As Joe Blanton keeps getting traded to Mets but not really, I've been following with great interest the rather wide range of opinions on just how good a pitcher Blanton is, and how good a pitcher he will be. The diversity of opinions makes sense in light of the fact that Blanton won 16 games in a 2006 season that lacked a single 20-game winner, but also posted an ERA of 4.82 and an opponent's batting average (and this is off the top of my head, as I don't have time to look it up) of .463. Looking farther back, no way is Blanton as good as the Cy Blanton model we saw the last 4 months of the 2005 season (side note: The only other Blanton ever to pitch in the major leagues was named Cy Blanton), but no way is he as bad as the diabolic version that turned in a 6.66 ERA through the end of May.
So what kind of a career path is Joe Blanton most likely to have? Who should baseball-reference.com be listing as Blanton's most comparable match? In pondering this question, it occurs to me that in many ways, Blanton does remind me of a specific pitcher: Kirk Rueter. Maybe it's because both are left-handed (except Blanton). Or perhaps it's because both pitched in the American League (except Rueter). OK, stay with me here...
Rueter was not overpowering, but he was an innings eater and he usually got the job done. He was one of those pitchers against whom hitters often went "a comfortable 0-for-4". Hitters also often went 2-for-4 against Rueter, but he would still hang in there and get the win. Fans often forget how often Kirk Rueter won--or at least how seldom he lost. From 1997 to 2003, Rueter's record was 93-59, a winning percentage of .612. However, when Rueter wasn't on he really wasn't on. He would occasionally get lambasted to the tune of about 8 ER in about 2.2 innings, sending his ERA soaring. But a baseball game is like your virginity--you can only lose it once--and as a result those horrid outings did not take a big toll on Rueter's won-lost percentage, just on his ERA.
That's how you go 16-9 with a 4.36 ERA, as Rueter did in 1998, and how you go 15-10 with a 5.41 ERA, as Rueter did in 1999. Not too far from what Blanton's first two seasons might have looked like without the inordinate number of "no run support" tough losses in 2005. Blanton, like Rueter, is shaping up to promise his team a fair number of wins, not too many losses, a lot of innings, and a few ERA-inflating stinkers, adding up to a pitcher who is hittable and no one's ace, but is also ultimately pretty successful--a poor man's #3 starter but a rich man's #4.
Now if you don't think this comparison is very fitting, before you're too critical consider this: baseball-reference.com's "closest match" for Joe Blanton's projected career is actually Marty Bystrom. To which I say: Huh? Marty Bystrom never won more than 6 games in any season, while Blanton, in two seasons, has never won fewer than 12 games. Bystrom won 29 games in his entire career, while Blanton has already won 28. I guess it's not an exact science.