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Impact analysis: Blanton's effect on Philly

Impact analysis: Blanton's effect on Philly
With this year's baseball trading season already taking on the qualities of a Turkish bazaar, the Philadelphia Phillies added to the drama Thursday, July 17, by acquiring starting pitcher Joe Blanton from the Oakland A's for three minor league prospects. Infielder Adrian Cardenas, pitcher Joshua Outman and outfielder Matthew Spencer will head to Oakland's minor league system.

A fixture in the A's rotation since 2005, Blanton's reputation as an innings-eater made him a hot commodity on this year's trade market. That designation was well-earned after a 2007 campaign in which Blanton went 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA; he ranked second in the American League with 230 innings pitched. The A's and many fantasy players expected Blanton to continue that effectiveness this season, but instead he has struggled to the tune of a 5-12 record with a 4.96 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.

History of a workhorse

Blanton was drafted in the first round by the A's out of the University of Kentucky in 2002. Moving rapidly up the organizational depth chart, Blanton quickly established himself as a pitcher with good control and an ability to keep the ball in the yard. Brought up briefly to close out the 2004 season, Blanton was in the majors to stay by 2005.

A success by almost any measure, Blanton's outstanding rookie season in 2005 seemed to indicate he would be an effective starter for years to come; his 12-12 record only tells part of the story. Compiling a 3.53 ERA and 1.22 WHIP that year, Blanton's most impressive statistic was his extremely low home run rate of 1.03 dingers per nine innings. Along with an excellent walk rate of only three walks per nine innings, Blanton looked to have all the makings of a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

He posted a 16-12 record in 2006, but Blanton was considerably less effective that season. He finished with a shaky 4.82 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP, appearing to have taken a step back before surging again in 2007. Then, in keeping with his seemingly every-other-year pattern, Blanton's 2008 season has been a disappointment. The Phillies have to be wondering which pitcher they are going to see.

Inside the numbers

Much of Blanton's success as a pitcher can be attributed to the fact that he made slightly more than half of his career starts at Oakland's McAfee Coliseum. The expansive foul territory at the A's home venue is a wasteland where foul balls go to die, giving McAfee an enduring reputation as a pitcher's park. Blanton has a career 3.79 ERA at McAfee and a 4.78 ERA on the road; these statistics do not bode well for Blanton's future in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park.

His mediocre career average of 5.10 strikeouts per nine innings doesn't invoke much confidence, either, especially if he continues to pitch toward contact. He has just 62 punchouts in 127 innings this season.

As previously mentioned, Blanton's recipe for success has always centered on his ability to keep the ball in the strike zone and to prevent it from leaving the yard. Despite allowing a lot of base hits (career .273 opponents' batting average), his career walk rate of 2.39 per nine innings and home run rate of 0.82 per nine innings are elite statistics that have permitted him to stay effective.

In addition, Blanton is not an extreme groundball-inducing pitcher but carries a steady 1.29-to-1 groundball-to-flyball ratio. There is some concern that his propensity for allowing fly balls (career 35.1 percent rate) could send his home runs allowed total soaring following his change of venue.

The good news for Blanton is that he is going to a team that is likely to score more runs in support of his efforts. The victim of the eighth-worst run support in the AL (4.04 runs per game), Blanton's five wins so far this year reflect the Athletics' low-scoring ways. If he can continue to keep the ball in the yard and the Phillies can score runs consistently, the chances are good that Blanton's move will allow him to win more games in the National League. It also won't hurt that he'll no longer have to face the designated hitter.

The other pieces

Cardenas is considered the finest of the prospects that the A's received for Blanton. Prior to the 2008 season, Baseball America rated Cardenas as the second-best prospect within the Phillies organization. In 67 games so far this year at high Single-A Clearwater, the 20-year-old second baseman was batting .309 with four homers and 16 stolen bases. However, at this point his major league debut is expected to come no earlier than late 2009.

The left-handed Outman, 23, pitched primarily as a reliever in 33 games for Double-A Reading this season. Rated the No. 4 prospect in the Phillies organization by Baseball America before the season, Outman has a 3.20 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. He isn't likely to see big league service any time soon, and when he does, it will likely be out of the bullpen.

Spencer was drafted by the Phillies out of Arizona State in 2007. The 22-year-old was hitting .249 at Clearwater with six home runs in 84 games. Spencer is ranked No. 28 on the Phillies' Baseball America prospect list and probably has a long road ahead of him in the minors.

The most immediate result of this trade for the Athletics involves the possibility that they could call up prospect pitcher Gio Gonzalez from Triple-A Sacramento. Acquired in the deal that sent outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher to the Chicago White Sox, Gonzalez is 7-6 with a 4.34 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP and 117 strikeouts in 110 innings at Sacramento this season.

The southpaw has turned things on as of late, though, posting a 0.81 ERA in three winning starts this month. He has allowed just two earned runs on seven hits in 22 1/3 July innings while striking out 27 and walking seven. Given his recent success, the A's might be tempted to fill Blanton's rotation spot with the youngster.

The A's also recalled southpaw Lenny DiNardo, who has experience as both a starter and reliever. He has bounced back and forth between Oakland (1-2, 9.00 ERA in 12 innings pitched) and Sacramento (6-3, 4.09 ERA in 55 innings) this season.

Fantasy baseball outlook

Blanton is a must-own in NL-only leagues. The two biggest arms (the Milwaukee Brewers' CC Sabathia and the Chicago Cubs' Rich Harden) that could move to the Senior Circuit have already done so. While rumors swirl around Toronto Blue Jays starter A.J. Burnett, a deal involving him seems far from certain. NL-only managers desperate for pitching and who missed out on Sabathia and Harden should consider dumping a sizable FAAB bid on Blanton simply because he may represent the last chance to acquire an impact starter. They must understand that there's far greater risk with Blanton, however.

Fantasy owners in deep mixed leagues who are in dire need of pitching help should consider taking a flier on him, but others should monitor the situation before making a move. His first start for the Phillies is expected to come Tuesday, July 22.

Cardenas, Outman and Spencer are useless in single-year leagues, but those in keeper setups should keep an eye on Cardenas. He can hit for average and has some base-stealing potential in a thin second base pool.

Fantasy owners in AL-only leagues should take an immediate flier on Gonzalez, while those in deeper mixed leagues can consider rolling the dice on him as well. He hasn't exactly been lights-out in Triple-A, but he has terrific strikeout potential and is currently on an upswing.

DiNardo should only be considered in the deepest of AL-only leagues, and he'll receive an extremely small boost if he enters the rotation.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: July 22, 2008

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