Something Isn't Quite Right With Nick Blackburn

Minnesota Twins at Anaheim Angels

I disagree with my colleague Fetch; I don’t think this is the normal Blackburn at all (to be fair, he did sort of backtrack on that comment). Sure, the right-hander has probably been more lucky than good thus far in his career, but it looks like something more than just normal regression to the mean is going on.  We’ll examine the pitch f/x data after the jump.

According to pitch f/x *, this is what Blackburn’s stuff looked like last year:

And the side view:

As you can see, one of the reasons Blackbeard is so successful despite having such pedestrian stuff is that he’s so deceptive. All of his pitches tend to look the same coming out of his hand, and when he’s on his game, he keeps hitters off balance and induces a lot of swinging strikes. His pitches also tend to have quite a bit late movement, which forces hitters to roll over on them and ground out harmlessly to an infielder.  So, while Blackbeard won’t exactly blow anyone away, he can pitch effectively enough to keep his team in the game.

Unfortunately, this season has been an entirely different story. Blackburn hasn’t been the same pitcher at all. It’s an awfully small sample size, but yikes:

 

 

Not only is there noticeably less movement, but he’s missing the plate by quite a bit:

 

Since he doesn’t throw hard and relies on pinpoint location to get hitters out, Blackburn doesn’t have much margin for error.  If he’s off by even a little bit, he gets hit pretty hard, which explains why he’s given up 19 runs on 33 hits, including 6 home runs so far this year.  Either his elbow injury is more serious than he’s letting on, or he’s struggling with some sort of mechanical issue. Considering the 28 year-old has tossed 434.1 innings since being called up in September 2007, the former is most likely the case. He’s often praised as being a workhorse, but it looks like all those innings might be catching up with him, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he ends up on the DL.

*All pitch f/x charts used in this post are courtesy the good people at TexasLeaguers.com

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