The Dodgers have made yet another offseason splash.
Joe blanton agrees to dodgers deal. $4M
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 19, 2016
By now the news is known. On Tuesday afternoon-evening, depending on where you’re at, the Dodgers inked long-time veteran pitcher Joe Blanton to a one-year contract worth $4 million. On top of that $4 million comes some incentives, which are detailed more fully below.
Source: Blanton also gets $250K for 50 and 60 IP and $500 K for 70 IP. Structured for a reliever.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 19, 2016
At first glance, it’s pretty clear what this is for the Dodgers. With a rotation that already has plenty of depth, including Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-jin Ryu, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, and Mike Bolsinger, which isn’t even including the returning Brandon McCarthy, the Dodgers have ample depth in the starting rotation. Given this depth, and the specifics of the incentives in his contract, it is pretty clear that Blanton will be used in a relief role with the Dodgers. At least barring some cataclysmic barrage of injuries that destroys the starting staff, which is distinctly possible with Anderson, Kazmir, Ryu, McCarthy and Maeda all in one rotation.
So at this point, it is pretty clear that the Dodgers are signing Blanton for a role in the bullpen, based almost entirely on his success in that role during the 2015 season. To this point, Blanton has had about as up and down of a career as is possible. Blanton has been pitching in the big leagues since he first broke into the league with the Athletics in 2004. After a successful run in Oakland, capped off by a 5.3 WAR season in 2007, his best to date, Blanton ended up in Philadelphia in the middle of the 2008 season.
Following a few up and down years in Philly, Blanton ended up in Los Angeles, first with the Dodgers and then with the Angels. Following short stints with both teams, Blanton ended up in Oakland for a second run. Prior to the 2015 season, Blanton signed a minor league contract with the Royals before ending the season with the Pirates. That leaves us where we are now, with Blanton signing on for his second stint with the Dodgers.
While Blanton has had a rather rocky career as a starter, he excelled in a bullpen role for the Royals/Pirates last season.
For those who didn’t pay attention, Joe Blanton was really, really good last season. 76 IP, 79 Ks, 16 BB, 2.84 ERA. Thrived as a reliever.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 19, 2016
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) January 19, 2016
As is fairly obvious from the stats mentioned above, Blanton absolutely excelled in a bullpen role last season. His ERA dropped significantly, his WHIP was outstanding and he kept the home runs down to a minimum. All in all, it seemed like Blanton was a completely new pitcher, having a career renaissance at the age of 34. Blanton, who recently turned 35, is now looking to duplicate that success as a member of the Dodgers bullpen. The important question is can Blanton repeat that same strong performance?
At this point, all the signs seem to point to the answer to that question being a resounding yes. Perhaps the biggest sign of all is Blanton’s FIP from last season. An ERA of 2.84 is obviously fantastic but comes with some possible caveats. However, a FIP of just 2.92 shows real success, with a good chance of sustainability. An xFIP of 3.01? Even better. All the numbers certainly back up the kind of success Blanton had in 2015. However, the most interesting stat of all with regards to Blanton’s success is below.
wOBA allowed as a reliever in 2015: Joe Blanton, .258. Ken Giles, .254.
— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) January 19, 2016
For those who do not know, wOBA stands for weighted on base average, which is a more advanced calculation of batting average that awards a player more credit for home runs than triples, doubles, singles and so on. Basically rather than average, which treats all hits equally, wOBA makes some adjustment for the type of hit. Based on those numbers, Blanton was about on par with Ken Giles performance as a reliever in 2015. Now obviously Blanton isn’t Ken Giles, and does not hold anywhere near the same value as Giles, his $4 million contract looks like quite a bargain.
It remains to be seen what kind of pitcher the Dodgers will get in Joe Blanton next year. He may revert back to his previous struggles, or he may continue to build off his successful run in the bullpen in 2015. At $4 million, the price is worth every bit of the risk. The Dodgers have been questioned mightily for their offseason strategy to this point, but this deal may be the most intriguing, and at the same time most questionable, decision of them all. However, in Joe Blanton, the Dodgers may have found a hidden gem.