Guest Post: Why The Phillies Should Keep Big Joe

Today’s guest post is written by one of my favorite people on Twitter, @Utley4God. He argues that the Phillies should keep Joe Blanton, whom they will be trying to trade between now and the start of the 2011 regular season.

. . .

You already know the story: late Monday night, word broke that Cliff Lee was coming back to Philadelphia. In the days since, this move has been extensively analyzed and there isn’t much left to say. My quick analysis: “Fantastic”.

Due to Ruben Amaro’s history, Philadelphia immediately began to worry. “Does this mean Cole Hamels is on the move?” became everyone’s favorite question. Thankfully, tweets from Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal and others eased our fears. Joe Blanton was going to be moved to help clear payroll room for Lee.

Blanton is scheduled to make 17mm over the next two seasons (8.5mm per). He is coming off a season where he posted a 4.82 earned run average. In response to his poor year, the expectation is the Phillies will have to eat between $8-9 million to move Blanton and the rest of his contract. While most would argue the Phillies are a better team with Joe as the fifth starter, I believe it even makes economic sense to hang onto Big Joe a little longer.

There is no question Blanton had a bad season last year. A 4.82 ERA will scare even the most stat-friendly GM. But, if we dig a little deeper, it doesn’t look so bad. As you can see below, it looks like Joe’s declining ERA is actually due to poor luck on balls in play rather than a decline in skill. The profile of balls hit against him actually improved from 2009 to 2010 (LD% down, GB% up). He also improved his strike out to walk ratio. This led to an improvement in his FIP and xFIP year over year. Joe seems to have gotten hit with the patented Hamels bad luck train, and would be a great bounce-back candidate as his luck will likely normalize in 2011.

Year Age ERA SO/BB FIP xFIP BABIP
2009 28 4.05 2.76 4.45 4.07 0.302
2010 29 4.82 3.12 4.34 4.06 0.331

Even with an improvement in performance, that doesn’t explain why it would make sense for the cash-strapped Phillies to keep a fifth starter making $8.5 million per year. If a team calls and offers to take the full contract for a C-level prospect, Ruben should say yes as quickly as he did to the Roy Oswalt trade. However, if as expected, the Phillies are forced to eat half the contract to move him, they should hold onto Blanton until at least the All-Star break. The belief here is that if Blanton’s performance improves as expected, a team would be much more likely to take on the full contract. This scenario would have the Phillies paying $4.25 million and getting a half-season of Blanton rather than paying $8.5 million and filling those starts with Kyle Kendrick.

In a slightly worse scenario, it takes a full year for Joe to re-establish some value. This would leave the Phillies money neutral to making the trade now, but would still provide the value of filling 30 starts with Blanton rather than Kendrick.

In a worst case scenario, Blanton struggles for another full season and the Phils are still forced to pay a part of his salary next year to move him. This would make the “Keep Big Joe” a financial loss, but judging by his underlying statistics, this scenario seems unlikely.

If the Phillies really need to pay half of Blanton’s salary to move him, it would make sense from a expected performance and economic sense to hold onto the big right hander (who is still very well in his prime) for at least a little while longer.

Not to mention, he could be a nice insurance policy if one of the aces goes down with an injur…….. actually forget I said that, I’m not prepared to imagine that.

. . .

Make sure to follow @Utley4God on Twitter for his thoughts on the Phillies throughout the 2011 season. Hopefully, he’ll do the right thing and start a blog.

Do you agree that the Phillies should keep Blanton? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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47 comments

  1. Mike

    December 20, 2010 08:17 AM

    But overall no. It makes no sense to keep Blanton at this point. Kendrick has much more of an upside to him and he is younger, cheaper, and stands to learn a lot from those aces.

  2. zfg

    December 20, 2010 08:28 AM

    Mike:

    You’re joking when you say Kendrick has upside, right?

  3. dejesus54

    December 20, 2010 08:34 AM

    Kendrick?! He’s 4 years younger than Blanton with a career K/9 of 4.2 (Blanton’s is 5.8; with the Phils it’s 7.1). I’ll take Blanton, unless the Red Sox are willing to pay for him in terms of salary and a prospect/Mike Cameron/something breathing, in which case, bring on Vance Worley. Please.

