Joe Blanton allowed five runs on seven hits in yesterday’s start against the Boston Red Sox in Clearwater, contributing to a spring ERA of 4.80. He allowed two home runs to Dustin Pedroia and Cody Ross (no-doubters), bringing his hits allowed total to 17 in 15 innings. The Phillies were hoping Blanton might have a great spring to inflate his trade value as the right-hander is entering the final year of his three-year contract. The Phillies are searching for an infielder and a way to clear some or all of his remaining $8.5 million salary.
If you have been watching Blanton, he has been one of the least enthralling pitchers in camp thus far. His fastball frequently sat in the mid-80’s, as opposed to the high-80’s and low-90’s where it has been in the past. The home runs he allowed yesterday were crushed: Pedroia’s opposite-field blast cleared the wall with plenty to spare, and Ross crushed a letter-high fastball so much he decided to do his patented trot, much to the chagrin of the Phillies fan base.
You need not have the spring stats warning repeated. Players often use the exhibition setting to work on pitches or pace themselves. It is not so much about getting outs as getting in the proper amount of reps and not putting oneself in any injury danger. There are a couple stats that are surprising, however: Blanton has struck out 13 and walked only one in his 15 spring training innings. His 13/1 ratio is best among the members of the Phillies’ vaunted rotation, ahead of Vance Worley (18/2), Roy Halladay (24/3), Cliff Lee (16/2), and Cole Hamels (10/2) . There is some preliminary evidence that spring training strikeout and walk rates have predictive power, so this is at the very least encouraging. Blanton has good marks in the two areas in which a pitcher has the most control: he is not granting runners free access to first base, and he is missing bats regularly.
While no front office is guided solely by statistical principles, you will be hard-pressed to find a GM that will make sea change in player opinion based on 15-20 spring training innings. Blanton’s spring so far may look unimpressive, but his trade value remains more or less the same and the Phillies will continue to use him as a potential trade chip in their quest to fill the Chase Utley void.
Most of the Phillies’ bargain-bin grabs have not done enough to win favor in the hearts and minds of the Phillies’ brass. Joel Pineiro was released after six snooze-inducing innings. Dave Bush and Scott Elarton will be used as Triple-A filler following uninspiring spring performances. Kyle Kendrick has looked sharp, but the Phillies continue to value his ability to switch between the rotation and the bullpen. As a result, the Phillies have become less motivated to pursue a trade involving Blanton. In the event that Blanton is a regular part of the rotation going forward, he should be more than adequate. PECOTA projects a 4.29 ERA with a 6.3 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 144 innings. It assumes both a .309 BABIP and that Blanton may be unhealthier than he has looked.
Many teams would kill to have a pitcher post a 4.29 ERA out of the #5 spot in the rotation. Jeff Sackmann’s research from 2007 showed that the average team’s #5 starter was good for a 4.96 ERA. So, the Phillies are in a good position: if Blanton stays, he will be significantly better than the average #5 starter; if he goes, the Phillies will gain an infielder better than Freddy Galvis and they may even get some salary relief.