Boston Red Sox: 10 Reasons for and Against Signing Phillies SP Joe Blanton
Jim Salisbury of PhilliesInsider reported Red Sox scouts were in the stands last week when Blanton took the mound for his first spring training start.
"The Red Sox are one of the clubs looking to add a veteran arm." said Salisbury.
This is not the first time the Red Sox have been rumored to have an interest in the 31-year-old right-hander. About the time of the Cliff Lee acquisition by the Phillies in December 2010, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted that "the Phillies have a Blanton deal in place with the Red Sox".
Follow-up stories suggested that one of the reasons the Red Sox would take Blanton was to help the Phillies shed salary, thus keeping Lee away from other AL teams that were pursuing him.
Nothing anywhere near as Machiavellian appears in play this time; the Red Sox are hedging their bets in case their fifth starter smorgasbord comes up wanting. They have kicked the tires on Roy Oswalt and have apparently talked to Washington about John Lannan.
Normally, this type of column in B/R takes one side or the other: x reasons for doing something or x reasons against. This time I'm going to give you five reasons (pro and con) why the Red Sox should consider Blanton and five reasons why they shouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole.
Interestingly enough, the five reasons are the same—just interpreted differently!
1. CON: Blanton's Health Issues Are a Strong Reason to Avoid Him
Photo by Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer
Joe Blanton began the 2010 season on the DL with an oblique strain and started only six games in 2011 before he had to be shut down with an elbow ailment which cost him most of the year.
Although he avoided surgery, he pitched only 41.1 innings last year, posting a 1-2 record, a 5.01 ERA and a 1.476 WHIP.
He's an accident waiting to happen, and if the elbow goes out again, it will be an expensive loss. His salary for 2012 is $8.5 million.
2. PRO: Durable Until Last Year, Blanton Avoided Surgery and Is Ready to Go
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Until last year, Blanton has been remarkably durable during his career.
Yes, an oblique strain caused him to have a late start in 2010, but he still started 28 games and pitched 175.2 innings that year.
Every other full season since he came up in 2004, he started at least 31 games and pitched more than 194 innings.
He was selected by Oakland in the first round of the 2002 draft. In 2007, he pitched 230 innings for the As and led the league with 34 starts.
A mysterious inflammation in his elbow cost him four months of the 2011 season. When Blanton's elbow failed to improve during the summer, there was talk that he would require surgery. However, he opted for rest, returned late in the season in relief and also pitched in the Florida Instructional League, showing that his elbow is sound.
Initial results in spring training have been encouraging. He entered camp with a clean bill of health, and in his first 10 Grapefruit League innings, Blanton had a 2.70 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
As AP reported, Blanton pitched three scoreless innings for the Phillies in his second spring start. He allowed four hits, struck out three and walked one.“I feel good, physically I feel really good,” Blanton said.
It appears Blanton is healthy, and if so, he's a more known commodity than many of the other options out there.
3. PRO: Blanton Knows How to Win and Handles Postseason Pressure Well
Celebrating after ALCS Game 5, 2009
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Blanton has never lost a postseason game. He has appeared in 10 of them, starting six. Even last year, he came back from his elbow problems to give the Phillies a one-two-three inning against the Cardinals in the playoffs.
Fellow B/R writer Mark Swindell makes the case for keeping Blanton in Philadelphia, concluding: "Blanton isn't going to go out and become a Cy Young candidate but what he does bring is a veteran presence with strikeout stuff, and big-game experience."
Swindell also reminds us that he was clutch at the plate as well. "One of the most memorable scenes from the 2008 World Series was pitcher Joe Blanton crushing Tampa Bay Rays hurler Edwin Jackson's fastball into the left-field stands," he recalls.
4. CON: Blanton's Overall Playoff and Pressure Numbers Aren't That Great
Harry How/Getty Images
Out of those 10 postseason games, he only won two, and his last win was in 2008.
In 2009 and 2010, he pitched a total of 20.1 postseason innings, allowing 12 earned runs for an ERA of 5.37.
