The stats swarm you like Progressive Field gnats:
3 starters with an ERA of 6.00 or worse
4.9 K/9 rate for pitchers currently in the organization
5.54 starters' ERA (2nd to last, COL 6.38)
354 strikeouts by starters (fewest by 22)
.294 batting average allowed by starters (2nd to last, COL .314)
.346 OBP allowed by starters (27th)
.490 SLG allowed by starters (2nd to last, COL .531)
A quick glance of comps to that .294/.346/.490 triple-slash allowed by Twins starters brings up some pretty scary opposing hitters. Andre Ethier has an identical 836 OPS, with Curtis Granderson, Adrian Beltre, Jason Heyward, and Mark Teixeira all in the discussion.
So it's become clear: the pitching staff -- to a far lesser extent, the relief corps -- for the Twins needs an overhaul. But on a budget that is as yet unclear, how can incremental upgrades be made without spending the big money required to reel in a Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels-caliber pitcher?
One has to think outside of the box. At least you'd think so, right? Well one of my solutions is actually going to fit right inside the Twins usual line of thinking.
It hasn't been the prettiest season for Joe Blanton. The 4.59 ERA he's compiled this season -- while the best he's had since 2009 -- still represents a three-year trend above his career mark. A big part of it is his HR/9 rate has ballooned to 1.5, as well as his 67.1 percent strand rate. Even so, Blanton's been really good if we dig into some more saber-friendly metrics.
Blanton's ERA-FIP-xFIP splits are 4.59-3.98-3.38, which is to suggest he's been really good, if a bit unlucky. He's added a little steam to his heater -- 90.3 up from a career mark of 89.4 mph -- and as a result he's fanned more hitters per 9 (7.8) this year than any other in his career. He's also halved his career walk rate, which has resulted in a very comely (and league-leading, for that matter) 6.4 K/BB rate.
Why then is he still pitching so poorly?
Fangraphs colleague Ben Duronio dug a bit deeper into that one. Essentially, Blanton has become a victim of his own control/command, depending on how you look at it. Oftentimes, he's leaving fastballs dead-red in the hitting zone, and being punished for him.
Well, that alone would be cause for the correlation here between him and the Twins, but it's not quite what I'm getting at. Obviously, the club needs to re-manufacture the rotation. A lot of people, in my estimation, have forgotten about Scott Baker when considering next year's rotation. Probably for good reason. But if Baker can even give the Twins 100-120 innings of league average ball, that's an incredible upgrade on this year's carnage. This is, of course, assuming the Twins bring him back.
But still, who is likely going to be a holdover from this year's rotation? Scott Diamond is a shoo-in, even if I feel he's more suited to be a fourth or fifth starter. Nick Blackburn, by virtue of contractual obligation, will probably get one more last chance, before you say we're through (wonder how many of you will get that reference).
But chances are there'll be three open spots in the rotation. Even if Carl Pavano offers to return for very little, and Baker signs a Grady Sizemore-esque deal, the Twins will still have to look to the outside for help, as there's almost no chance the farm will harvest a bumper pitching crop between now and spring training.
Zack Greinke isn't happening.
So one must look to a lower-tier of starters for the Twins to stack their staff with. Anibal Sanchez -- for whom my man-love is well-documented -- would be an amazing get. He'll probably command $10-12 million per season. He's probably worth it, too.
So the focus shifts to Blanton. He really is the Twins type of pitcher, isn't he? Consider:
6.1 career K/9 (check.)
2.4 career BB/9 (close, but check.)
1.33 career WHIP (check.)
1.1 career HR/9 (check.)
Turns 32 in the offseason (check.)
Perennially within whispering distance of .500 (check.)
With Pavano coming off the coffers following this cataclysmic season, would it be silly to suggest they just white-out the dates and names on Not-So-Super-Pavario's two-year, $16.5 million dollar contract and fill in Blanton's name? I don't think so. Would it be a bad move? I also don't think so.
Sometimes, by thinking outside of the box, you still find yourself right inside the box. In this case -- the Twins signing a pitcher who is both underrated AND their kind of pitcher -- it would be a good move for both sides.