It’s 2016 and we’re going to be talking about Joe Blanton today. Yes, the same Joe Blanton that somehow found his way into the same rotation as Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt. He’s also one of only two of them with a World Series ring to show for it all. Now, as most of that rotation has since bit the dust, Blanton is still hanging on after a shift to the bullpen revitalized his playing career.
As I’ve mentioned before, and will continue to do until the end of time, the Yankees are claiming to be out of money after spending $86 million on Aroldis Chapman, despite the team’s current needs. There’s no starting pitching left to sign on the free agent market and a trade doesn’t seem to be in the cards, so what if they squeezed out a little extra money to continue their overcompensation of bullpen arms? Why not go after Joe Blanton, of all people, to create probably the best collection of relievers in baseball?
2016 Statistics: 75 G, 80 IP, 2.48 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 9.00 K/9, 2.93 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 36
Position: Right-handed reliever
After years spent as a mediocre starter, things fell apart for Blanton at the beginning of the decade. He struggled to keep his head above water for a few seasons before announcing his retirement during spring training in 2014. Blanton had a change of heart soon after and returned to the mound, pitching out of the bullpen for the Royals, Pirates, and Dodgers over the last two seasons. Despite his age, the right-hander has proven that he can hold up over a full year and that he still has what it takes to pitch at the MLB level.
The transition to the bullpen has allowed Blanton to stabilize his velocity. He has also maintained much of his repertoire, pitching like a starter with upwards of 5-6 offerings in his arsenal. However, he has moved away from his cutter in order to concentrate more on his sinker, which has helped to limit the home runs he always allowed.
Taking a year off, as Alex Rodriguez showed us in 2015, can also help to revitalize a weary body. He lost weight before making his comeback and now pitches at an entirely different arm slot. Blanton historically released the ball with a very overhand motion—similar to Chase Headley’s release point at third base—but he now pitches at a more traditional arm angle:
This change allows him to keep the ball down in the zone more often so hitters, again, can’t jump on him as easily and knock it out of the park.
Since moving to the bullpen, Blanton has moved his way up into the realm of late-inning reliever. This would allow the Yankees to use Chapman as their closer, Dellin Betances anywhere between the fifth inning onward as a fireman, and give them Tyler Clippard and Blanton for the seventh and eighth innings. He also wouldn’t cost much more than the $6 million they are paying Clippard right now.
The Yankees missed out on their homegrown bullpen nirvana with the collection of Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb, and Nick Goody all gone from the organization. There will undoubtably be other names who can step up and take their places—Giovanny Gallegos, Jonathan Holder, Ben Heller, Dietrich Enns—but wouldn’t we want someone a little more proven this time around? The last two seasons have been difficult with the failures of their bullpen prospects. Last year we saw how useful a great backend can be be without the middle relief to back it up. Blanton won’t be perfect, but he’s better than the alternative.