Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Joe Blanton (56) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
I'm a completely mediocre guitar player. No one will ever pay good money to watch me play. No one has ever said "wow" after watching me play. But I've filled in when needed, replacing better guitar players who were in prison, or on drugs, or in prison because of drugs, or who broke a hand while punching a prison wall on drugs. Rock 'n' roll, man.
I could never escape the orbit of mediocre, though. Just a guy. Not bad, not good compared to his peers.
This is how I segue seamlessly into an article about Joe Blanton.
Ah, but Blanton is mediocre at the highest level, which is to say he's one of the very best pitchers in the world. He doesn't deserve to be compared with an amateur. Technically. He might be one of the 100-best starting pitchers in baseball today. He should be a guy in a major-league rotation, slathering innings with innings-sauce and eating them way past the point of contentment. He's doing what he should be doing, and he's doing it well. Which is to say, doing it as mediocre as humanly possible. His career ERA+: 98. The average ERA+ of starting pitchers: 96.
The problem is that Blanton's playing with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. That's like me grabbing a ukelele and sitting in with The Who at their peak. He stands out by comparison, and not in a good way.
Another problem is that the Phillies have a great chance to be offensively impotent this year. It doesn't take too much to picture them with a below-average lineup with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out, at least in the early season. A pitcher who gives up three or four runs in six innings -- where you'd expect Blanton to be, more or less -- has a decent chance to lose.
And a third problem is that the 98 ERA+ up there isn't weighted toward his recent seasons. It's been a long time since his above-average 2009, which was the last time he wasn't well below average.
So Blanton, who starts on Thursday night, will be a pitcher of interest. He will be a very noticeable part of the Phillies' rotation. He should be used to this, of course. He was supposed to be the weak link last year, too, only he was too hurt and ineffective to be noticed at all. Vance Worley stepped in and pitched superbly.
Without Roy Oswalt this year, though, and without the buffer of a pitcher like Worley waiting in the wings, it's likely that Blanton will pitch a lot for the Phillies. Good, bad, or mediocre, Blanton is likely to be in there. The alternative on the 40-man roster is Kyle Kendrick. If the Phillies add someone from their minor-league ranks, it might be Austin Hyatt (who is interesting) or Pat Misch (who is Pat Misch). Blanton would have to be pretty bad to force the Phillies to drop someone from the 40-man roster to make room.
Blanton might be that bad. But the chances are pretty good that he'll be mostly harmless, alternating good starts with poor starts, not exactly helping his team win in a direct sense, but not killing the bullpen, either. He'll stick out because his peers aren't his peers. He'll start close to as many games as Roy Halladay, though, so don't think he's unimportant. He's Joe Blanton: The other guy on the Phillies, for better or worse. Sometimes worse.