By Jason Wojciechowski on July 19, 2008 at 4:28 PM
Bruce Jenkins starts so promisingly with this piece, and then he just loses the thread and completely falls overboard. (Mixed metaphor, what?)
If you're an A's fan and took the time Sunday to watch the Futures game, a minor-league prelude to the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, you're probably not upset or disappointed over the Joe Blanton trade.
Ok, that's cool, that's your angle: the A's are building a really strong team for next year and the year after by making these recent trades as well as the Haren and Swisher trades this offseason. Jenkins mentions Cliff Pennington, who, despite no power whatsoever, has a .400 OBP at Sacramento; Henry Rodriguez, who impressed everyone with his 100 mph heat; Brett Anderson's two pickoffs in the game and his 12 K debut at AA; and Trevor Cahill, who's been whiffing people his entire career despite not having Rodriguez-type velocity. But then.
We could go on like this all day - about Carlos Gonzalez, about the other two pitchers in the Haren deal (Greg Smith and Dana Eveland), or about the immediate impact made by outfielder Matt Murton and pitcher Sean Gallagher (at some point, the Cubs are going to miss him) after arriving via the Rich Harden trade.
Matt Murton?! The immediate impact of Matt Murton? Dude's 1-13 with one walk in Oakland! His immediate impact has been to hit even worse than Emil Brown. That's a hell of an immediate impact.
Make no mistake, the deal makes sense for the Phillies. Blanton is only a shade beyond ordinary (and I have to mention this again, as the man makes his exit: Have you ever seen anyone who looks so much like a Joe Blanton?), but he fits one of the really pathetic terms of modern-day baseball: an "innings-eater." That means he's good for six or seven decent innings and then, what the hell, you're on your own. Not that this makes him much different from anyone else in this era of the 100-pitch limit, but despite his numbers (5-12, 4.96), he's considered a "serviceable" starter.
Of course Jenkins has to get in a dig at the idea of pitch counts. And, you know, saving pitchers' arms so they can live to throw another day. Because who the hell actually wants to watch Kerry Wood as a starter anyway? More importantly, Jenkins completely understates the value of a real innings eater like Blanton. "Not much different"? Over the last four years (counting this partial season we're in right now), Blanton has thrown 752 2/3 innings with an ERA+ just slightly over 100 (i.e. he's an exactly average pitcher for those innings). How many guys can say the same? Baseball-reference.com can tell us! There are sixteen pitchers who meet the Blanton minimum standards. There are, in fact, only seventeen pitchers total who have pitched Blanton's number of innings in that span. (The 17th guy is Livan Hernandez, whose ERA+ is just 92.) So at the very least this points out the relative rarity, contrary to what Jenkins thinks, of a guy like Blanton, even if he's not an ace. But what's a little more interesting is that Blanton's pretty unique -- as I said, there's only one pitcher on this list whose thrown as many innings as he has over the last four years but has a worse ERA+. There are only four other players with this many innings and an ERA+ under 110: the aforementioned Hernandez, Greg Maddux, Javier Vazquez, and Bronson Arroyo (who's at 109, so he could move off the list with a few good games). In any case.
Judging from the season's first half, Blanton could make a division-winning difference in Philadelphia. The Mets are going overboard on the wonders of new manager Jerry Manuel, but any change would have been welcome after weeks of chaos surrounding Willie Randolph and his fragile job security. The Mets will come back to earth because they're old, vulnerable and emotionally weak at some key positions, notably shortstop Jose Reyes and center fielder Carlos Beltran. The Phillies know that with their superior character, a third reliable starter (to join Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer) can put them over the top.
Emotionally weak? Really? Um, Bruce, you're based on the west coast. I don't think you go into the Met clubhouse all that often. Even if you did, what exactly is your evidence that these two are "emotionally weak"?
The beauty of this deal, for Oakland, is that unlike the Harden, Haren, Jason Giambi or Miguel Tejada decisions, this one won't cost them any fans. Wait - they don't have any fans to begin with. Maybe 10,000 die-hards, tops. It's a brutal world, but it's Billy Beane's world. No other executive in baseball could make it so livable.
Sigh. Can someone please, please, please not write an article about the A's that mentions how few fans there are? Please? I mean, clearly there are more than 10,000 A's fans in the world.