Why Did the Angels Sign Joe Blanton? An Investigation


Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Probably the most perplexing move that the Los Angeles Angels have made this off-season involves signing back of the rotation starting pitcher Joe Blanton to a 2-year, $15 million dollar deal. A quick glance over Joe Blanton‘s career numbers and there seems to be very little to write home about a big check for.

In his career, Joe Blanton has an ERA of 4.37 and gives up an average of  just under 10 hits per nine innings. His career WHIP is 1.33 while his career strikeout rate per nine innings is 6.1. His home run per nine inning rate is in the bottom 10 of the major leagues over the last two years. In other words, Joe Blanton seems to be your quintessential average-to-below-average pitcher.

Yet, there are still believers in Joe Blanton and Angels GM Jerry Dipoto must be one of them. And maybe they are onto something.

Chris Cwik showcased in the Rotographs section of Fangraphs that Joe Blanton has an exceptional ability to control the strike-zone with one of the best strikeout to walk ratios in the game over the past two years. In fact, he’s fourth under Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Dan Haren during that time period.

Cwik also was quick to point out that Blanton’s biggest flaw — giving up the home run — will likely be suppressed pitching in Angels Stadium as well as the AL West where stadiums like the Oakland Coliseum and SafeCo Field are places that home runs often go to die on the warning track.

Jeff Sullivan piped in on Blanton the same day:

"“…last season Blanton allowed a contact rate of just over 78 percent. He allowed less frequent contact than Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez. Not only does Blanton pound the strike zone; it’s not that easy to put the bat on the ball.”"

Sullivan also pointed out that Blanton’s velocity has actually been increasing. I will add that his strikeouts per nine innings ratio has also increased over the course of his career. From 2006-2008, Blanton was averaging 5.4 strike outs per nine innings. From 2009 to 2012 that has risen to 7.4.

Another factor that is easy to overlook in Blanton’s career numbers is the unusually large gap between his xFIP and his ERA. What can you deduce from that? That maybe Joe Blanton is better pitcher than you think and that he might be getting screwed by something (defense, luck) since FIP measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.

Also, Joe Blanton is durable.  Since 2004, Blanton has hit the DL only three times. Once because of an abdomen strain and twice because of an elbow impingement which he tried to come back too early from.

Finally, consider the number five spot in the Angels starting rotation in the past three years they have failed to make the playoffs. They’ve consisted of the following pitchers: Scott Kazmir, Tyler Chatwood, Jerome Williams, and Garrett Richards.

We can probably assume, with very little trepidation, that Joe Blanton will be better and more consistent than any of these pitchers in 2012.

Hopefully, it’s now a little clearer why the Angels signed Joe Blanton. He won’t sell too many (or any) t-shirts but he will likely give the Angels durability and consistency at the number five spot in the rotation. Something they haven’t had in a long time.