Nationals Baseball: Joe Blanton - the needed arm

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Joe Blanton - the needed arm

We've talked about this earlier. The Nats pen had lost a lot of innings pitched - some good Rivero/Melancon (79.1), Belisle (46), Rzep (11.2), some not so good Petit (62), Papelbon (35), but a lot of innings nonetheless. Knowing this, the Nats made some efforts to get a lights out closer, first trying to re-sign Melancon, then going after Jansen. They failed at both.

That happens, but what happened next was unexpected. Unable to solve the problem of lost innings with the preferred solutions the Nats acted as if there was no longer a problem to solve. Things would be fine, they said, with Kelley and Treinen and maybe Solis and hopefully Glover and ? ? ? It didn't make sense then. It doesn't make sense now, a team that sees itself competing for a title content to leave its bullpen up to the fates

Eventually though opportunity knocked. The best available pitcher, Joe Blanton, was seemingly drawing no interest from the teams despite a price tag that appeared to be quite reasonable (1yr 5 million might have done it). Desperate to take a deal that got him the same money, if not in the same time frame, the Nats were able to swoop in with a deferred deal that paid Blanton his money and got the Nats the arm they desperately needed.

So what kind of arm is Joe Blanton? Since settling in as a relief pitching Joe's been a very effective arm.  He's a slider heavy pitcher (43% of the time last year), who uses curves, fastballs, and change-ups around it. The movement of his main pitch makes it very effective, he strikes out a decent amount and is effective at getting swinging strikes, but hard to control. He can walk a few. His ability to place the pitch where he wants has made him as effective against LHB (.546 OPS) as RHB (.587 OPS).

Do the fancy stats have any warnings for us? Plenty. First is the .240 BABIP. Part of that is surely induced weak contact from that slider. But his percentage of soft contact isn't all that high, suggesting luck is playing a large part in this as well.  The previous year, pitching mostly, but not exclusively in relief, he had a .301 BABIP which was more in line with past results. That number should rise. Another thing is an oddly low HR/FB rate. Perhaps related to pitching in the vast fields of the NL West, Blanton, who was a severe flyball pitcher last year, had a HR/FB rate of a mere 7.4%.  Improvement in this number is not unusual given the focus of relief pitching but again it's a number that should go up. Finally his LOB% - the percentage of men left on base - was fairly high at 82%. This again symbolizes some level of luck, whether that means a lot or a little I can't tell you.

That may seem like a lot of negatives but the end result is basically explaining to you why Blanton isn't a sub 2.50 ERA pitcher, but probably more an over 3.00 ERA pitcher.  He's not Melancon, he's Belisle. But this isn't bad. The Nats need a reliable arm and Blanton throwing 80 IP of say 3.10 ERA baseball would fit that perfectly. He's not your lights out closer but he solves the problem we noted at the beginning of the column with the best available solution.

This isn't to say there couldn't be a worst case scenario. Blanton is over 36. His arm could simply dry up. It's hard to say if its coming because going from starter to reliever all those went up the last couple years. However there has been no trend at all in his career yet of declining velocity.  Or Blanton, who had everything work for him last year could have everything work against him this year, a .330 BABIP, 70% LOB rate, 17% HR/FB rate which would balloon his ERA up over 4.00. But understand we're saying "oh if he has bad luck accross the board it'll be bad". That's not really an analytical statement. That's a common sense one that applies to anyone.

We try to find the middle ground here and the middle ground says Blanton, shifted over to the Nats and with more moderate luck is probably a low 3.00 ERAs type pitcher. 3.30 or so. That's good enough. Reliable arms are a necessity. You could pray you develop them or you can go out and get them. The Nats went out and got one.

15 comments:

Froggy said...

Stats wise, Blanton looks like an older, right handed version of Gio (minus a couple great years by Gio) over the course of his starter career, but who has reinvented himself as a reliever. At 36 he brings a lot of regular and post experience to the pen, and I think $4mm was a steal.

I am curious about the deferred aspects of his contract and wonder if it is an indicator of (lack of) liquidity on the Lerner's part, a tax advantage for both parties, or a strategic ploy to bolster their side of the MASN Angelos argument.

Harper said...

Froggy - if you make me guess I'm thinking it is 99% the last thing you mention.

Froggy said...

...ok, so Gio's AL / NL splits are a bit better. And if you subtract Blanton's horrible 2013 with the Halo's the numbers look a better.

Regardless, from an eye test perspective Blanton does look a lot less Head case-y fragile than Gio.

Ole PBN said...

Not sure why we didn't bring back Belisle? He signed for cheap ($2m/1yr) with Minnesota. He was solid for us last year.

