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Joe Blanton: #2 Starter Material?

We take a break from our two-minute hate session over last night's umpiring clown-show to discuss a topic that should restore some cheer to the hearts of all Phillies fans: Joe Blanton.

On June 12, in his eighth start of the season following rehab for a strained oblique muscle, Blanton gave up 13 hits and 9 runs (all earned) in an embarrassing pasting at the hands of the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. His ERA following that game stood at 7.28, and while that figure was somewhat inflated (as shown by his high BABIP-against and HR/FB rate), even his underlying peripheral stats were troubling. Through 47 innings pitched, he had collected only 26 strikeouts. This was especially discouraging because the Phillies had just extended Blanton for three years at $8 million/year - a deal that seemed like a good bargain based on his performance in 2009, when he had achieved a career-high K/9 rate of 7.5. Could his poor performance in 2010 be dismissed as a fluke?  Was it just the result of the lingering effects of his injury?  Or was it his strong performance in 2009 that was the fluke?

It's still too early to draw a conclusion on this, but Blanton's making a heckuva play to convince us that his success in 2009 was the real deal. Check out his monthly splits for the last two months.

Month IP K/9 BB/9 BABIP ERA   xFIP NL Rank (xFIP)
July 37.2 8.36 2.39 .365 5.26   3.61 16th of 57 qualifiers
August 26.0 7.96 1.38 .349 3.12   3.37 12th of 59 qualifiers
Total 63.2 8.20 1.98 .360 4.38 ~3.50 [not sure, sorry]

This has brought his season totals roughly into line with what he did in 2009. 

Season IP K/9 BB/9 BABIP ERA xFIP NL Rank (xFIP)
2010 132.0 6.48 2.05 .336 5.32 4.24 30th of 51 qualifiers
2009 195.1 7.51 2.72 .302 4.05 4.07 22nd of 45 qualifiers

So basically, Blanton is the same pitcher this year that he was last year - if you don't cut him any slack at all for having an adjustment period following his injury. He is a solid mid-rotation starter, who is a clear bargain at $8 million per year.

If you do give Blanton a mulligan for his presumable injury recovery period, then guess what - as of right now, Joe Blanton is pitching like a #2 starter. Even in this season of leaguewide depressed offenses, a 3.50 xFIP is really good. It's almost as good as what Roy Oswalt has done this season, and Oswalt's having a good year even by his own high personal standards. Yes, Blanton's struggled in the first inning, but so what? The first inning doesn't count more than any other inning, and weird stats like that are inherently fluky anyway. It's the overall numbers that matter.

So the moral to the story is that if you ever hear anyone disparage Blanton's performance this season, that's a good sign that they are ignoramuses whom you should ignore. He is not a weak link in the Phillies' rotation. He is one of the team's strengths. And he's a big reason why their rotation, from spots 1-4, is probably the best in the National League in 2010.