The Philadelphia Phillies continue to lead the NL East and sit at an impressive 15-6 in the early going. It seems highly unlikely that this team will finish the season without at least 100 wins.
They have struggled to hit for power and yet they continue to win. They lead the NL East in runs scored with 88 and are second in BA at .265. They have shown that their lineup can play a little small-ball by being in the top five in MLB in singles since Opening Day.
But let's be honest here, the Phillies are not the Vegas favorites because of their ability to hit singles. They are the smart pick to bring home another World Series down Broad Street because of their dominant pitching staff. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee have combined thus far for a record of 9-3 with three of the "Phour Horsemen" posting ERA's below 3.00.
Then there is Big (Fat?) Joe Blanton. While he has looked solid at times this season, his early-season woes and inconsistencies have continued in 2011. We all know Joe Blanton will most likely return to the three- to five-run, six-innings-of-work pitcher he is after every All-star break, but why should Philadelphia wait?
This is the most anticipated baseball season in the entire 121-year history of Philadelphia Phillies baseball, and the Phillies fans deserve better than Joe Blanton and his hefty contract (we'll get into that later) stepping onto the mound every fifth day.
Ruben Amaro has proven in his short tenure as Phillies GM that he can pull off masterful trades when no one thought such things were possible. Let's get creative here and find a way to fix some glaring holes that have poked their heads through already.
A good way to start is by making Kyle Kendrick the fifth starter, and here are five reasons why.
Kyle Kendrick's sinker, at times can be a very useful pitch. Through 19 games, however, he has only appeared in five games. With Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt taking the mound for 80 percent of the starts this season (knock on wood) it seems highly unlikely that the Phillies will be needing much of Kendrick's services as a long-man.
In fact, much of Kendrick's work this season has been in mop-up duty of Joe Blanton. It is well-known throughout baseball that sinker-ball pitchers fare much better when they receive a lot of work (i.e Derek Lowe) and consequently, Kendrick will not be as effective out of the bullpen as he would be as a starter.
Some may argue, "You need a long-man in your bullpen for the long haul of the season."
I completely agree with that statement, but why not put big Joe Blanton in the bullpen? We will talk about the pros and cons of this very shortly. The point is, the Philadelphia Phillies are not effectively utilizing their players' strengths and weaknesses by having Kendrick come out of the bullpen.
The best relievers in baseball (and most coveted) are of the breed that can come into a game with men on base and strike someone out. Ryan Madson has turned himself into a reliable set-up man, and he will likely earn a big payday this winter because of his ability to strike people out.
Not only does he have an electric arm, but he has an out pitch as well with his changeup. Kyle Kendrick does not have an out pitch and is not someone who will strike hitters out. He is a guy that pitches to contact and looks for a ground ball. In seven innings pitched this season, he has struck out only one hitter. Not exactly closer type material.
The grind of a 162-game schedule can be brutal with teams seemingly playing daily. If Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras have pitched in back-to-back games and the Phillies are in need of an out in the eighth with two men on and no outs, who do you call? How many Phillies fans are comfortable with Kyle Kendrick being that guy?
Me neither. He does not have the "stuff" suited for a bullpen pitcher. He is a starting pitcher and that is where the Phillies will get the most out of him.
You can caption your own message to the above photo, but I'll try my best here. Imagine Rollins, Polanco, Chooch and/or Rich Dubee saying one of the following:
- Put down the ball and walk slowly into the dugout with your hands up.
- Thank God Halladay pitches tomorrow.
- We came all the way to San Diego to watch this?
- How does this guy make $8 million a season?
- At least four out of the five starters are pretty good.
In all seriousness, I could go on all day with these but there are more pressing needs to attend to, like Joe Blanton's record in April.
In 27 career games started in April, Blanton is 7-12 with a 4.98 ERA. Not really Halladay-esque.
