Easily the least popular of all the Angels' off-season acquisitions, Joe Blanton is here to stay whether he like it or not. I guess that means I should just do his projections now and get it out of the way.
2012 Stats: 191.0 IP, 10-13, 4.71 ERA. 3.91 FIP, 207 H, 34 BB, 29 HR, 166 SO, 1.39 GB/FB, 2.4 fWAR
2013 ZiPS Projections: 130.1 IP, 4.49 ERA. 4.06 FIP, 140 H, 25 BB, 19 HR, 98 SO, 0.8 fWAR
2013 Bill James Projections: 182.0 IP, 9-11, 4.07 ERA. 3.88 FIP, 201 H, 35 BB, 24 HR, 131 SO
2013 C AIRO Projections: 115.2 IP, 6-6, 4.34 ERA. 3.85 FIP, 131 H, 24 BB, 16 HR, 91 SO
2013 MWAH Projections*: 185.0 IP, 12-14, 4.67 ERA. 4.52 FIP, 210 H, 49 BB, 31 HR, 153 SO
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA and FIP calculations are approximate)
2012 in Objective Review:
As weird as it sounds, the 2012 season was something of a victory for Joe Blanton. He had missed much of the previous season with an elbow impingement, very much casting his future in doubt. To just be able to come back and log 191 innings, even if they weren't particularly good innings, was probably all he really could've helped for since pitchers in their thirties suffering elbow problems is usually the first sign that the end is nigh. The celebrating can only go so far though because Blanton still ended up with an ugly 4.71 ERA and allowed the eight-most homers in all of baseball. Still, Blanton appeared to be every bit his old self, even if his old self was not necessarily a good thing to be.
2012 in Revisionist History:
Joe Blanton is coming off the kind of season that you wouldn't typically expect to see rewarded with a two- year, $16 million contract. But getting LA teams to be interested in acquiring him even when he isn't playing well seems to be something of a specialty for him. Blanton was well below average the first two-thirds of the season in Philadelphia, but the Dodgers traded for him anyway. In theory, Blanton should've found new life in LA, away from the bandbox that is Citizens Park which had long been exacerbating his home run tendencies. Well, so much for that theory because Joe was even worse in LA, though it was only a ten game sample. That is an unfortunate trend if it sticks, because pitching better in a more pitcher friendly ballpark is one of the few reasons to have hope that Blanton will perform above expectations with the Halos.
There are some signs that his struggles were at least a little bit flukish. In particular, his HR/FB% of 15.3% was well above his career rate and even still over the rate he's allowed the last few seasons. That could always mean that he is getting worse, but with most of his other peripherals remaining steady, if not improving, it is probably more bad luck than loss of skill. That assumption is buoyed by his career-worst strand rate as well as the highest K% and lowest BB% of his career. Seriously, if you look at those numbers, you'd think that he had a career year. I mean, there is a reason that his xFIP of 3.39 is the lowest of his career. Why it not only didn't work out that way, but actually went so far in the other direction is kind of beyond me. It can't all be bad luck and lousy defense behind him.
Three Lingering Questions for 2013:
1) Is Blanton really that durable?
What a great question, he said to himself. The logic behind Blanton is he is supposed to be a mortal lock for 185+ innings. Only that's not really true. Blanton missed most of 2011 with an elbow problem. It didn't require surgery, but he missed most of the season and the proceeded to be awful the next year. So, I ask you, does that suggest to you that he is a definitely healthy and not going to break down? And, I don't want to keep harping on this, it isn't like he is a guy who keep himself in top physical condition to make sure he has the necessary durability to live up to his reputation.
2) How encouraged should we be that his FIP was just 3.91 last season?
Probably not a lot. Maybe not even a little. This isn't exactly a new formula for Blanton where he underpeforms compared to his FIP. Now, he doesn't always miss it by that nearly a full run like he did in 2012. It is really a function of him being so hittable even though he still finds a way to miss a fair amount of bats. But that is the kind of problem that can be helped by playing in a more pitcher-friendly park in front of a better defense. After all, that is essentially what FIP measure, how good a guy is without relying on defense and Blanton did pitch in front of a mediocre defense most of the last few seasons.
3) Why in the world did the Angels sign him to a two-year contract?
I really have no idea. I don't even care about the $8 million average annual value so much, even though that is probably an overpay. But two years makes no sense. He's 32 and one year removed from missing most of the season to injury and three years removed from posting an ERA below 4.71. I get that there is a need for an innings eater, but those aren't all that hard to come by. Maybe Dipoto sees something in Blanton that the rest of us don't, but it sure does seem like he misread the starting pitcher market.
Three Irrelevant Questions for 2013:
1) Why isn't Joe Blanton actually Brandon McCarthy?
He really should be, shouldn't he? They even have the same contract. But McCarthy is injury-prone. Blanton, theoretically, is not. Argh.
2) More like Joe BLANDon, am I right?
Thank you! I'll be here all week. Try the fish and be sure to tip your waitress.
3) Does he keep his ugly goatee because he actually think it looks good or because it hides his double chin?
Trick question! The answer is clearly both. Let's just say I have some personal experience in this field.
2013 in Subjective Projection:
On one hand, Blanton has a lot going for him in 2013. He's going to be a in a park that will mask his gopherball problem a bit and he's going to be pitching in front of arguably the best defensive team in baseball, thus mitigating how hittable he can be. However he is also moving to the American League, which is not a transition that is kind to most pitchers, even if said pitcher has experience in the AL. What's really weird though is that he is actually throwing almost a full mile per hour harder than he has ever before. He's 32! That shouldn't happen!!! What also shouldn't happen is him throwing harder and becoming less effective. None of it makes any sense.
That really leaves us with two conclusions to draw: either he is pitching his ass off and getting insanely unlucky or he is just a guy who the normal peripherals don't apply to and he is in a steep irreversible decline. I want to believe in the FIP and the better defense and ballpark and improved velocity, I really do. But I can't. I just can't. It is totally irrational, but I just can't convince myself that a doughy career underachiever in his age 32 season is somehow going to reverse a downward trend. I hope to be proven wrong but I really don't think I will be.