Thursday, December 6, 2012 

By Robert Cunningham - Columnist

Joe Blanton? Really? 

Many fans are saying those exact words in their heads as they try to wrap their minds around the fact that the Angels just signed Joe Blanton to a 2 year, $15 million dollar deal with a reported option year attached.

So what was the motivation to sign what appears, on the surface, as a fringe #5 starter? What possible value does the Blanton signing bring to the team? What is Jerry Dipoto thinking and planning by making this move?

Innings Eater

Over the last eight years, barring an elbow injury that derailed his 2011 season, Blanton has pitched at least 175 or more innings.

There is value in a pitcher that is durable and can eat up a consistent amount of innings during a season. In fact Bill James is projecting 182 innings pitched for Blanton in 2013.

The Cutter

One really important fact that has been overlooked by many is Blanton’s recent addition and use of a cut fastball over the last three years.

This cutter is a couple of miles per hour slower than his four-seam fastball and has proven to be, along with his slider and curveball, a solid out pitch. By mixing in these three pitches, with his poorer four-seam fastball and changeup, he has been able to fool more batters and limit the number of walks that he has given up.

Fly Ball Pitcher

There is little doubt that Blanton has fly ball tendencies. However, this is the type of pitcher that can thrive in Angel’s stadium, especially with the elite defensive outfielders that are projected to play in 2013.

In fact the Blanton signing clearly reinforces the notion that Trout and Bourjos will start in left and center field, respectively. If Trumbo plays in right field, as Jerry has explicitly said in previous interviews, it would be difficult for most fly balls to find a hole with those three playing defense.


In 2011, Blanton’s xFIP, which is what his ERA should have looked like if he had given up home runs based on the league average, was 3.15 (small sample size). In 2012 his xFIP was 3.39. SIERA, which is an acknowledged projection system, has him at 3.20 in 2011 and 3.45 in 2012.

So what are these advanced stats trying to tell us and what did Dipoto see that others didn’t?

It seems that Jerry believes the addition of the cut fastball to Blanton’s arsenal has allowed Joe to get batters to ground out. The cut fastball also leads to more strikeouts and helped limit the amount of walks he has given up because the batters either make weak contact or whiff.

xFIP and SIERA are telling Jerry that Blanton’s bad luck with fly balls has been erroneous and should normalize, particularly if he pitches in Anaheim or another pitcher-friendly park. This should positively affect his ERA.

Park Factors

Dipoto also knows that Citizens Bank Park and Chavez Ravine are more prone to giving up home runs which is partly to blame for Blanton’s elevated home run rate over the last four seasons.

Moving to Anaheim will not only depress his home run rate, it will also help his fly ball tendencies with two future gold glove candidates in Trout and Bourjos playing outfield defense and Aybar and Kendrick playing up the middle infield defense, behind him.

Pitching Depth or the Foreshadowing of a Trade?

Jerry Dipoto has clearly stated that he wants to build pitching depth at the AAA level. The Blanton signing now gives Jerry the option of either keeping Garrett Richards at Salt Lake as pitching depth for the big league club or, alternatively, making a trade of one of our big league starters.

The likely scenario is that Richards starts the year in Salt Lake. Jerome Williams will either start or will be the long relief man as he is out of options. However, there is a possibility that Richards could be moved in trade for someone like James Shields if Dipoto thought the price was right. It is almost always cheaper to make a trade than sign a free agent and Greinke might be quickly moving out of the Angels reach.


This signing really comes down to Dipoto’s belief that Blanton is a different pitcher than he was even three years ago.

The addition of the cut fastball combined with his slider and Joe’s best pitch, his curveball, have incrementally improved Blanton’s repertoire in striking out batters and limiting walks. Joe had nearly a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio last season, which isn’t too shabby.

Additionally, Blanton has been making hitters swing at more pitches outside of the zone over the last 3 years. On top of that his swinging strike rate supports his elevated strikeout rate over that same time period.

These improvements combined with a move to a more fly ball friendly stadium with an excellent outfield and infield defensive arrangement should prove to be a boon to Blanton’s actual ERA and total season numbers.

This was not, by any stretch, the sexiest move in the world but I think, barring a serious injury, it will prove to be one of the best low-level moves Dipoto has made to date and perhaps over the course of his career as General Manager of the Angels (however long that may be).

It makes sense from a value perspective and has its roots in actual statistical analysis and scouting of the player (Blanton has excellent control). Additionally it makes sense from a pitching depth perspective. Whether this turns out to help the team win the division and a possible championship certainly remains to be seen.

If this pan’s out the way Jerry hopes it will, the Angels will have a 3.40-3.50 ERA pitcher for three seasons at a bargain basement rate of $7.5 million per season. In an age of exponentially growing player salaries this may prove to be one of the best value signings in recent history.

Many of you will probably disagree with this signing but Dipoto has a plan and he is executing it with the confidence and conviction of a man on a mission: to add value to an already championship caliber ball club.
Love to hear what you think!

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