Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's the deal with Nick Blackburn?

Warning - if you don't like stats, please skip everything after the first two sentences and laugh at the mullet-ed kid some more.  Personally, I can't wait to see what color he chooses for his Camaro IROC-Z with t-tops.

WWWWWW asked me to take a look at Nick Blackburn and figure out if he's any good, probably since he literally bet his house on the line based on his performance.  Before getting into the details, the numbers suggest that yes, Nick Blackburn will be a good pitcher as long as you have realistic expectations for a middle-to-back of the rotation starter.  In fact, his minor league and 2008 stats show a very similar composition to the OTHER Venezuelan starter who left the organization this offseason--Carlos Silva.

Early season stats (particularly ERA) are often worthless since the sample size is so small--Zach Greinke and Kyle Lohse are the early runners for the AL and NL Cy Young awards, respectively.

With that in mind, Blackburn's ERA stands at a very solid 3.52 after six starts, not too shabby.  There are a few keys to his early success--he's keeping the ball on the ground and not walking many batters.  The GB/FB ratio is in line with his minor league performance (and better than Silva, who is actually not much of a GB pitcher despite Bert's hype), so no red flag there.  His walk rate could be a concern, although it is a continuing trend from his 2007 season where he took a step forward.

Strangely enough, Blackburn has been both lucky and unlucky during his start.

The Twins have been a mediocre defensive team (more on that in a future post), but there's no way hitters continue to hit .388 against him when they put a ball in play.  Expect that to regress closer to the .300 range as the season progresses.

How has he been unlucky?  Double plays and HRs.  As a groundball pitcher, Blackburn is going to stand out from Bonser, Baker, and Slowey with his ability to keep the ball in the park.  On average, 11% of all fly balls are HRs for all pitchers, but Blackburn's sitting at about 4% right now.  That's going to regress to the mean.  And I don't have any stats to back it up, but it seems like Blackburn's induced more double plays that I'd expect to continue.  Again, he'll induce more than average since he keeps the ball on the ground, but the inherent randomness of baseball will leave him out to dry every once in a while.

A couple additional stats to throw onto the pile are FIP (fielding independent pitching) and xFIP (which takes FIP and normalizes the HR rate).   These are designed to have similar values to ERA (sub-4.50 is a average or better score) are particularly useful, especially this time of year, to remove as much luck as possible from the pitching equation.  For instance, Scott Baker put up solid FIP numbers even when he was "struggling" with a high ERA, and the Twins pitching staff as a whole had better FIP #s than ERAs when Tony Batista and Juan Castro manned the left side of the infield (they sucked).

Using these metrics, Blackburn still looks good.  In fact, he has a GREAT FIP (2.70) and a solid xFIP (4.03, he's hit for some extra runs due to his lucky HR rate).

To go all high school paper here...

In conclusion, Nick Blackburn appears to be a solid pitcher that will contribute as a mid-rotation starter for the next few years with the Twins if he can stay healthy.  But as a guy who allows a lot of balls in play, his ERA is probably going to fluctuate between 4.00 and 5.50, much like Silva.

Fortunately for WWWWWW, I don't think the Twins offense is good enough to allow a guy like Blackburn to get 15 wins this season.


The Sidler said...

Two things I forgot to write about -

Blackburn's strikeout rate is in line with what he did in the minor leagues, so he's not being helped by some abnormally high strikeout totals.

To remain successful, Blackburn's going to have to maintain the K-rate he has, keep the ball on the ground, and avoid walking guys.

And ideally he'll play in front of a good defense since they're going to be doing a lot of the work. His ERA is going to be dependent on how well the defense behind him plays.

Dawg said...

Sidler - You are the only guy that could make Blackburn seem boring. I think you gave him such a half assed review because in your season projections for the rotation he wasn't in your starting 5 or 3 reserves. So you took your shame out on the next Greg Maddux. I think you also fail to give him his just praise because of your unhealthy man crush for Scott Baker. Whats with you and injury prone Twins ie Kubel, Baker and Cordova.

Blackburn's earl season success has come against some very quality lineups. Angels, Whitey's x 2, Detroit, Cleveland and Texas.

He was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League that features the top prospects from around the league.

He had a scoreless streak of 42 innings in AAA last year. Which they were just slobbering all over Cliff Lee's junk on Baseball Tonight last night because his scoreless streak reach 27 innings.

He is a sexy son of a b*tch.

He is relatively young at 26.

He is lights out at the dome with a 1.66 ERA but has struggled so far on the road with a 5.94 ERA.

In conclusion, once BB gun is able to figure things out on the road his ERA will probably drop to the 2.20-2.50 range and he will certainly reach my prediction of 14wins.

WWWWWW said...

I'm not even close to worried.

The Sidler said...

I'm going to add a "Sidler is boring" tag for my posts. Fine.

A mid-rotation guy with a ~4.00 ERA is a great projection, especially one with such a low K-rate. Sure, some guys like The Common Man still think any ERA over 3.00 is bad, but he's a moron when it comes to baseball.

Can you imagine the tail Blackburn and Mauer rake in when they hit the town?

WWWWWW said...

Only boring to guys like Dawg who don't get "statistics" and are big fans of gamers like Nick Punto and Jeff Hagen.

Dawg said...

Sometimes I wonder why I am friends with such a complete f-ing nerd.

WWWWWW said...

We're friends?

Dawg said...

Friends may be a little strong. I pretty much tolerate you for free gopher tickets.

Sidler - Who do you think pulls in more tail? Mauer/BB gun or Hoffarber/Hair Pie?

The Sidler said...

Mauer/BB for sure. Chicks dig the sideburns.