2008 has not been kind to A's pitcher Joe Blanton. After a sparkling 2007 which saw him post a 3.95 ERA, he currently stands at 4.81. Whereas rumors in the past suggested that Blanton may be on the move for a Lastings Milledge type player, his worth now has surely dropped a lot. While Wins and Losses are flawed statistics that don't accurately portray how well a pitcher has pitched necessarily, Blanton already has 10 losses this year, the same total he had all of last season. But what has changed from last year to make Blanton that much worse off?
First, a look at his statistics courtesy of FanGraphs:
Right off the bat notice his drop in K/BB ratio, its been cut more than half from last season. Blanton is striking out over 1 batter less per 9 innings and walking almost 1 more. A pitcher will almost surely see his ERA rise when his peripherals are worse off. His BABIP is almost exactly the same as last year, so you may be wondering how opponents are hitting .019 higher off him. This is because Home Runs are not factored into BABIP since its not in play., and Blanton's HR rate is up quite a bit. Though FanGraphs doesn't have the stat listed, opponents are slugging .438 against Joe this year versus .378 last year as teams are also hitting more doubles against him. These statistics suggest that opponents aren't hitting Blanton much more often, but that they're hitting him much harder than they did last year.
Note his FIP though at 4.28 compared to his actual ERA of 4.81, so Blanton hasn't been pitching as badly as his ERA suggests in terms of his peripherals.
His batted ball percentages are right in line with his career averages, he's giving up a few less line drives and ground balls and a few more fly balls, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The HR/FB % is up from last year but still low overall.
Much was made last year about Blanton's Home/Road split, that he was a pitcher that thrived in pitcher friendly McAfee Coliseum but would fail elsewhere. Here are Blanton's Home/Road splits from 2007, 2008 and his career, respectively, thanks to Baseball Reference:
Yes, it appears Blanton pitched much better at home in 2007 and in 2008, thankfully more than 2/3 of his starts this year have been at home. While small sample size caveats apply to the individual seasons, his career splits are more relevant. While not nearly as pronounced as the individual seasons, it does appear Blanton uses Oakland's park to his advantage. Note his nearly identical Win/Loss record Home and Away despite his much worse performance on the road, lending more credence to the problems of pitcher winning percentage.
Perhaps there's something in the way Blanton's been throwing that has led to his balls being hit harder. Here are Blanton's pitchers cards courtesy of Josh Kalk's site, again with 2007 listed first and then 2008:The first thing that jumps out is his lack of usage of his slider this year compared to last. He's throwing it half as often as before, instead throwing his fastball almost 5% more and his curveball and changeup about 2% more each. I was not able to find statistics on how hitters fared against Blanton by pitch type (If anyone knows where I can find these please let me know, though I think Mike Fast's PITCHFX database construction is capable of it and I hope to have one set up soon), but If he's throwing a slider that less often it makes it easier on the hitters since they have one less pitch to look for.
The speed of his pitches hasn't changed much, each getting a little faster. His fastball is nothing special, at 90.74 mph its a little below average and his movement is pretty normal too. This is the reason Blanton should rely less on his fastball provided he can command his other pitches (and though his walks are up they're still low overall), as it's the easiest thing to hit.
Another thing that appears different is his movement on his breaking pitches. Whereas last year his slider broke 3 ½ inches more than his curve, this year only .21 inches separates the two pitches. This could also make it easier on the batters since his breaking pitches end up in the same spot on the horizontal plane, they have to only worry about the downward movement.
So what does this bode for the future of Joe? His FIP alluded to earlier suggests his ERA will probably lower some, though his ERA has always been higher than his FIP for his career (4.20 vs 4.04). While he did throw 230 innings last year which sometimes leads to pitchers dead arm or tiring the following year, his pitch speeds suggest that isn't the case, though the convergence of the horizontal movement of his breaking pitches is a bit unsettling.
And while his ERA isn't the prettiest in the world, it is still important to note that Blanton has 103 IP in his 16 starts, or 6.44 IP/GS. So despite having given up a lot of runs, he has pitched long into games which helps to reduce the bullpen's workload. This is a very useful statistic and is often overlooked when considering pitchers with higher ERAs.
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