The Dodgers signed Joe Blanton recently, which makes sense but is also absolutely horrifying because he’s Joe Blanton. However, many have made the case that Blanton is legit as a reliever, and Neil Weinberg of FanGraphs made the point that his career as a reliever should be given a clean slate given how he’s changed.
For the last several years, he’s been a fringy pitcher who seemed to have a knack for allowing hard contact. That isn’t the kind of thing that generally goes away out of nowhere, but this wasn’t an out of nowhere thing. I tend to think most subtle transitions won’t hold just due to how many of them are out there, but if you saw Blanton pitch for the first time in 2015, you would think he looks like a solid middle reliever who is nails against righties. The past data isn’t useless, but it’s less useful than it is for most guys because he’s doing something totally new. And unlike so many of these cases, it’s not about an uptick in velocity that might go away as he ages.
As Mike pointed out in the post about his signing, Blanton’s essentially new slider is the major factor in his effectiveness in relief.
So with all the hype about the new slider, I decided to take a look at it in action.
Seeing the slider in action was surprising in a good way. Blanton basically scrapped whatever the previous version of a slider he had been using, hardly used a slider for two years, and came back with this version of the pitch in 2015 in relief. Blanton started throwing it more than ever before and all of sudden he’s spinning it tight and it has relatively sharp two-plane break. Combined with his run of command in 2015, and it’s not really a surprise he thrived.
All that said, the endless Joe Blanton jokes are 100% legit, and I’ve made plenty of them because no matter what he did in 2015 I’m still a skeptic since he’s still Joe Blanton over the larger sample size. But the addition of the slider does make me think that Weinberg is correct that Blanton is now essentially a new entity as a reliever and could repeat his effectiveness in 2016 if the slider is still in form.