While pitchers don’t have much control over their HR/FB rate, they do have control over the amount of ground balls and fly balls they allow. 99 times out of 100, you love it when a pitcher reduces his line drive rate for more fly balls. That means the hitter is making poorer contact with the pitches. Unfortunately, hitters are enjoying a 2.7% higher BABIP on fly balls (.152 to .125) and a 2.3% higher BABIP on ground balls (.275 to .252) this year compared to last year for Blanton.
If Blanton wants to enjoy success between now and the end of the season, here’s what he can do:
- Increase his strikeout rate from 4.98 per nine closer to where it was last year, at 7.51 per nine. Even getting it to 6.0 would be great.
- Wait for his BABIP to regress.
- Go back to inducing ground balls. His GB% was around 45% with the Oakland Athletics, but has been around 40% with the Phillies. It’s easy to say “just do it like you used to” as inducing ground balls relies on pitch movement as well as location. Blanton, who was on the disabled list with a strained oblique earlier this season, may not be able to generate the same movement and mastery of his pitches as he used to.