2011 A's Retrospective #18: Jerry Blevins
Time is running short. I've got 30 of these left to go, and not even close to 30 days left before spring training opens up. But I'm going to pound on these anyway. I promised I'd try.
Jerry Blevins's season with the A's was notable mainly for introducing A's fans to a whole new type of waivers. David Wishinsky got in touch with Bob Rose, who explained what was going on, and why the A's kept designating Blevins for assignment only to wind up optioning him to Sacramento.
Blevins, a 28-year-old rail-thin (6'6" but just 175 pounds, and, if anything, that's generous) lefty with 151 games and 141 2/3 innings under his belt in the majors, had very solid performances from 2008-2010, putting up strikeout rates above eight, while keeping the walks in the three-per-nine range. The walks, unfortunately, shot up to 4.4 per nine this season. The PITCHf/x data at FanGraphs doesn't show Blevins throwing any fewer pitches in the zone in 2011, but the rate of swings on pitches out of the zone dropped from about 27% in the previous three years to under 24% this season. Three percentage points doesn't sound like a lot, but Blevins threw 433 pitches this year, so those three points translate to about 12 pitches that in 2010 might have been strikes, fouls, or weak contact and this year were balls. The additional walk per nine innings is about one per 36 batters faced, while the extra balls come to about one per ten batters.
There's nothing profound here, I don't think, but what it illustrates is how razor-thin the margins are for major-league players. Blevins averaged a little over four batters faced per game pitched, so we're talking about one pitch every two to three games raising his walk rate from basically average to almost 50% above it.
(There's an ascription of causation there that I haven't supported, note, and I'm not going to go batter-by-batter through Blevins's game logs to figure out where the walks actually came from. If the A's want to pay me to be that kind of data monkey, I'd do it, but when I'm working for ad revenue? Yeah.)
The other thing to note from Blevins's PITCHf/x data is that his average fastball velocity declined from 90-91 mph to below 89. Remember the Brandon McCarthy point about the key to not walking anybody being to trust your stuff and throw the ball in the zone. Blevins probably noticed a two-mph drop from where he was pitching in 2008 or 2009, and there's a chance he tried to be a little more fine because of it.
In his overall performance, this change didn't end up hurting him relative to his 2010 performance because he cut his homer rate in half, leading to an FIP of 3.70, down from 4.23. (His BABIP also tumbled down below his career norm (.278 in 2011) after it shot up to .318 in 2010.)
Going forward, Blevins and Brian Fuentes are the two best lefties the A's have. Sean Doolittle is still learning the whole pitching thing and Jordan Norberto can't really throw strikes. Also, I believe that Blevins is out of options: he had his contract purchased in 2007, was optioned to Sacramento to begin the season in 2008 (but spent the second half in Oakland), and also burned options in 2009 and 2011. Unless multiple pitchers have really good springs and the A's decide to trade Blevins, I'd imagine that he'll be a low-ish leverage pitcher (behind Fuentes, Grant Balfour, Fautino De Los Santos, and Joey Devine) for the entire year in Oakland.
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