This offseason, when the Kansas City Royals signed Joe Blanton to a minor league deal, it seemed as though they had brought in another arm for Spring Training. Little was expected from Blanton, a true reclamation project who had not been at least league average since 2009.
Blanton showed signs that he may have turned a corner during Spring Training. After his disastrous 2013 season when he was 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA and a 1.613 WHiP, and an aborted minor league comeback last season, Blanton posted a 2.79 ERA. His 1.66 WHiP and .351 batting average against were still concerning, but Blanton looked like he could be a solid depth piece.
He continued to be solid in the minors, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.89 ERA and a 1.119 WHiP for the Omaha Storm Chasers. With an opt-out in his contract, the Royals brought Blanton up to be a part of their bullpen. Then, after injuries to Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy further decimated the rotation, Blanton was forced into service.
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He has been far more than the Kansas City Royals could have expected. Overall on the major league club, Joe Blanton has posted a 1.73 ERA and a 0.923 WHiP, striking out 24 batters against three walks in 26 innings of work. As a starter, Blanton has allowed only two runs on seven hits in eleven innings. He has struck out a batter per inning without allowing a walk. Apparently, given the success of Blanton and Chris Young this season, Dayton Moore is some sort of baseball wizard.
While it has been quite the small sample size, there are some interesting numbers from Blanton’s performance thus far for the Royals. While Blanton has missed in the occasional chungeup, he has primarily used his fastball, sinker and slider. In fact, his slider usage of 25.65%, is the highest of his career, and the first time he has used the slider more than 20% of the time since 2009. It makes sense that Blanton would rely upon the slider more frequently, as opponents have a mere .160 batting average against that pitch.
Meanwhile, Blanton has all but scrapped his curve while removing the cutter from his repertoire. Considering that opponents have a .333 batting average against the curve this season, it would not be a surprise to see Blanton go even further away from that pitch as the year goes forth.
The affects upon the balls put in play against Blanton has been tangible in the early going. Blanton has given up a career low 15.3% line drive rate, while posting his second best ground ball rate at 50.0%. Meanwhile, of the fly balls that Blanton has given up, almost half have been popups on the infield. Now that he has a new approach, the opposition, for the most part, has not been able to square Blanton up.
Is this success sustainable going forward? With Blanton proving to be even more of an extreme ground ball pitcher than at any point in his career, it may well be. While he is not likely to continue to post these numbers, the Royals excellent, and perhaps underrated, infield defense should be able to allow Blanton to remain a useful part of the pitching staff.
Joe Blanton may have seemed like an extreme insurance policy for the Kansas City Royals, someone whose presence in the rotation meant that the season was slipping away. Instead, Blanton looks like yet another reclamation project that the Royals and Dayton Moore have gotten correct.