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August 3, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Dodgers Trade for Blanton

by Sam Miller

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Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Joe Blanton from Philadelphia Phillies for player to be named later or cash. [8/3]

Sometimes, baseball puts your biases to the test. I don't know you, but I suspect that you have some regard for strikeout-to-walk ratio as a quick-and-dirty measure of a pitcher's effectiveness. If you needed somebody to start Game Three or Four of your favorite team's post-season series, you'd probably be comfortable picking randomly from the top-10 leaderboard in the NL: Lee, Strasburg, Halladay, Cain, Bumgarner, Dickey, Greinke, Zimmermann, and even Kennedy would do just fine. But what about the guy at the top?

Joe Blanton has struck out 115 batters this year, and he has walked 18. That's more than six Ks per walk, and nobody else in the NL has topped five. He sticks out, not just because he's so far ahead of everybody else, but because he's (probably) the worst pitcher on that list, by a margin that could stretch from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, where he will now pitch. Next time you're explaining to your uncle or coworker why K:BB ratio is so obviously better than pitcher wins, you'd better hope he doesn't have access to the internet, and you'd better hope he's never heard of Joe Blanton.

What Blanton has done—great ratio, lousy results—isn't confined in Philadelphia to Joe Blanton. The Phillies overall have the best K:BB ratio in the NL. By a lot, actually; the gap between them and the second-best team is bigger than the gap between no. 2 and the median. But the Phillies overall have been poor at keeping runs off the board: 11th in runs allowed, 10th in ERA, ninth in ERA+. They've given up the third-most home runs (and the third-highest rate of home runs per fly ball), and they have allowed the fourth-highest batting average on balls in play. Whether there is a systemic problem in Philadelphia is a legitimate area for study, as the Blanton Effect—good ratio, bad ERA—has infected a number of Phillies this year, including Halladay, Lee, and pretty much the entire bullpen. BABIP and HR/FB are two factors that are prone to luck-based fluctuation, but not, we would expect, for an entire team over an entire season.

Blanton, though, can't simply claim luck and expect better. Strikeouts are a great way to measure a pitcher, and walks are a great way to measure a pitcher, but there is also the factor of hittability. There is an equilibrium between the three; a pitcher who upends that equilibrium can certainly avoid walks, by throwing a steady supply of hittable pitches. So Joe Blanton has found the secret to a high K:BB ratio. Huzzah. But while adding a bit of bold ink to his Baseball-Reference page, he has also seen his line-drive rate reach a career high. He is allowing fly balls at the second-highest rate of his career. And he is allowing home runs on a higher percentage of fly balls than he ever has before. All of which helps explain why Joe Blanton's K:BB breakout is no breakout at all, and why his 88 ERA+ looks perfectly at home on a Joe Blanton profile page.

Sometimes clubs make a trade because they want to strengthen the postseason roster. Other times, they need every ounce of effort just to make the playoffs. This is about the second scenario. Blanton will give the Dodgers another reliable arm as they try to win the NL West. (Our playoff odds report, incidentally, has the Dodgers as underdogs not just to the Giants but to the Diamondbacks, who trail LA by a game and a half.) Ted Lilly was "a little sore" after his first rehab appearance, and is making his second today. In the meantime, Blanton is a better option than Stephen Fife, and he might even benefit from the change in ballpark and a new defense behind him. But he isn't anywhere near the pitcher Dodgers fans should want to see starting a playoff game. And barring an injury to Ted Lilly or another starter (maybe two), he probably won't.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Joe Blanton

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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According to team defensive efficiency stats, Philly ranks 25th in the majors, and the Dodgers are ninth. That, plus the move to Chavez Ravine, probably will have at least a superficial effect on Blanton's numbers.

The defensive numbers could also explain the discrepancy between his expected and actual ERAs, and the rest of the Philly staff, but I agree with your general point Sam - Blanton probably leads the majors in K:BB ratio because he's just throwing hittable pitches as opposed to losing a guy by nibbling around the edges. It's a good thing the Twins aren't contending, because they'd probably trade Miguel Sano for him.

Aug 03, 2012 16:02 PM
rating: 5
Randy Brown

Not sure where else to comment on this, but kudos to the BP staff for nailing the trade deadline coverage. Great information, timely information, and a spit-take inducing anecdote about a season-ticket holder calling a GM in a last-ditch effort to save his NL-only fantasy team. Good stuff all around.

Aug 03, 2012 18:30 PM
rating: 16

Looking at his Pitch f/x pitcher profile, Blanton throws his change 19% of the time. This is a pretty high frequency. I remember back in the 2010 Bill James Goldmine, Bill (writing about Javy Vaszquez) attributed some of his issues (despite high K to BB ratios) to how he overused his change which tends to elicit hard contact. Sam, do you think this is also the case with Blanton?

