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.