Last night Seth Stohs was hosting the first in a series of podcasts about the upcoming Winter Meetings. I was hanging around the chat room and my brother was curious if any team was willing to take Nick Blackburn and his contract from the Minnesota Twins. Seth asked his two guests if they thought someone might take Blackburn and, as you will hear if you listen to the podcast, Seth’s question was greeted by a long, awkward silence.
Nick Blackburn has never been a winning pitcher at the major league level (has never had a winning percentage over 50%, does have a couple of 11-11 seasons), but that doesn’t mean he has not been useful. Before 2011, Blackburn had posted double digit win totals in three consecutive years. In 2011 Blackburn struggled in part because of a nagging injury in his forearm, but also because of the poor defense behind him. Over the course of his career he has never had a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) over .308. In 2011 that number jumped up to .322 giving more batters opportunities to reach base when they inevitably make contact with one of Blackburn’s offerings (He owns a career 1.439 WHIP). The problem with moving Nick Blackburn is that he is a below average MLB starter, and every franchise has more than enough replacement level arms to throw into the starting rotation. While 2011 was easily Blackburn’s worst season, over the course of his career hitters have a higher career batting average, on base percentage, slugging, and OPS, against Blackburn than against an average MLB pitcher. To give you an idea of how bad Nick Blackburn has been, his career OPS against of .801 against is like having Michael Young hitting in every spot in the order. Bazinga!
Through age 29 Blackburn is most similar, not to a list of who’s who, but a list of who isn’t. Baseball Reference lists Chris Codiroli, Al Nipper, and Jimmy Jones. Even though Blackburn signed a team friendly 4 year/$14 million deal back in 2010, he’s still due to earn $10.25 million over the last two years of the contract, even with the Twins declining his 2014 option ($8 million). After averaging almost 200 innings per year his first two years as a starter, Blackburn has struggled each of the last two seasons, failing to pitch more than 161 innings, and he has struggled with control the past two seasons as well.
Another strike against Blackburn’s value is that even has a failed starter he has limited value in the bullpen as there is no significant jump in stats against left-handed or right-handed batters, he’s just bad against everyone.
Finding a team to take on a below average starter, pay him $14 million, and send something back back to the Twins in return will be a challenge even for a seasoned GM like Terry Ryan.
Enjoy the Winter Meetings, and get used to Nick Blackburn in a Twins uniform, he isn’t going anywhere.
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