Aug 03, 2012 20:55 PM
rating: 4

Blanton being the "worst pitcher on that list" isn't really a reflection on his lack of skill so much as the distinguished names on the list, much the way last year being the 5th best starter on his team was nothing to be ashamed of given the team had Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. As a Tigers fan I'd happily take Blanton over every starter not named Justin Verlander (especially the new kid Sanchez we grossly overpaid for) and while this year's k/bb ratio is an abberation, the last guy to graduate from med school is still a doctor and the worst pitcher with a k/bb ratio over 3 is still a guy I want taking the ball every fifth day for my team in the regular season and every third game in the playoffs.

Aug 04, 2012 18:55 PM
rating: 0

Philadelphia Phillies

Acquired ??-? P.T. BNL from the Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Joe Blanton. [8/4]

Signed out of North America in the 20th or 21st century, the appropriately-aged P.T. BNL is one of those players whose greatest strength might be his lack of identity and definition. He might have a good idea at the plate or a quick bat; he could use all fields and project as a sub-.400 hitter in the big leagues. He may have gap power now, and there could potentially be scouts believing that those skills will turn into solid average power down the road if he fills out or slims down, with 0-60 home run potential. He could be a good athlete or an average runner, demonstrate revealing platoon splits, or be an easy plus defender with a strong arm. Really, we can’t forget that he might feature a solid change-up that could play up with his command, or that he might possess a good feel for a breaking ball that bodes well for his development. He might be raw, but, for all we know, he might look really good in a uniform.

Keep in mind, I could soon hear from sources in the Dodgers’ organization that they really hate to part with this guy, and, assuming he is a pitcher, that if he were to be a pitcher and then not work out on the mound, there would always be a chance he could convert to another position, where he may have had some success in high school, college, or an appropriate Latin country’s winter or fall league. That’s the brilliance of it: we don’t know. Even if he’s a bit on the small side or a little unathletic, which would hurt his projection if he was, he could look like he should be a solid-average everyday fielder or fourth starter or fan-favorite grinder if his development stays on track, although his relative age and size might one day cause him to move off his position for a suitably adjacent position slightly down the defensive spectrum or move to the bullpen.

I have already been asked numerous times on Twitter about when P.T. BNL might see time on the Phillies’ roster, but, realize, there are a lot of factors that go into a move like that, including the position he plays, his age, his assigned level, his health, his attitude, his native country and language, his VISA situation, and the Phillies’ overall roster health. All I will say is this: if the players at his position in the level above him allow for a move, the Phillies may look to promote him. And, yes, you could point to his potentially awesome, middling, or atrocious stats in rookie ball (if he played there), but those stats are all but meaningless—especially if he is particularly old or young for the level, or repeating it. –Kevin Goldstein

Aug 04, 2012 21:22 PM
rating: 3

Was that really worth all the effort?

Aug 06, 2012 02:50 AM
rating: -3

Just like every other statistic in baseball, old or new. K/BB is an important stat, but does not tell the whole story in isolation. Yes, K/BB has gotten a lot of popularity and is a great stat to predict future success, but not without also looking at Swing and Miss Percentage, Strikeout Rate, walk rate, etc. A perfect pitcher, to me, is one that has a solid K/BB rate while maintaining a K/9 of 7 or higher (Blanton's career hovers around 6), and a Line Drive rate below 17.5% (Blanton's is about 20%) and Home Run to fly ball rate below 8% (Blanton's is around 10%).

Looking at all of these numbers, though, Joe Blanton does not have anything that stands out as overly bad. If nothing else, he can be seen as solid and consistent, and given how variable major league pitchers have become, one can be called much worse.

Even in the world of professional baseball when pitchers are respected for their fastball velocity and strike-out pitches, there will always be a job for someone who can pound the strike zone and get consistent results. Sure, Blanton may not be the guy you want starting a playoff game, but if you do not have any options you feel good about and you need someone to throw a solid game and give your offense a chance, Blanton is great to fill that hole.

Aug 05, 2012 10:09 AM
rating: 0

I'm not going to rip Joe Blanton, he is what he is, and there are worse things in life. Other than last year, he stays healthy and usually gives his team a chance to win. My bigger question is about the future of the Phillies - where will they come up with three new starting outfielders AND a third baseman for 2013? Or will we be seeing an outfield of Pierre/Mayberry, D. Brown, and Nate whats-his-name? Oh, and Mike Fontenot or Ty Wigginton at 3B? Yikes

Aug 06, 2012 09:32 AM
rating: 0

Well, you're going to see Brown, for sure. Possibly a lot of Schierholtz. Maybe some Mayberry against lefties... beyond that: presumably you're aware that there will be some free agents on the market?

Aug 06, 2012 11:15 AM
rating: 0
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