Dmitri Young said...

Does anyone know the actual factors to be considered in the MASN split dispute?

Without really thinking about it, I've assumed it was in the Nats' interest to show they need the money. But are comparative TV ratings a bigger factor? If so, maybe the Lerners are temporarily spending more than they want to field a good team and pump up ratings?

PhthePhillies said...

A good bet to be a reliable arm. Righty/lefty numbers suggest he can pitch in almost any situation (except maybe closer). Relatively inexpensive. What's not to like?
Looks to be closer by committee until the deadline when they go shopping as needed. They can win the division with that plan.

ClassOf87 said...

Very cool with adding Blanton. Now you've got a natural righty-lefty bridge to get to the ninth: Blanton/Perez (7th) and Glover/Solis (8th). For now, 9th is Kelley or Treinen, I guess. However that shakes out, at least the pen rotation makes some sense now.

steven hamilton said...

Why O why does MAT channel Reggie Jackson in Spring Training , but more like Ozzie Canseco in the regular season???

JE34 said...

MAT loves the AAA pitching.

Zimmerman11 said...

Meathook... the factors to be considered are that Angelos owns the network and doesn't pay the Orioles fair market value, and so he doesn't have to pay the Nationals fair market value, either. It's not about which team is better or ratings, it's about the escalation clauses in the original agreement to move the team to DC and how he is skirting those commitments by exploiting some softness in the contract language. Nats won in court but he immediately appealed on technicalities and it'll play out that way for at least another year... in the meantime, if the Lerners went on a free agent orgy, it would hurt their position in that negotiation.


Dmitri Young said...
Does anyone know the actual factors to be considered in the MASN split dispute?

Without really thinking about it, I've assumed it was in the Nats' interest to show they need the money. But are comparative TV ratings a bigger factor? If so, maybe the Lerners are temporarily spending more than they want to field a good team and pump up ratings?

Jay said...

My impression has always been that the Nats were pretty much assured of winning the MASN dispute. The problem in the last decision is that they used the same law firm as MLB and did nothing to safeguard against possible conflict of interest. MLB has tried to back out and appear less meddlesome by letting the courts decide the outcome. However, the expected outcome is still that the Nats will win a rather large settlement. Things being considered are primarily regional sports fees for other teams established in the last few years. Little else matters. The Nats are asking for $100+million per year and the O's/MASN have proposed like $15-20 million. Arbitration arrived at like $60-70 million I think.

Now, if the Nats are spending money hand over fist, then they have less of a leg to stand on crying poverty over their MASN deal. I think Angelos doesn't necessarily expect to win. Rather he is dragging things out and making everything as painful as possible in hopes that the Nats will quite or just settle. In ideal world, the Nats end up being allowed to tell Angelos and MASN to shove it and create a new regional sports network with comcast or another similar company. It is rather laughable that the Nats are getting paid like $10 million by MANS (keep in mind that I think MASN hasn't been paying them for the last few years since this all came up for debate). Yet another reason to hate Angelos and less so the Orioles in my book.

Ric said...

PhthePhillies said: "Looks to be closer by committee until the deadline when they go shopping as needed."

Assuredly not. Baker has repeatedly gone on the record that he will name a closer; he likes everyone to know their role in every game situation.

PhthePhillies said...

@Ric
The guy Dusty picks as "closer" is not likely to stay in that role until the trade deadline. My guess is it will be filled by several people. (Unless Koda Glover turns out to be the beast we're all hoping for.) Thus "closer by committee". Most assuredly.

Anonymous said...

" The Nats are asking for $100+million per year and the O's/MASN have proposed like $15-20 million. Arbitration arrived at like $60-70 million I think. "

On paper, the Nats should receive a ton of money as Jay outlined, and the legal process will eventually bear that fruit. But lets just discuss privately among friends...

Suppose Peter Angelos didn't meddle in DC baseball and was just another owner of an out of town baseball team. Suppose there was no MASN and the Nationals were free to negotiate their own tv deal with any local network. Even in this business friendly hypothetical, I don't think the Nationals would be able to secure a super lucrative tv deal. Nationals just don't have a big enough mind share in the DC market. Part of it is that DC has a lot going on other than sports. Part of it is that DC is a transient town. And part of it that the Nats have only been here 12 years. While the team/city bond is growing each year, its not where it will be at the 50 year point or beyond. There is no beloved Nationals hall of famer from 1975. There is no fond post season memory where the Nats clinch a post season series in the ninth inning. Twenty years from now, the only three memories from present day that will likely persist are Werth's game 5 home run and Scherzer's no hitters.

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