I’ve written in the recent past on this blog about Twins GM Terry Ryan taking the right attitude when it comes to the 2012 Twins season. The offense is certainly improved–right now, Justin Morneau is looking particularly reawakened–but the pitching remains downright awful. In the midst of all this, Ron Gardenhire suggested that starter Nick Blackburn would be definitely back next year and Ryan commented that Blackburn would “be in the mix” for the 2013 rotation. Sigh.
Blackburn has been unquestionably terrible this season. He is probably the worst starter in the major leagues. In 93 1/3 innings this year, he has a 7.33 ERA/5.98 FIP/5.04 xFIP, good for -1.9 rWAR/-0.6 fWAR (56 ERA+). His strikeout rate is a unfathomably putrid 3.95 K/9, while he’s walking 2.41 BB/9–good, but not good enough when you strike no one out. He’s allowed 21 home runs and 132 hits in that time, and his .326 BABIP isn’t particularly high given that his career BABIP is .310. Blackburn is just plain hittable. His only competition for worst pitcher might be the Angels’ Erwin Santana, who has a 5.82 ERA/5.86 FIP/4.68 xFIP in 128 1/3 innings, good for a -0.7 fWAR. But hey, at least he strikes out 6.1/9.
Of course, part of the truth here is that Blackburn will be owed $5.5 million next year when he’s 31 due to a foolish extension the Twins gave him through his arbitration years after he had initial, but ultimately unsustainable success in the majors. One might suggest that the Twins didn’t realize that such success was fleeting due to their seeming ignorance of many advanced statistics, but that’s a discussion for a different day.
The fact that Blackburn is owed money can’t make the decision here. Neither can loyalty, another factor that the Twins place a premium on (though I’m not saying that’s always a bad thing). Blackburn has been a bad pitcher for a while now and a team like the Twins can’t simply go around and make casual guarantees like this to such a player. Their starting pitching is historically bad. Repeating the same mistakes is not what they should be doing by any means. Instead, Terry Ryan’s words from a few weeks back before the trade deadline should be guiding: no one should be safe.
Especially Blackburn. There is no guarantee that someone like Kyle Gibson will be ready for next year and the Twins may need stopgap players as they wait on the development of pitching–that’s what rebuilding teams have to do. But Blackburn has been around and we know exactly what he is. A pitcher with decent but not great control who strikes no one out and is utterly hittable. He’s a batting practice pitcher dressed up as a major league starter.
The past mistakes here is loyalty in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Thankfully, in another situation, the Twins finally gave in to the obvious with their devastatingly bad Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka has been so awful in his Twins tenure that it really doesn’t bear repeating or even assessment–everyone knows that he couldn’t even hit or field at AAA, let alone the big leagues. The Twins have seemingly finally swallowed their pride and money, sending him back to AAA today when they recalled Trevor Plouffe. If they can do this with Nishioka, they should be able to do the same with Blackburn.