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.

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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.

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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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