Sometimes I make statements, then later I begin to wonder how accurate that statement actually was. Have you ever done that? At times things I have said in the past come back to me, and I am compelled to investigate. This is one of those situations.
On the evening of June 18, 2010 I watched a baseball game. The Phillies and Minnesota Twins were playing the first game in a three game series. I went over to my friend Jared‘s place to watch the game (he’s a Twins fan). The Twins would win two out of three in the series, but in the first game things went well for the Phils.
As we watched the Phillies jump out to an 8-0 lead in the first two innings it was evident this game belonged to the home team. In the bottom of the 5th Ryan Howard homered to make the score 9-0. Joe Blanton was pitching for the Phillies, and I remarked at the start of the 6th inning to Jared that the Twins should not give up hope, for Blanton’s pattern in 2010 was to implode in or after the 6th inning. Consistently. My statement went something along these lines: I’m not sure what the deal is, but Blanton seems to hit a wall in the 6th inning. I know he’s throwing a shutout right now, but I’d get the bullpen up preemptively.
Blanton gave up three hits and a run in the 6th. Not excuse me hits, these balls were scorched. The top of the 7th inning started out with a near home run by Delmon Young (it was hit so hard it ended up being a single), followed by a home run by feared slugger Nick Punto (that would be his only home run of the season). And then Charlie pulled Big Joe. The Phillies used four pitchers to close out the last three innings of the game, finally winning 9-5.
This year Joe Blanton will be the fifth starter for the Phils. The struggles of last year left a pall on Big Joe as a starter, but I must admit I’m a fan of his. One of my favorite baseball memories is the home run he hit in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series. He also got the win. Epic. Anyway, as this season approaches I’ve been thinking about my perception of Joe’s problems in late innings. I watch a lot of baseball, and my perception is based upon my recollection of his starts. I did not know the statistical breakdown of Joe’s career by inning or if 2010 was normal or an anomaly.
So I checked.
My next question is whether this is normal for Joe (based upon my observations I was inclined to say this was not a pattern throughout his career).
The short answer is that Joe has had some issues in the 5th and 6th inning throughout his career. In 2010 the struggles were magnified from the 6th inning on (the 2010 opponent OPS over 1.000 from the 6th inning on is telling). I feel completely vindicated in making my statement about Joe on June 18.
Comparisons across Blanton’s career are interesting. He has a consistent alternation of good and bad years.
Figure 3. The year to year fluctuation of Joe Blanton.
For those of you not familiar with ERA+, a number over 100 means the pitcher was above league average while a number below 100 means the pitcher was below league average. I added red text to highlight the every other year pattern. So, good things in 2011?