COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Angels right-hander Joe Blanton is making a bid for the club's worst season ever by a starting pitcher after allowing four home runs Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, taking the major league lead in home runs allowed as he continues to move up the all-time list.
The Angels' 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs dropped Blanton to 2-11 with a 5.40 ERA through 18 starts. Blanton has allowed 22 home runs this season and he's on course to surpass his all-time season high of 30, set with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. Could be that a place or two in the Angels' record book awaits.
The club record for losses in a season is 19, shared by George Brunet (1967), Clyde Wright (1973), Frank Tanana (1974) and Kirk McCaskill (1991). However, Wright and Tanana both bettered the league's earned run average, while Brunet was only 0.08 runs off and McCaskill was only 0.17 runs off. Blanton's ERA is 1.3 runs higher than the AL average of 4.10 this season.
Now in his tenth season, Blanton has allowed 192 homers, placing himself 239th on baseball's all-time list. He began the year in 324th place. The only pitchers on the list who have allowed more homers in fewer seasons are Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields (196 homers in eight seasons) and a guy you might have heard about, Ervin Santana (219 in nine seasons). Santana now pitches for the Royals, who also have Jeremy Guthrie and, somehow, aren't even close to leading the American League in home runs allowed.
Blanton has become a suitable replacement for Santana, who allowed 39 homers last year with the Angels. The club's all-time single-season record for home runs allowed is 40, shared by Shawn Boskie in 1996 and Ramon Ortiz in 2002. But even if Blanton merely approaches 40 homers, it should be remembered that Boskie and Ortiz pitched in more offensively charged times.
In itself, giving up home runs doesn't ruin a pitcher. It often means he's around the plate, so he's not giving up cheap runners and he's still getting people out, but he's also giving hitters a chance to run into him. Ortiz, for example, was something of a hero for those World Championship Anaheim Angels. He finished 15-9 with a 3.77 ERA and won twice in the postseason. He also finished seventh in American League strikeouts (162), tenth in WHIP (1.178) and fourth in complete games (four). The Angels also scored for him -- 6.15 runs per start, according to Baseball.reference.com.
Boskie's 1996 season was more like the performance we are witnessing from Blanton today. Boskie finished 1996 at 12-11 with a 5.32 ERA and a 1.548 WHIP, which is close to Blanton's 2013 WHIP of 1.523. Boskie also received 5.14 runs per game in his support, enabling him to post a winning record in a league where the average club scored 5.39 per game. Blanton's run support this year is 4.09 in a league where the average club scores 4.42.
Not that an extra one-third of a run would help Blanton much, but it could make some difference. He has two one-run losses in quality starts, along with a no-decision quality start in another one-run Angels loss. Flip those around and he might be 5-9. While we're discussing Blanton's virtues for a moment, he is around the plate, walking only 22 hitters in 108 1/3 innings, and he had a nice stretch during which he produced quality starts in six of seven outings. But he still gave up nine home runs in those games, of which the Angels won only two.
There's no need for hitters to wait out walks against Blanton, because he gives them something early in the count to hit. Despite walking so few batters, Blanton's WHIP still is sky high because he has allowed 143 hits, the most in the American League.
Looking at Blanton's home run log this year, we find five homers on the first pitch of an at-bat, five on the second and six on the third. If you're batting against Blanton, you're looking for an early pitch to drive, because he is loathe to fall behind hitters and doesn't often enough get the ball by them. Four of his five second-pitch homers came on 1-0 counts, and five of the six third-pitch homers came on 1-1 counts.
Looking for the worst season ever by an Angels starting pitcher, we go back to that 1996 California Angels staff, which allowed a club-record 943 runs. Left-hander Jim Abbott did some heroic pitching in his life, but he was 2-18 with a 7.48 ERA that year. The average AL team scored 5.39 runs per game.
Blanton still has a long way to go. But we're not even up to the All-Star break.
Bill Peterson has covered and written about Major League Baseball for more than 30 years in Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Texas and Los Angeles, where he now lives and writes a baseball blog, Big Leagues in Los Angeles. He is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
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