His career numbers also show that he does not pitch as well in high-leverage situations. Batters hit .285 against him with an OPS of .790, compared to .273/.746 in medium-leverage situations and .271/.735 in low-leverage situations.
He also walks 7.7 percent of batters he faces in high leverage situations, compared with 6.6 percent in medium leverage and 5.8 percent in low-leverage situations.
5. CON: His Stats Are Ordinary at Best and Are Headed in the Wrong Direction
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
He has not had an ERA under four since the 2007 season with Oakland when he pitched 230 innings.
Over eight years, Blanton has posted a 73-62 record with a 4.32 ERA and a WHIP of 1.348.
He strikes out less than six batters per nine innings and gives up an average of one home run per nine. In "late and close" or in tie games, hitters have a higher batting average (over .280) against him than his career average of .274.
In high-leverage situations, that batting average against rises to .285, with an OPS of .790. That OPS surrendered is 11 percentage points higher than the average pitcher.
While he has been a workhorse, his performance in certain key stats has been dropping steadily. His WHIP climbed from 1.316 in 2009 to 1.417 in 2010. His ERA went from 4.05 to 4.82.
Even though he pitched 20 fewer innings in 2010 than he did in 2009, he gave up more hits and more runs. His HR/9 went up, and his K/9 went down.
Perhaps most tellingly, his pretty decent WAR of 2.7 in 2009 became a relatively ugly -.6.
And that was before his elbow problems.
6. PRO: A Look Inside His Numbers Tells a Different Story; He's Reliable
Photo from gcobb.com
When healthy (and he has been healthy most of his career), Joe Blanton can eat up innings. He has averaged 200 innings a season with the Phillies.
After Blanton helped them win the 2008 championship, he went 21-14 in 59 starts in the next two seasons.
In 2009, he went 12-8 with a 4.05 ERA and struck out a career-high 163 batters in 195.1 innings. He started World Series Game 4 against the Yankees and allowed a Blanton-like four runs in six innings while striking out seven.
Former closer Brad Lidge took the loss in the ninth. But the Phillies saw enough to want to sign him to a three-year $24 million contract extension after that season.
Since 2011 was a write-off due to his elbow injury, let's look at his 2010 record. He went 9-6 with a 4.82 ERA, which is certainly mediocre. However, it's important to look inside those numbers.
While some of his 2010 numbers were indeed worse than 2009, some were actually better. For example, his walks per nine innings dropped from 2.7 to 2.2, and his K/BB ratio went up from 2.76 to 3.12. Most tellingly his strikeout rate went up from 6.2 to 7.5—his best season ever.
Blanton struggled to start the 2010 season after getting off the DL with a strained oblique. He was 3-5 at the All-Star break with a 6.51 ERA, but in the second half he may have been the best pitcher in the Phillies rotation. He went 6-1 with an ERA of 3.48. His K/9 ratio was 7.8, compared with 3.4 in the first half. Despite missing almost the first month of the season, he still started 28 games and pitched 175.2 innings.
2011 is now behind him, he appears to be healthy and there's no reason why he should not at least pitch to his career averages in 2012.
7. CON: $8.5 Million Is Too Much to Pay for a Fifth Starter in This Market
Blanton's output since 2009 looks small compared to the salary he has received.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Fellow B/R columnist Mike Angelina wrote that the number [$8.5 million] is regarded as a waste of money by most Phillies fans, "and adds to Big Joe’s alternate nickname of 'Heavy B' because of his heavy cost."
If you think $8.5 million is a lot to pay, consider the fact that in 2011 Blanton earned $10.5 million, ranking him as the 30th-highest paid pitcher in MLB. (His fantasy rank ended up between 650 and 800, depending on your source.)
Even the Phillies know they made a mistake with that 2009 contract extension—so much so they are reportedly open to eating about $2 million of that salary if they can move him.
So, what would the Red Sox get for their $8.5 million (OK, $6.5 million)?
An overpriced, back-of-the-rotation pitcher.
John Lannan at $5 million is a better, healthier value with far more upside.
