The Fifth Starter Conundrum
As you may have saw last night, Joe Blanton, the Phillies fifth starter, had a case of the Tuesdays at Nationals Park. The solo home run he gave up to old pal Jayson Werth in the sixth inning was the seventh hit and fifth run he allowed in what turned out to be a 7-4 loss.
Blanton had given up three runs in the previous inning, when he allowed four of five batters (at the bottom of the Nats lineup) to reach base and take over the game.
Blanton's blah performance followed up a season-opening stinker: a week earlier, last Wednesday against the Mets, the Phils spotted Blanton a 7-0 lead. He gave all seven back, departing before the fifth inning.
Blanton diagnosed the problems he's having last night: he's having trouble commanding his pitches out of the stretch. It actually makes a lot of sense, since 12 of the 17 walks/hits he's allowed this year have come while pitching with base runners on (and, this, pitching out of the stretch).
It's a mechanical flaw that can be corrected via video and between-starts bullpen sessions, Blanton says.
It's also worth noting that Blanton's numbers in April and May are historically bad. In 62 career starts before June in his career, Blanton is 16-28 with a 5.32 ERA.
He's a slow starter, and after having the worst ERA in the NL at the All-Star break last year and then pitching effectively in the second half, maybe the poster boy of slow starters.
But defending Blanton for us jounrnalist types has become the easy, knee-jerk reaction to the apparent overreaction by displeased Phillies fans 10 games into the season. I personally haven't heard from you, but many of my colleagues have been getting "Get rid of Blanton!" tweets and emails.
So their defense of Blanton makes some sense, since he has been a durable, useful major league starting pitcher since arriving to Philly in July 0f 2008.
But let's also not go overboard. Blanton is not Roy Halladay.
To illustrate this point, here's a game we can play. It's called, "Name the Pitcher." We'll use the stats from 2010.
Pitcher A: 11-10, 4.73 ERA, 1.37 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), .283 opponents batting average, .807 opponents OPS, 84 strikeouts, 49 walks in 180 2/3 innings, 33 games.
Pitcher B: 9-6, 4.82 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, .291 BA, .796 OPS, 134 strikeouts, 43 walks in 175 2/3 innings, 29 games.
OK. Put down your pencils.
Pitcher A? That's Kyle Kendrick, the sixth man in the Phillies five-man rotation.
Pitcher B? That's Blanton.
While Blanton surely strikes out more batters than he walks, the rest of those numbers are pretty darn close, huh? Once could also argue - as long as they wore heavy armor while doing so - that Kendrick was more effective and more durable than Blanton last season (Blanton missed the first month with an oblique injury).
Now, as the "armor" comment suggests, we completely expect more overreaction here, mostly because Kendrick is an easy target/whipping boy. But the point being made here is, based on last year's respective performances, the drop-off from Blanton to Kendrick is in no way equal to the drop-off from, say, Roy Oswalt to Blanton.
It's two starts into the season, so it's far too premature to talk about replacing a starting pitcher. And Joe Blanton, in the second year of a three-year, $24 million deal, is very unlikely to lose that spot unless he gets hurt no matter how far along the Phils are in their season, in my opinion.
But it's at least worth noting that the Phils sixth starter might not bas as far behind Blanton as public opinion would lead you to believe.