  4. Mike

    December 20, 2010 08:37 AM

    26 years old, under control until 2015, 35-24 4.69 ERA career 11-10 4.73 ERA last season, More wins and better ERA than Blanton last season. I’m not sure what more you want from your 5th starter.

  5. Mike

    December 20, 2010 08:38 AM

    K/9 mean nothing. Who cares how they get them out. Better ERA last season. And you can probably get more for Blanton if you trade him. Let Kendrick learn under the Roys.

  6. dejesus54

    December 20, 2010 08:42 AM

    I was about to agree with you on the last sentence until I figured out the last word wasn’t “Royals.”

  7. Bill Baer

    December 20, 2010 08:44 AM

    You’re really going to use wins and ERA here, Mike? That’s like wearing a Cowboys jersey to Lincoln Financial Field.

  8. Utley4god

    December 20, 2010 08:51 AM

    Mike, my point was it may end up saving the Phils money to keep Blanton a few months and let his performance bounce back. Even IF your points on Kendrick were true ( they’re not), my opinion on Blanton would remain the same.

  9. Mike

    December 20, 2010 09:16 AM

    by all means, explain how my points on Kendrick arent true, being as they are exact stats.

  10. Utley4God

    December 20, 2010 09:22 AM

    Kendrick =upside? Yes his Age and ERA are accurate, but not a reprenstation of skill, upside, nor does it have a predictive value on his future ERA. Kendrick is a decent piece to keep around for spot starts, and the Phils could win with him if need be. But that doesn’t remotely address the point of the article

  11. Matty B.

    December 20, 2010 09:24 AM

    The problem is that we have incomplete information. Anyone with a clue knows that Blanton is better than Kendrick, and that Blanton’s value will likely be higher in July than it is now.

    But we don’t know the Phillies’ true payroll situation. Because of that ignorance, we can’t make any conclusions on how desperately the Phillies need to move Blanton. For all we know, the owners have threatened to can Amaro if he doesn’t cut payroll at least $5M by Opening Day. We simply don’t know what’s going on.

  12. Utley4God

    December 20, 2010 09:51 AM

    Matty, completely agree. If they have to move payroll by opening day, so be it. But if they have to eat half of Blantons contract to move him, this wouldn’t satisfy that goal (unless they paid all the money next year-scary proposition). With that in mind, may just be purely In a vacuum it makes economic sense to hang onto Blanton for another 2-3 months. But agree, completely fair point.

  13. Evan

    December 20, 2010 10:15 AM

    At first blush I agree about keeping Blanton, mainly because he seems like he’s due for a bounceback year after a strong finish in 2010. But thinking about it a little deeper and you realize there’s little guarantee that he will have a good fit mid-season or be any easier to shop at the end of next year.

    For a mid-season trade, moving Blaton at full cost would a team that’s in a pennant racer with a decent chunk of change left to spend who needs an upgrade from a poor starter to a middle of the road type starter. To trade him for full value before 2012, you’d have to count on Blanton having a good year and then no other FA out competing him for a job.

    I’d like to think Big Joe will have a bounceback year and the Phils will move him easily mid-season, but it will take a good luck to move Blanton for the full cost of his contract. I’d sell now because the pitching staff is strong and there’s little need to hold onto a 5th starter at the cost of even 1/2 of Blanton’s contract.

  14. sean

    December 20, 2010 10:30 AM

    mike if you had said vance worley instead of kendrick i might have had some respect for your arguement, but seriously the only “upside” kendrick has is the wife he brings to the games.

    kendrick is a one pitch pitcher with his one pitch not being very good. you can’t survive on that in the majors as a reliever, let alone a starter. lefties kill him and will continue to do so. he’s not brandon webb

  15. Scott G

    December 20, 2010 11:29 AM

    Mike,

    Who cares how they get them out?

    Once a ball is put in play, you’re relying almost completely on luck. Being able to retire batters without them making contact (definitely not Kendrick), takes away bad luck. Ever wonder why srikeout pitchers are usually coveted/successful? (See Hamels, Oswalt, Lee, and Halladay).

  16. nik

    December 20, 2010 11:30 AM

    Pavano is the best FA pitcher left and he’s pretty much a slightly older Blanton. Phillies better not trade him unless a team eats (Heavy B’s favorite word) his whole salary.

