Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Welcome to the Blue, Joe Blanton!

The Dodgers have apparently added another arm to their bullpen, and it's a fellow we all should recall.  Joe Blanton, who was a Dodgers late season pickup in 2012 as a starter from Philadelphia, has just been signed to rejoin the club as a reliever.  BTW, this signing is not yet confirmed, so keep that in mind.  I suspect a physical is still pending.  Per Jeff Passan on twitter:
Ken Rosenthal adds more details to the contract on twitter:
As you'll remember, Blanton was not particularly good for us the first time around.  It was hoped that he'd provide some stable starts during the late season charge, but that would not happen.  Instead, we fizzled out.  At the time of the trade for Blanton the Dodgers were an half game back of the Giants.  By the end of the season we were eight games back.  That's not to say it was all his fault, mind you.  It's just that his name hardly provokes positive memories.

This being said, the Joe Blanton we had back then is not the same Joe Blanton we signed today.  Today, Joe Blanton is strictly a reliever, and based on the numbers from this past season, he's been pretty damn good.  Per Neil Wienberg at FanGraphs:
Blanton was on his way out of baseball. Where this story gets interesting, however, is when you observe his 2015 season. It’s composed of 41 solid innings for Kansas City (96 ERA-, 90 FIP-) and then 34 amazing ones (42 ERA-, 56 FIP-) in Pittsburgh, mostly as a reliever. Blanton had never been a full-time reliever during his career, getting only the stray appearance out of the pen. Ninety-two percent of his MLB games had been as a starter entering 2015. This year, he started four games, but then he provided 32 relief appearances. And he was amazing.
The results are pretty straightforward. Blanton had a career high 25.6% strikeout rate and brought his HR/9 under 1.0 for the first time since 2007. Fewer batted balls and fewer home runs is a good way to live. Blanton’s transition has been especially deadly for righties. He dominated them in 2015.
Here are some more numbers via Eric Stephen at True Blue LA:
But he made a triumphant comeback in 2015, first with the Royals then with the Pirates, put up a 2.84 ERA and 2.92 FIP in 36 games, with 79 strikeouts ad 16 walks in 76 innings. But after making four starts with Kansas City, he found a home in the bullpen. Blanton in relief last year put up a 2.04 ERA and 2.56 FIP in his 32 relief appearances, with 62 strikeouts (a 27-percent strikeout rate) and 12 walks (only seven unintentional walks) in 57⅓ innings.

His ground ball rate as a relief pitcher in 2015 was 48.4 percent, up from his 44.4-percent career rate.

Blanton, 35, was especially tough on right-handed batters in 2015, holding them to just .203/.231/.327 with a .239 wOBA, with 49 strikeouts and five walks in 161 batters faced, a 30.4-percent strikeout rate.
Given last years results, I am more than willing to look past his disastrous beginning with the club.  All that happened in 2012 is under the bridge, and today I am hopeful that he finds success in his new role.

On a side note, a Redditor noted that back in 2007 the Dodgers were rumored to be in the thick of trade discussions with Oakland for Blanton's services (when he was good).  Back then Buster Olney mentioned that the A's were seeking three frontline prospects for Blanton - a young premier starter at the time.  Those three potential prospects were rumored to have been Ethier, Kemp and Kershaw.  Oww!  Can you imagine if we did that deal back then?  What a disaster that would have been.  It's also a cautionary tale about the risk of trading your best prospect for short term gain.

In celebration of his signing I made the above two fantasy cards of him.  The photograph used on the card on the top left is from Zimbio/Justin K. Aller/Getty Images and I used the 1964 Topps Baseball card design.  The card of the right uses a pic from Dodgers photographer Jon SooHoo from the 2012 season and uses the 1972 Topps Baseball card design.

Below are his career statistics, via Baseball-Reference:

UPDATE:  Per a Dodger press release (1/19), this is now a confirmed signing:
The Los Angeles Dodgers today announced the signing of right-handed pitcher Joe Blanton to a one-year contract.

Blanton, 35, is coming off a career year with the Royals and Pirates, where he combined to go 7-2 with two saves and a 2.84 ERA in 36 games (four starts). After opening the campaign with Kansas City, Blanton was acquired by the Pirates on July 29 and went 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA (6 ER/34.1 IP) in 21 appearances down the stretch, ranking among the National League’s best relievers (min. 15.0 IP) in wins (1st), innings (34.1, 2nd), strikeouts (39, T-3rd) and ERA (9th) during that span. Overall, he limited opposing hitters to a .240 batting average, including a .203 mark against right-handers, while posting a 1.12 WHIP and a 4.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio (79 SO/16 BB).

Blanton enters his second stint with Los Angeles after making 10 starts with the club in 2012 and has a 92-91 record with a 4.44 ERA in 301 career games (252 starts) in 11 big league seasons with the Athletics (2004-08), Phillies (2008-12), Dodgers (2012), Angels (2013), Royals (2015) and Pirates (2015). In 49 career relief appearances, he’s posted a 5-2 record with two saves and a 3.91 ERA.

Blanton was originally selected by Oakland in the first round (24th overall) of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Kentucky.

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