Joe Blanton, who went 12-8 with a 4.05 ERA last season, is at this moment 1-5 with a 7.28 ERA. Also at this moment, the Phillies are in third place. These phenomena are not unrelated.
Also not unrelated: Blanton's strikeout rate is down significantly from last season, and he's struggling particularly on 2-2 counts. Dave Cameron:
- In looking at his pitch selection, we can see that he’s curiously decided to throw mostly fastballs on this count, despite it being a strikeout situation. On 2-2 this year, he’s throwing 60 percent fastballs, 6 percent sliders, 15 percent curves, and 19 percent change-ups. Last year on a 2-2 count, he threw 48 percent fastballs, 23 percent sliders, 13 percent curves, and 16 percent change-ups.
Essentially, on 2-2 counts this year, he has replaced the slider – a-swing-and-miss pitch – with the fastball. Hitters have been appreciative, and instead of going down flailing at a breaking ball, they’re driving his fastball with authority.
Maybe he has a good reason for why he’s decided to start throwing 89 MPH meatballs in a pitcher’s count, but regardless, it’s not working, and perhaps he should consider trying something else.
Well, yes ... But as Cameron points out, Blanton's strikeout rate this season is not far off his career rate. What's more, Blanton's strikeout-to-walk ratio is actually better than his career ratio. Blanton's biggest problem, and one that Cameron doesn't address, is that he's given up 11 home runs in 47 innings.
When Blanton pitched for the Athletics, he gave up relatively few home runs, just 0.82 per nine innings. But then Blanton joined the Phillies, and that number jumped to 1.35 over 2008 and '09 despite the shift to a less powerful league (if only because of the pitchers hitting). This year it's 2.1 home runs per nine. And it's not just the difference in Blanton's home ballparks. Since joining the Phillies, Blanton's ground-ball rates have trended steadily and dramatically downward.
Essentially, everything that could go wrong is going wrong. Blanton's striking out fewer hitters. He's giving up more fly balls, and a higher percentage of those fly balls are flying over the wall.
Some of this will naturally self-correct. But some of it, maybe a lot of it, will not. Right now, without a major rebuilding effort, the best case for Blanton might be a decent No. 5 starter. Which would be fine, except the Phillies already have two of those.