8. PRO: Dollar for Dollar, Blanton May Be a Good Value
By some measures, Blanton looks bigger than his paycheck.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The glass could be half full here.
If the Phillies are prepared to eat salary in order to facilitate a Blanton trade as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggests, then Blanton becomes a more manageable $6.5 million pitcher.
This is the last year of Blanton's contract, so the Red Sox would not have to worry about luxury tax implications after this season, if he works out they would be in a good position to extend him for a more reasonable amount.
If he doesn't work out, they just say goodbye.
By all accounts, Joe Blanton has a strong work ethic. He realizes that he has not been worth his $24 million, three-year deal from 2009. He's also only 31, and he knows that if he wants to continue to play he's going have to show in 2012 that he is still a good MLB pitcher. He’ll want to prove himself all over again.
If you're still gagging on the price tag, who would you rather have: Blanton or fellow Phillie Roy Oswalt, whose original asking price was $16 million for 2012?
Granted, Oswalt has come off that number, but he will still cost considerably more than Blanton, even though Oswalt also endured an injury-plagued 2011 season in which he went an unimpressive 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA.
9. PRO: Blanton Would Be a Good Fit in Boston.
Blanton pitched 230 innings for Oakland in 2007, and led the AL with 34 starts.
Junko Kimura/Getty Images
Joe Blanton is a reliable innings-eater who will not be rattled in a playoff race.
Blanton is a second-half pitcher: for his career, his ERA after the break is 3.88 (vs. 4.67 before the break). He would have been great to have down the stretch last September.
And, as fellow B/R writer Chris Mahr points out, If Blanton is traded to Boston, he "wouldn’t be expected to be a savior but rather the same solid, back-of-the-rotation guy he is in Philly."
His ground-ball style would be a great fit for an infield with two reigning Gold Glove winners, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez.
And Blanton is reputed to be a good influence in the clubhouse. It would not hurt that group of Red Sox pitchers to have a new veteran in their midst who has a strong work ethic.
Bottom line: he won’t hold teams to one or two runs in most of his starts, but he doesn't get blown out very often either.
He’ll be able to give the Red Sox at least six innings per start and keep them in the game. They know what kind of run production is necessary to win with Blanton starting. If the Red Sox can come close to the 5.4 runs per game they averaged in 2011, they will win most of his starts.
Just as importantly, given their uncertainty about Chase Utley, the Phillies are rumored to be seeking an infielder in exchange for Blanton—and that's a position where the Red Sox have a surplus of players and prospects.
10. CON: Blanton Would Be a Terrible Fit in Boston
Yes, that's Joe Blanton, giving up a grand slam to Daniel Nava on the first pitch the rookie saw in the major leagues. NESN image from sportsofboston.com
I had forgotten that it was Blanton who was victimized by Daniel Nava back on June 11, 2010, when the rookie blasted a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw in the majors.
Following consecutive singles by Adrian Beltre, Jason Varitek and Darnell McDonald, Nava swung at Blanton's first pitch and deposited it into the right-center field bullpen. The Red Sox went on to crush Blanton and the Phillies, 12-2.
While it's admittedly a small sample (29.1 innings), Blanton has been battered in Fenway Park to the tune of a 6.44 ERA and 1.739 WHIP. And that was mostly with the As, pre-injury, at the height of his career.
Even if you grant that he's pitched reasonably well at times for the Phillies, Blanton wasn't that great in his last American League stint, especially against the iron of the AL East.
He has an 0-3 record against the Yankees lifetime, with a stratospheric ERA of 8.18 in 22 innings. He also walked more batters than he struck out against the Bronx Bombers.
He has fared only slightly better against the Rays, posting a 2-4 record with a 5.55 ERA and a 1.644 WHIP.
Bottom line: he would cost too much money, he's a questionable injury risk, his career numbers are mediocre at best and they are trending in the wrong direction.
Yes, he may be a better financial risk than Oswalt, but the Red Sox would be crazy to trade for Blanton if John Lannan were available for a similar price. And they should only consider doing that when and if they have exhausted all internal options.