Saturday, July 21, 2012

The return of Nick Blackburn

Nick Blackburn had his best outing of 2012 on
Friday, lowering his ERA to 7.46.
Nick Blackburn said upon his return from Triple A that he had found and corrected some mechanical flaws.

He had on Friday what I view as a prototypical "good" Blackburn start: 6.2 innings, seven hits, one run, no walks, two strikeouts.

The no walks (and no home runs) is good. The two strikeouts, not so much.

Dick Bremer at one point said something like: As good as Blackburn's sinker has been, he hasn't gotten any double plays.

Well, sinker or no, Blackburn wasn't really ground-ball heavy. The feed credited him with nine ground outs, seven flyouts. ESPN had his mix even -- nine grounders, nine flyballs. This is probably a higher ground ball rate than usual for him, but not all that heavy a rate. (Kansas City starter Luke Hochevar, a very similar pitcher to Blackburn, had a 10 GB/4FB ratio, according to

It's an odd thing: Blackburn relies on a two-seam, sinking fastball, and doesn't get all that many grounders. Scott Diamond tends to rely on what identifies as a four-seam fastball -- straighter and harder than a two-seamer -- and generally gets at least twice as many grounders as flyballs.

I'm not inclined to complain about 6.2 innings of one-run ball. But I view this outing much as I did Cole DeVries' start on Thursday. DeVries threw six innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts -- but he had just two ground ball outs.

DeVries gives up a lot of fly balls, which leads to a high home run rate. Blackburn can't miss bats.

It's certainly possible to have good outings despite those flaws. It's very difficult to do so consistently.


  1. "It's certainly possible to have good outings despite those flaws. It's very difficult to do so consistently."

    Except that Blackburn did have successful seasons in 2008 and 2009 with those "flaws". In fact, his ground ball rate those years was significantly lower than in the recent two seasons when he struggled.

    These statistical generalizations based on results are just that, generalizations. They are at best crude tools when applied to individuals. In the end what matters is not "missing bats", its getting batters out, not giving up runs and winning games. And there are a lot of different ways individual pitchers can accomplish that, no matter what you think the averages tell you.

  2. Blackburn, when healthy, has been the Twins best pitcher over the previous 4 years. Unfortunately he hasn't been particularly healthy over much of the previous 2 years and not healthy at all this year. Strike out rates are useful for evaluating pitches in the minors. But when you get to the majors, getting outs is what is important.

    I suspect that Blackburn will likely be largely effective the rest of the year, assuming good health. He seems to have fixed his mechanical problems and he knows how to get outs, which really is all that matters.

  3. re:has been the Twins best pitcher over the previous 4 years

    he has been terrible.
    lowered expectations.
    major lg hitters are hitting .300 against him for his career.