What Happened in 2016: Signed as a free agent in January and came into his own as one of the most dependable arms in the Dodger bullpen.
If you were skeptical when the Dodgers signed Joe Blanton in January, that was understandable. His 10-start stint for the Dodgers in 2012 was underwhelming, as was … well, most of his career as a starting pitcher. But that was before he developed a career-rejuvenating slider that aided him in his transformation into an effective reliever.
Blanton started the 2016 season strong (save for a bad appearance in San Francisco in early April), but there were some concerning trends that Amy and I explored in this piece on his pitch usage and batted ball results. Our worries, particularly those about his home-run allowance, were mostly proven wrong, in part because his overall fly ball rate ended up declining (although it did remain higher than his ground-ball rate for the first time in his career).
Rather, Blanton was one of the key pieces of a bullpen that wound up being a crucial part of the Dodgers’ success in 2016. He put up solid numbers that outperformed his peripherals, and earned the distinction of being one of the Dodgers’ most reliable relievers this side of Kenley Jansen. Blanton’s 75 appearances led Dodger relief pitchers, and he often pitched more than one inning in a game when called upon to do so.
Indeed, Blanton worked more than any Dodger reliever in 2016, and, unfortunately, it seemed to catch up with him in the postseason. While he was excellent against the Nationals in the NLDS (he appeared in four of five games, allowing no runs in five innings pitched), he had two bad outings against the Cubs in the NLCS — and gave up two big, tie-breaking home runs allowed — that arguably cost the Dodgers those games. It was a disappointing end to what was, overall, an excellent season for Blanton.
In spite of the bad ending, Blanton was a rather pleasant surprise this year, and a fun story of late-career reinvention.
2017 Status: Free agent. Heading into his age-36 season, Blanton isn’t exactly a spring chicken. But he’s put up two very good seasons as a reliever, and, once you get past the elite talents like Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, he’s seemingly one of the better relief options available this offseason. Blanton will surely get picked up by some team, perhaps even to be used as a closer.