Minnesota Twins: Top 3 Reasons Why They Should Say Goodbye to Nick Blackburn
It is no secret that Nick Blackburn and the Minnesota Twins are in the middle of another tough season. If something could go wrong in the course of a game, it has. The most glaring issue for the Twins is their pitching—their starting pitching, to be more precise.
Blackburn has been with the team since 2007 and has become somewhat of a fixture in the starting rotation. But as is true of any fixture, be it an athlete or a light fixture, when it breaks down it needs to be removed.
The 2012 campaign for Blackburn has been anything but solid. To date, the starter has posted a 2-4 record with a 7.75 ERA in eight starts. This, coupled with a stay on the disabled list and a seeming lack of ability to make adjustments, has more than a few Twins fans ready to push Blackburn out the door—and for more than one reason.
Here are the top three:
1. Price vs. Performance
In 2010, Nick Blackburn signed a four-year, $14 million contract. At the time, this seemed like a great investment as Blackburn was coming off his best season of his career in 2009 (11-11, 4.03 ERA, 205.2 IP). As it turns out, it has become one of the larger mistakes penned by the Twins organization.
As most Twins fans are aware, 2009 was the best Blackburn would perform in any single season. Since his new contract in 2010, Blackburn has a 19-26 record and with ERA totals for the threes season of 5.24/4.49/7.75 with an average of 5.2 IP per start.
Nick Blackburn is slated to make $4,750,000 in 2012 and $5,500,000 in 2013. If someone were to break it down for 2012, that would mean Blackburn would conceivably receiving $2,375,000 per win so far or (pessimistically) $1,187,500 per loss.
Yes, the season is not even half over, but do not expect his win percentage for the season to eclipse .450, even though his best record for a season has been .500, as those days (glory days, if they can be called that) seem to be gone.
With these numbers in hand, it is clear that Blackburn's price is much too high for the performance he has turned in. A career 41-50 record and 4.66 ERA does not and should not warrant a contract even close to $14 million.
For a reference, Baseballplayersalaries.com has Nick Blackburn ranked 877th in Cost Vs. Performance with a rating of minus-9.90—indicating that the Twins are not getting a return on their investment. This, of course, comes as no surprise as the same website ranked the Twins among the fiscally least efficient in 2012. Blackburn's contract is a part of that.
To put it plainly, Blackburn is overpaid, and his performance has not been worth the scope of his contract.
Sayonara, Mr. Blackburn.
2. Lack of Improvement
The age old phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" also works for career statistics. There is no shortage of stat tracking programs, companies and websites in the baseball world today, so it is not hard to see the story they paint about a specific player.
Over the course of his career, it seems Blackburn started at his apex and has backslid ever since. Typically, a pitcher, if he is willing to work, will improve in the middle part of his career and perhaps plateau and trail off as he ages. Blackburn is 30 years old and seems to have his best days behind him.
Why does this matter? Well, the Twins are stuck with a $5.5 million price tag for the 2013 season with a team option for 2014 worth $8,000,000—this is a scary thought.
The only season that showed an improvement for Blackburn was from 2008 to 2009, when he lowered his ERA two hundredths of a point. His 2007 campaign was just two games long and is not a good measure of improvement from season to season.
After 2009, either the ERA has gone up over a whole run (in 2010, 5.42, up from 4.03); strikeouts have gone down (2009—98, 2010—68); appearances have diminished (33 G in 2009, 28 in 2010, 26 in 2011); or his innings pitched have dipped (2009—205.2, 2010—161, 2011—148.1).
Most often, more than one of these stats have changed negatively in tandem with another. There is no reason why he should still be in the starting rotation.
As Blackburn's career is progressing, there is no sign of an upswing on the horizon. Blackburn is now in the mid-to-latter part of his career, and most players do not get better as they age past 30. Well, maybe during the steroid era, but that is a different story.
Blackburn's complete career stats can be found here at www.Baseball-Reference.com.
Au revoir, Nick.
3. Young Guns Firing on Target
At the risk of sounding extremely negative, it is time to switch gears and point out that there are positive reasons that the Twins need to make/keep room in the rotation by cutting ties with starter Nick Blackburn.
The Minnesota Twins have been known for cultivating young players in their farm system and promoting players within, not necessarily trading for what they need. The Twins currently have a handful of young pitchers that have made their way to the majors (some still in AAA) that deserve either a shot at or a permanent spot on the roster:
Diamond in the Rough
With his call-up on May 7th, the Twins brought Scott Diamond into a situation where they were in desperate need of a starter to take the mound and make a statement in the midst of a floundering rotation.
Diamond made his presence known quickly by slicing his way through the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in his debut with seven shutout innings pitched while giving up just four hits. Since then, Diamond has compiled a record of 5-1 in 44.2 IP with a stellar 1.61 ERA, including just eight earned runs surrendered in seven games and four walks.
Walters Sets the Tone
Not long after Scott Diamond joined the rotation, P.J. Walters was also thrown into the fire of the failed pitching staff. He settled in right away with three quality starts in his first three games and has also thrown the only complete game for the Twins this season.
While he has appeared in six games thus far in the 2012 campaign, his record is 2-1 and due in no small part to an offense that struggled early on.
In his first six games this season, Walters has pitched 36.2 innings with an ERA of 4.42 and averages six innings per start—second only to Scott Diamond, who averages 6.1. Nick Blackburn averages just over 4.2 per start.
Hendriks Leading Rochester
Liam Hendriks began the 2012 campaign by going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four games. He was promptly sent down to AAA Rochester to sort things out—mission accomplished.
Since his demotion, Hendriks has posted a record of 5-0 in 46.1 IP and has a strikeout to walk ratio of 42/13. His ERA is currently a stingy 1.95.
The best news about Hendriks' turn around is that it shows he is able to make adjustments and fix the hiccups in his pitching. This is a quality that many current Twins pitchers (Blackburn included) seem not to possess.
Down But Not Out
Pitching prospects Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson are two players that Twins fans have had their eye on for a couple years now—and not necessarily for their pitching prowess.
Both pitchers have been sidelined with elbow injuries (Gibson with Tommy John surgery and Wimmers with an ulnar tear) that have delayed their track to the big leagues. Despite the injuries, both are still looked at as future pitchers for the club.
Gibson is hoping to make it back on the mound by August. Wimmers and Gibson are said to have good control, so look for them to be given a chance once they are healthy.
Honorable Mention: Cole De Vries.
The Twins have pitchers who can replace Nick Blackburn today and do better than he has. It is time to let go of the parts that are no longer working out.
Arrivederci, Signore Blackburn.
Looking to the Future
The Minnesota Twins have given Nick Blackburn multiple chances to prove himself worthy of a spot in the rotation. Miraculously, he is still a part of it. Of course, the Twins are known for giving players more chances than truly warranted—think Alexi Casilla, Danny Valencia, Drew Butera to an extent.
It is time for the Twins to turn away from Blackburn and look to the future of their starting rotation. They have multiple young arms who can step in and do a much better job for less money.
Minnesota is at a crossroads as an organization. For far too long, the Twins have held on to players who needed to be let go, overspent for sub-par performances and failed to trade players when they still had value. This needs to end now. Today, if possible!
The Twins will be stuck with the remainder of Blackburn's contract should they look to get rid of him, but they should be asking themselves this: What has Blackburn given in return for our investment in him in 2010?
Next to nothing.
Would it be worth it to eat the rest of the money owed to him to get a productive pitcher into his spot?
Yes, goodness yes!
Goodbye, Nick Blackburn. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.