Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In the Cross Hairs: Joe Blanton

For this edition of the "In the Cross Hairs" series, I wanted to continue to focus on finding a second tier option, that would theoretically be a good fit for Kauffman Stadium. After doing just a little bit of research, I kept coming back to one name. I'm sure that his name is one that you've heard before, but I can't help but think that he could be the steal of the offseason if the Royals pounce on the opportunity to grab him. That guy is Joe Blanton.

Joe Blanton was drafted 24th overall in the 2002 draft by the Oakland Athletics. In his nine Major League seasons since then, he has compiled an 83-75 career record with a 4.37 ERA. Outside of 2011, he has stayed off the disabled list and compiled on average 198 innings per season and over 31 starts. For Kansas City, the inning eater quality couldn't be more desirable. Of course, there are other reasons why Blanton has caught my eye.

Yes, ERAs of 4.71, 5.01, and 4.82 over the past three seasons aren't exactly awe-inspiring, but the numbers indicate that Blanton has in actuality been a much more valuable pitcher over that time frame. It is for that reason that I believe he could be the steal of the offseason if he lands in the right situation. Is Kansas City the right situation? I think so.

As has been discussed by this blog several times over the last few weeks, Kauffman Stadium is one of the more efficient parks in baseball in terms of suppressing home run totals. Of course oddly enough Blanton's primary downfall is his HR/FB. In fact, Blanton's HR/FB of 15.3% ranked fifth among qualifying pitchers and tops among 2013 free agents. I am willing to bet that moving forward, this number is closer to Blanton's career mark of 10.3% than that 2012 number.

There is another reason that I am optimistic for Blanton moving forward and that is his K:BB ratio. Here is Blanton's K:BB ratios from 2008 moving forward to 2012: 1.68, 2.76, 3.12, 3.89, 4.88. Obviously, a strikeout to walk ratio of nearly five is fantastic, but even if that number drops down closer to three that is a number that Blanton should theoretically be able to find a lot of success with.

These numbers that I have pointed out have shown themselves in Blanton's xFIP over the past several seasons. What is strange, is that for three consecutive seasons, Blanton's ERA and xFIP seemed to fall right in line with each other. However, almost immediately upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Blanton's xFIP began to lower thanks to improving peripherals, while his ERA began to really sky rocket.

Blanton will be just 32 years old on Opening Day 2013, and thanks to ERAs in the high fours and low fives over the past few seasons, there is a good chance he'll be significantly undervalued on the free agent market. His velocity is still strong and based off his 2012 results, he has put his 2011 injury woes in the rear view mirror.

If the Royals do sign Joe Blanton this offseason, my guess is that most Royals fans will approach the addition with sarcasm and frustration. They'll see a guy who is a back end innings eater that the Royals aren't upgrading with. But the draw here is that not only could Blanton's ERA rebound, he also isn't going to require a top dollar contract to bring him to Kansas City.

Blanton made $8.5 million in 2012, and I can't imagine him fetching much more on the open market. For me, Joe Blanton represents the perfect target for Kansas City. I'd be more than happy with a deal for 2-3 years and up to $6-8 million annually.

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