If there is one seemingly universal consensus amongst Angels fans this year it’s that Joe Blanton is a terrible pitcher. Just check the most recent series of interview that Halo Hangout editor Michael Hllywa did with various Angels bloggers over the all-star break. Each one had something to say about Joe Blanton and none of it was good.
Is Joe Blanton really that bad? Or is there a disconnect between how Blanton is perceived as a pitcher by Angels faithful and how bad (or good) of a pitcher he really is? The one thing that seems to be missing from most critiques of Blanton is any explanation of why Blanton is not a good pitcher. And looking a bit more closely at his stats reveal that the hard evidence proving Joe Blanton to be a “bad” pitcher isn’t necessarily there.
Let’s assess some of the evidence.
Evidence #1: His win loss record is 2-12
Any one who has watched enough baseball games closely realizes quickly the problems with using a pitchers record to assess how good they are. A pitcher can pitch a gem of a game but get no run support. As for Blanton, five of his losses have come in games that he gave up 3 earned runs or less. He’s also had 2 no decisions where he gave up 2 runs or less.
Also, consider this: Blanton gets less run support than any other Angels starter with the Angels offense averaging 3.85 runs per start when he starts.
Evidence #2: His ERA is well over 5
ERA is a better gauge that win-loss records of assessing how well a pitcher has done in a season or over the course of their career. And certainly, Joe Blanton’s ERA is not pretty this year. However, when looking at Blanton’s xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), it suggest that his high ERA doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. As Fangraphs explains, FIP “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.”( xFIP is a modified version that replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed.) Blanton’s ERA may sit above 5 but his xFIP is 3.86. This suggest that Blanton’s high ERA is likely to come down in the future.
Evidence #3: He give up too many hits and HRs
Indeed, Joe Blanton has given up 23 home runs already this year and 148 hits in just 112 innings. That’s ugly, real ugly. Blanton is a pitcher who pounds the strike-zone and gets a majority of his outs by utilizing his fielders. When Blanton is toeing the slab, you can expect balls to be put into play.
But once again, is the high number of hits that Blanton has given up this year accurately showcase why Joe Blanton is a bad pitcher? Not if we consider his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) which measures how many batted balls go for hits. The league average usually hovers around .300. In 2013, hitters have a .352 BABIP against Blanton which is well above league. The high number of hits Blanton has allowed is partially due to the type of pitcher he is but it also suggest that batters have been bit luckier than average against him. Blanton is currently sporting the highest hit per nine inning ratio of his career. Expect a regression.
Blanton also has the best strikeout to walk ratio on the Angels staff and 12th best in the AL. So while the ball is put in play a lot when Blanton is pitching, he doesn’t allow many free passes. Batters have to work to get on base.
None of this is the suggest Joe Blanton is a good pitcher. Nor is an attempt to justify his signing, contract or his place in the Angels rotation. When someone says that Joe Blanton is a bad pitcher, they are probably right. But the evidence they bring to the table to support their claim is likely not so cut and dry. Concluding that while Joe Blanton might not be a very good pitcher, it’s not exactly clear why he’s so bad.