Joe the Unlucky
by Ken Arneson
2008-06-12 23:38

Like so many of Joe Blanton’s starts this year, tonight’s game against the Yankees could have gone either way. In the bottom of the fifth with two runners on, Jack Cust hit a ball to the base of the left field fence for an inning-ending out. The next inning, Mark Ellis nearly robbed Derek Jeter of a leadoff single, but the ball came out of his glove when he got up to throw. A difficult play, but Ellis could have made it. The next two batters walked on pitches which half the umpires in the league probably would have called strikes. Hideki Matsui then hit a deep fly ball which, unlike Cust’s, came down over the wall instead of just in front of it, and the Yankees won the game 4-1.

That’s baseball. If both teams play well, both pitchers pitch well, then sometimes things will fall your way, sometimes they won’t.

By losing that game, Joe Blanton joined Barry Zito with nine losses this year. The comparisons between the two former A’s first-round picks should end with the loss statistic. Zito has deserved his nine losses–he’s pitched like poop most of the year, with a 5.83 ERA. Joe Blanton, on the other hand, deserves a much better fate.

Earlier this year, I thought Bob Geren was leaving Blanton in games too long. Blanton would have a lead going into the sixth or seventh, but then tire and give up a few runs, hurting his overall numbers, turning a couple of leads into deficits, and potential wins into losses.

But even if you reject that idea, and accept his run totals at face value, Blanton deserves a better than a 3-9 record.

Blanton’s 4.23 ERA is pretty much equal to the league average ERA of 4.17. He pitches for an average-to-above average team (.530 win %), on a team with a league-average offense (AL average: 4.49 runs/game, A’s offense: also 4.49 runs/game).

Average pitcher on average team with average run support–so why does Blanton have three times more losses than wins? You’d think things should fall Blanton’s way roughly half the time, right? Why isn’t Blanton 6-6 instead of 3-9?

A big chunk of Blanton’s misfortune has been a lack of run support. The A’s are averaging 4.49 R/G overall, but only 3.53 R/G in Blanton’s starts. When Blanton pitches, the A’s hit like they’re facing Cy Young contenders every time out. Which, it turns out, is pretty much the case. Check out the list of his opposing starters so far this year:

Daisuke Matsuzaka
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Cliff   Lee
C.C.    Sabathia
Felix   Hernandez
Livan   Hernandez
Felix   Hernandez
Vicente Padilla
Jeremy  Guthrie
C.C.    Sabathia
James   Shields
Jon     Lester
Sidney  Ponson
John    Lackey
Andy    Pettitte

That’s a helluva list. He’s faced Dice-K, King Felix and the reigning Cy Young winner twice each. The only pitchers who aren’t currently their team’s #1 or #2 starters–Livan, Sir Sidney and maybe Pettitte–all used to be #1 or #2 starters in their pasts.

So what happens when you take a league-average pitcher, and set up his matchups so that he basically gets a run per game taken away from him? You probably get Joe Blanton version 2008–a pitcher with a .300-.400 winning percentage.

Poor Joe. If the rotation had fallen just one game differently, he could have finally gotten some run support by being matched up against Zito on Friday. Instead, in his next start, he’ll be matching up against Dan Haren in Arizona. Figures.

Comments: 1
1.   Wabi-sabi
2008-06-13 12:26

1.  The good news, in some odd way, is that Blanton's "bad" record will make him tougher to deal. I'm happy about that, because Blanton stabilizes the rotation: 200+ innings at a league-average ERA, year in year out. That's more valuable than a lot of people might think.

Says Mr. Making Lemonade.

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