  17. Brad.

    December 20, 2010 12:28 PM

    Unnecessary, but blood-pressure relieving point: This whole “learn from so-and-so” crap we use when we talk about young pitchers being on a team with veterans is really dumb. Kendrick has now been on a team with Jamie Moyer, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Pedro Martinez… With all of those amazing teachers, I can’t imagine why Kendrick isn’t Cy Young yet?

  18. FanSince09

    December 20, 2010 12:49 PM

    Should of kept JA Happ, he’s young and has more upside and the potential to blossom into an ace.

  19. hk

    December 20, 2010 02:51 PM

    FanSince09, first of all, it’s should have kept JA Happ and, second of all, no they should not have.

  20. FanSince09

    December 20, 2010 04:40 PM

    hk, why not?

    JA Happ was 12-4 for the Phillies with an ERA under 3! Before Cliff Lee, he was the only reason the Phillies were contending in 2009! Last year they gave him no chance to win his spot back, but he still won 6 games for the Astros and had an ERA in the low 3s! There’s no reason why he couldn’t slot in as the 3 or 4 in the current rotation.

    JA will win 15-17 games this year. The Phillies will regret trading him.

  21. hk

    December 20, 2010 04:56 PM

    FanSince09, because his .273 BABIP – if you don’t know what BABIP is, you might want to look it up – is unsustainable and he has been more lucky than good in his first 289 MLB innings. Further, he is unlikely to continue to produce ERA’s in the low 3’s and is more likely to produce ERA’s in the low 4’s. Therefore, to trade Happ and two other prospects for Roy Oswalt and cash was a very good trade.

  22. Danny

    December 20, 2010 05:02 PM

    JA Happ is going bald before the age of 30. Clearly he ages more than other pitchers his age.

    Pitchers that go bald before the age of 30 usually can’t sustain their win totals or ERA for more than a year or two at a time.

    If only there was a way to control male pattern baldness….

  23. FanSince09

    December 20, 2010 05:26 PM

    Hammel’s BABIP was .296 last year and .325 in 09!!! Much worse than Happs!

    I agree with getting Oswalt, I just think they could have traded someone other than Happ. Having Happ would also free up the team to flip Hammels for a RH starting outfielder.

  24. hk

    December 20, 2010 05:27 PM

    FanSince09: “JA Happ was 12-4 for the Phillies with an ERA under 3! Before Cliff Lee, he was the only reason the Phillies were contending in 2009!”

    This is simply untrue. In 2009, the Phillies were 58-41 with a 6 game lead over Atlanta before Cliff Lee’s first start in red pinstripes. While Happ was 7-2 at the time, with 2 of those wins coming in relief, it is a huge reach to say that he was the only reason they were contending.

  25. hk

    December 20, 2010 05:33 PM

    FanSince09, you’re making my point for me. BABIP is almost entirely beyond the pitcher’s control. Roy Halladay’s BABIP was .298 last year and is .299 for his lifetime. Happ is not a better pitcher than Halladay. He’s just been luckier in the small sample size of 289 career IP. When Happ’s career is over, his BABIP will almost certainly revert to or near the MLB mean (close to .300), which most likely means he has a few 4.50+ ERA seasons in his future.

  26. FanSince09

    December 20, 2010 06:21 PM

    There’s no guarantee, though! You can’t predict the future and say he’s going to get worse. Will he have a bad year? Every pitcher does, but what if he gets better? This is what I mean by upside, he can improve from his impressive 2009 season.

    Hammels on the other hand hasn’t made adjustments to the hitters who figured him out, which is why he’s on the downslope. I’d take a rising pitcher like Happ over him any day of the week.

  27. Danny

    December 20, 2010 06:35 PM

    oh mr. fansince09, your hypocrisy — fake or real — slays me.

  28. Robby

    December 20, 2010 06:56 PM

    Bill, I find it remarkable that you have readers that refuse to understand sabermetrics or put their faith in statistical analysis.

    FanSince09, Happ’s ERA for 2010 was just above 3. If he has so much “upside,” as you argue, one would expect that after spending part of 2009 in the major leagues, he would make an improvement during 2010 from the previous year. However, we see from ERA predictors that his numbers are very similar to 2009. These predictors all have his ERA hovering around 4.

