By Jason Shetler
Entering 2014, Joe Blanton signed with the team that drafted him as a first round pick back in 2002, the Oakland Athletics. He wound up making just two starts for the A’s former AAA club Sacramento before unexpectedly announcing his retirement. Blanton spent last offseason working out with former Pirates pitcher Zach Duke, and decided to make a comeback for 2015.
Blanton agreed to a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals in February. He was called up by the Royals in May to pitch out of the bullpen. In 41.2 innings pitched, he posted a 3.89 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP and an 8.6 K/9. Looking to upgrade their bullpen, the Pirates acquired Blanton from the Royals for cash a couple days before the trade deadline. He was even better with the Pirates, posting a 1.57 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and a K/9 of 10.2 in 34.1 innings. Combined with the two teams, Blanton put up a good groundball rate at 49%.
While his 2015 numbers as a whole were solid, the more impressive thing was the increased velocity on his pitches. Here are the comparisons from this year and his last Major League stint in 2013 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
2013 (Angels): 89.3 four-seam velocity, 89.1 sinker velocity, 81.4 slider velocity, 83.1 changeup velocity
2015 (Royals/Pirates): 90.6 four-seam velocity, 90.7 sinker velocity, 83.9 slider velocity, 85.3 changeup velocity
The four-seamer, sinker, slider and changeup for Blanton all showed significant upticks in velocity this year. He was also able to get batters to swing and miss at pitches 13% of the time compared to only 9.6% in 2013 with the Angels.
Blanton is a free agent this offseason, and the Pirates should consider bringing him back. He would provide them with a multiple inning arm out of the bullpen who can get strikeouts as well as induce groundballs. Blanton could also be used as a spot starter if need be. A one-year deal anywhere between $4-5 million or a two-year contract worth between $8-10 million would be more than a fair offer for the Pirates to give Blanton in an effort to bring him back for 2016.