Phillies fans heard talk all offseason of Blanton's new training regimen and diet and his looking forward to a good start to 2011. Personally, I was a bit skeptical (he still looked the same) but I did have hope that maybe Blanton would pitch better with guys like Lee, Oswalt and Halladay watching.
Is Blanton even watching when one of the four aces is on the mound? Then why can't we learn something from some of the best pitchers in baseball. Why is your ERA 7.27 after three starts?
To be fair here, Blanton always seems to pitch better as the heat turns up, but is that just proof that the guy does not prepare right in the offseason? His numbers in April and May are completely terrible, and not at all comparable to the summer months.
The Phillies should make the switch now and save themselves from the next month-and-a-half.
Maybe the best reason I can give for Kyle Kendrick being the fifth starter is that Joe Blanton needs to be traded. He is under contract for another season after this at a "hefty" (stay tuned folks, more play on words to come) $8 million per season.
With four starters on this team that have the potential to completely dominate a game every time out, "Fat Joe" doesn't really mix with this "Terror Squad." Unless there is an injury to one of the four aces, (gasp here) Blanton will be placed into the bullpen when the postseason belly-rolls (I'm here all week) around.
Ruben Amaro needs to find a way to unload Blanton's contract, whether by receiving an adequate player in return or just in a salary dump. The Phillies could desperately use another power bat (until Chase returns) and they could use that money that Blanton is "earning" elsewhere to improve this team.
Kendrick will be able to take the mound every fifth day and do a decent job. If you couldn't tell by now, this is in no way a Kyle Kendrick endorsement. His 2010 stats were 11-10 with a 4.73 ERA. Not Lee-esque numbers either, but he was able to chew up more than 180 innings.
Kyle Kendrick finished the 2010 season with a lower ERA than Joe Blanton. That's right folks, Blanton's ERA in 2010 was 4.82.
There is always a feeding frenzy at the trade deadline and teams like the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox (yes, Boston fans, even your team) wouldn't laugh at the idea of bringing in a former number one pitcher (I'm laughing as well, hopefully Ruben won't be as he is telling this to Cashman) who has postseason experience and a World Series ring on his resume.
Kyle Kendrick can go out and win a game every other start and chew up innings, something a fifth starter gets paid to do. Joe Blanton is not getting paid to be a fifth starter and he needs to be dealt, whether they receive an impact player or a popcorn maker.
Kendrick can do the job as the fifth starter.
IF Joe Blanton is on this team when the postseason begins, he will find himself in the bullpen. Teams always shorten their rotations to four (even three) pitchers in a seven-game playoff series due to the days off in between games, and their desire to have their best on the mound as much as possible.
Even though Big Joe played a "large" role in the Phillies' magical 2008 world championship (smile here), Blanton simply is not on the same level as Halladay, Lee, Oswalt or Hamels. It still never gets old including all of those names together.
Blanton will be used out of the bullpen for the playoffs and here are 10 quick reasons why the bullpen is the best fit for Blanton:
- Practice for the postseason.
- Find a role for the playoffs that "fits" Big Joe.
- Can "eat up" innings when needed and be an adequate long-man.
- One inning to use your best stuff and not conserve anything.
- Ryan Madson as an example of a starting pitcher who has made the successful transition to the bullpen.
- Blanton pitches better with the more work he has (numbers improve as he has more starts) and he could pitch almost daily out of the 'pen.
- Has been successful out of the bullpen in the past.
- He can sit on a chair for at least seven innings a game and not have to move a "muscle."
- Another solid arm to bolster the bullpen if Lidge can not return this season and be effective.
- Blanton would have to jog onto the field when called upon, thus decreasing weight, increasing longevity and value to the team.
Kyle Kendrick should be the fifth starter and Blanton should be in the bullpen, because it is where he can be most successful and where Joe Blanton can be most serviceable.
Unless...we can convince another team that Joe Blanton would be a welcome addition to their starting staff, then let the man pitch I say! Let him start and let him start well!