    He got extremely lucky with his BABIP this year, and just by watching his games, we can see this. Happ puts a ton of balls in play, and somehow, they ended up in fielder’s gloves very often. He was as lucky as Hamels was in 09.

    Happ allows a lot of contact and has a high walk rate. He hasn’t shown much improvement over last year, and the only way one can argue that his ERA will remain so low is by arguing he’s controlling every ball in play. He is and will remain an average starter.

    The link below has his 2010 ERA predictors
    www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/happ-falters/

  29. Bill Baer

    December 20, 2010 06:58 PM

    Yes, but Happ has what Sissy Hamels does not, and that’s HEARTITUDE. I think FanSince09 will back me up on this one.

    Also, Happ does not transport dogs in backpacks.

  30. Robby

    December 20, 2010 07:06 PM

    Just reread my post…sorry, that should have said “He was as lucky as Hamels was unlucky in 09.”
    Anyone who was awake during that season knows Hamels was anything but lucky.

  31. FanSince09

    December 20, 2010 08:06 PM

    Yes Bill, Hammels has shown he doesn’t have the mental toughness to be a top pitcher in this league. He won’t pitch in the heat, won’t pitch during the day, needs a team chiropractor or he bitches about it, etc. He can’t just suck it up and pitch. Plus, he’ll try to bleed the Phillies for a big contract in a few years, when Happ showed during the press conference when he was traded that he didn’t want to be anywhere but Philadelphia and is under control for longer. There are no stats, sabr or otherwise, that measure heart, grit and hustle, but Happ leads Hammels in all of those.

    And plenty of pitchers had great careers pitching for contact. Jamie Moyer did that his entire career.

  32. hk

    December 20, 2010 08:18 PM

    “Hammels on the other hand hasn’t made adjustments to the hitters who figured him out, which is why he’s on the downslope.”

    Leaving BABIP aside since you obviously don’t understand it and sticking with ERA, how is someone who dropped his ERA from 4.32 to 3.06 not adjusting and on the downslope of his career?

    “And plenty of pitchers had great careers pitching for contact. Jamie Moyer did that his entire career.”

    Jamie Moyer’s career ERA was 4.24.

  33. FanSince09

    December 20, 2010 08:44 PM

    The drop in his ERA hasn’t equaled wins. Happ in the same rotation as the Phils had in 2010 with no health issues could have won just as many games as Hammels.

  34. Scott G

    December 20, 2010 09:00 PM

    FanSince09 must be a troll. Is his name not evidence enough?

    His name is Cole Hamels. Not Cole Hammel or Hammels. How has no one explicitly (Bill) tried to teach him this.

    Hamels didn’t have the mental toughness to win MVP in the NLCS and WS, right? Oh wait, he absolutely dominated in the ’08 postseason.

  35. Kevin Wilson

    December 20, 2010 09:02 PM

    If you ignore him, he will go away. He probably knows full well how to spell Cole’s name, but intentionally misspells it to get on everyone’s nerves.

  36. Cubicle Rat

    December 20, 2010 09:39 PM

    I’m OK with dumping Blanton IF it frees up money to get a veteran, right-handed batting outfielder who can hit say 15 HR’s. If getting rid of him won’t accomplish that, they should keep him if for no other reason, their bullpen’s a little thin and they could use Kendrick and/or Worley in there.

  37. hk

    December 20, 2010 10:14 PM

    I agree Cubicle Rat. I think Mike Cameron for Blanton makes a lot of sense for both teams. Also, keeping Blanton will provide insurance in case one of the big four gets hurt in 2011 and/or they don’t pick up Oswalt’s option in 2012.

  38. Sean Cunningham

    December 21, 2010 03:11 AM

    Holy lord, FanSince09 has provided this comment section with serious hilarity. I’m almost sad he stopped.

  39. bb24

    December 21, 2010 10:20 AM

    It’s glaringly obvious that FanSince09 is messing with you guys. Sometimes the commenters here really seem like they’re going out of their way to prove the stereotype about stat guys being humorless and condescending.

  40. Greenman!

    December 21, 2010 11:52 AM

    <3 FanSince09

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