With plenty of free agent relievers available, could Joe Blanton be a good fit for the Washington Nationals bullpen?
This offseason, the Washington Nationals have yet to address the bullpen by making a Major League signing. Now, they have signed Neal Cotts to a minor league deal, but is there another move coming? Of course, closers like Greg Holland are still available. But, what if the Nats want to stay internal with their closer and sign another veteran reliever as a setup option?
While the Washington Nationals haven’t been linked to him in rumors, one reliever that is still out there in free agency is right-hander Joe Blanton. Of course, the Nats are very familiar with him from the NLDS last season. In four appearances, the 36-year-old did not give up one hit, struck out five batters, and got the win in Game 4.
2016 ended up being a good season for Blanton. In 75 appearances, he had a 2.48 ERA, struck out 80 batters, and walked 26 in 80 games. His 28 holds ended up being the fourth most of any reliever in the National League. During the season, teams hit no higher than .235 (July) in any given month.
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Blanton was drafted in the first round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. From 2004-2013, Blanton was a starting pitcher and he did win 16 wins in his second full season in the big leagues (2006).
After not pitching in 2014, Blanton became a reliever for the Royals and Pirates in 2015. In the second half of the 2015 season, he had success with Pittsburgh as he went 5-0 with a 1.57 ERA and had 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 21 games.
Yes, Blanton wouldn’t be one of the candidates for the Washington Nationals closer job. However, he would be a good candidate for being a setup man to whoever became the closer. With the Dodgers last season, he had a 1.80 ERA and held opponents to a .164 batting average in the eighth inning of games.
As a reliever, Blanton relies on four pitches. He has a fastball, changeup, slider, and breaking ball. Last season, he had an average velocity of 91.2 miles per hour on his fastball (according to Fangraphs).
Even though Blanton’s K’s per nine innings went down to nine last season, his 80 K’s were the third most of any Dodgers reliever. Out of those 80 K’s, 67 of them came via his slider, which hitters only had a .177 average against. However, five of his ten home runs allowed came off of that pitch. Both of those numbers are courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
All in all, Blanton wouldn’t be a bad plan B for the Washington Nationals bullpen. He wouldn’t address the closer need, but it would allow either Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen to compete for the closer role. If Kelley were to be the closer, they need a reliable veteran behind him and Blanton could be that kind of player.