Never have so many words been written about Joe Blanton within the last week. The Dodgers recently announced the signing of the 35-year old veteran hurler to a one-year four million dollar contract laden heavily with performance incentives. The deal initially seemed horrifying to many of us who had to suffer through his awful pitching for those two months back in 2012 when he was a Dodger.
We had thought that we would never see him again and breathed a heavy sigh of relief, until this last week of course. I once wrote at Lasorda’s Lair that I thought he was the worst pitcher in baseball and indeed he was at the time. After his awful stint with the Angels he had to reinvent himself in some way or shuffle off to buffalo. I hoped he would shuffle, alas he did not.
Chad Moriyama recently chronicled about his improved slider thanks to an improved grip. That’s how he reinvented himself and settled in as a middle reliever. Indeed it seemed to work as he had solid bodies of work with the Royals and Pirates. However if you look deeper at his numbers you can see that Blanton fared considerably better in Pittsburgh than he did in Kansas City. Perhaps there is a reason for that.
Delving deeper into this we can see that in his 41.3 innings with Kansas City he allowed 43 hits with a 3.89/3.59 ERA/FIP. That accumulated to a 9.3 hits per nine rate. Way too many base runners allowed. In his typical fashion he put up a very nice strikeout to walk line of 40/7 and he allowed six long balls in KC. Once he was acquired by the Pirates his numbers improved drastically.
Once a Pirate he posted a 5-0 record and in 34.1 innings pitched allowed just 26 hits and a 1.57/2.11 ERA/FIP with a 6.8 hits per nine rate. Once again his strikeout to walk line was a very good 39/9 and he allowed just one home run. Overall that came out to a 7-2 record, 2.84/2.92 ERA/FIP with 69 hits allowed in 76 frames. Giving him a very respectable 8.2 hits per nine innings pitched.
So is it possible that pitching in a more pitcher friendly park like PNC could have helped? Or perhaps Pittsburgh backstop Francisco Cervelli’s superior pitch framing played a large part? As you can see Blanton allowed a .783 OPS against at Kaufman Stadium and a .634 OPS against at PNC Park. However if you take a look at these numbers by catcher, you can see that he greatly benefited from Cervelli’s pitch framing abilities.
Pitch framing is all the rage these days with the stat kids. It’s the measurement of how often a catcher fools an umpire into calling a borderline pitch a strike. Pitchers and coaches love it because it obviously means more strikes. More strikes means more outs, and more outs means more wins. Since they have a stat for everything nowadays, they are able to measure pitch framing for each catcher. Each catcher is rated with a number called RAA which stands for runs above average. The better the pitch framer, and higher number of percentage of strikes called the higher the rating they get.
So if we take a look we can see that Cervelli was the number one rated pitch framer in all of baseball with a 26.7 RAA rating. Dodger’s catcher Yasmani Grandal was very good as well, ranking third with a 20.8 rating. Meanwhile Salvador Perez was one of the worst with a -9.1 rating. Cervelli had 201 borderline strike calls and 1.79 estimated calls per game while getting 10.7% of the pitches thrown outside of the strike zone called his way. Perez posted just 6.5% in 2015.
Lo and behold if we look at Blanton’s numbers by catcher we see the difference.
When Perez Caught Blanton – 3.98 ERA 40.2 IP .266 BAA (42 for 158) .753 OPS 38K/6BB
When Cervelli caught Blanton- 1.53 ERA 29.1 IP .206 BAA (22 for 107) .558 OPS 34K/7BB
The difference is large even though it’s all a small sample size as the stat guys would probably claim. Regardless it’s still worth taking a look at. It’s a lot easier to get outs when you have a great catcher behind the plate framing all of your pitches and fooling umpires.
Perhaps the Dodgers are hoping that Yasmani Grandal and his excellent pitch framing abilities will be able to get the same results with Blanton in 2016. Only time will tell if this is the case.