Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Scouting Joe Blanton for Game 4 of the NLCS

In August, the Giants went on a critical road trip and among their opponents were the Phillies. The Giants felt like their best shot at a win in the series was to get at Joe Blanton who was throwing game two of three versus Matt Cain on August 18th. Much to the Giants’ chagrin, that didn’t happen.
Cain ended up losing the game 8-2 while giving up 5 runs (of which only two were earned). The game started well enough when Andres Torres hit a lead off homerun against Blanton. But the game ended poorly after Philly capitalized on a Mike Fontenot error when Jimmie Rollins opened it up with a long ball. The Giants would add one more run on a solo shot by Burrell but that was all they would get as Affeldt and Mota would give up three more runs combined to put it out of reach. Blanton pitched effectively for the win by throwing 20/27 (74%) first-pitch strikes and striking out seven while issuing zero walks over 6.1 innings.
The Giants will look to avoid the same fate in Game 4 of the NLCS. Today at 4:30, the Giants will send out Rookie Madison “Young Hickory*” Bumgarner to oppose Joe Blanton this time, following the great game “Big Sugar” Matt Cain tossed yesterday.
*I came up with this myself, let’s see how it fits. He’s from Hickory, North Carolina and, well, quite young.
Blanton made 28 starts in 2010 and threw 175.2 innings. He didn’t throw a single pitch in the divisional series so he will be going on roughly one months rest. It’s difficult to say if the extra rest – which can very helpful after a season of innings – will be a positive or a detriment to Blanton as rust can be an issue as well. The Giants fans (and hitters) would welcome a rusty Blanton.
He is a pretty effective middle or back end of the rotation starter. He averaged 6.87 K/9 and just 2.22 BB/9 for a ratio of 3.12. While he doesn’t have tremendous ability to miss bats, his relatively low walk rate is what makes him solid. The biggest knock on Blanton is that he’s tendency to give up the long ball (1.38 HR/9). I checked a few things to see how fluky that rate was because it’s pretty high, but to my surprise it’s the exact same mark he posted in 2009, and furthermore, he actually gave up fewer home runs at home and pitched more poorly on the road so it’s not a creation of Citizens Bank Park. He was bitten a bit by balls in play this season (.331) which was above his career mark of .304 and pushed his FIP (4.34) below his ERA of 4.82. His BABIP wasn’t due to an increase in line drives because his rate has stayed steady around 20% for his entire career and again in 2010.
Blanton threw five pitches in 2010, up from four. Big surprise, he added a cutter to his arsenal but used it sparingly. I guess when you get to play with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee inside of one season, this is what happens. He’ll throw his fastball most often and about 55% of the time at an average velocity of 89.4 MPH. This is actually his poorest pitch according to pitch value and has been consistently throughout his career. Blanton’s fastball is straight and he doesn’t throw particularly hard so he absolutely must have sharp command with that pitch especially to get outs. His next most often used pitch is the changeup which he tosses around 17% of the time and gets about 7-8 MPH differential from the fastball. He throws a slider 13% of the time just a tick harder than the change, a curve about 9% and finally, he threw the cutter he added this season just 6% of the time.
There a few things the Giants will try to do to win this game. For starters, Bumgarner needs to continue to pitch as if he’s been there before. Additionally, it would be great if Blanton is rusty and struggles with fastball command. They can either get a few free passes this way or capitalize on straight, hittable fastballs. Lastly, it will be exceedingly helpful if Manuel doesn’t change his mind and throw Roy Halladay on short rest. This is a huge game for both teams. A loss isn’t devastating to the Giants, but it would put them in a position where they would need to win two of three (playing two of three in Philly) against H2O (Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels).
Stats provided by Fangraphs


  1. FYI, Young Hickory was also the nickname of our eleventh president, James K. Polk - a good one to be associated with.

  2. Nice, thanks! I looked that up and apparently it was a play on Jackson's "old hickory" nickname, but I didn't know that. I enjoy history, though, always have.