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  • Blackburn's Persisting Struggles

    It took almost six hours, but the Twins were able to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Brewers on Sunday. To do so, they needed to overcome another non-quality start from Nick Blackburn, who yielded four runs over six innings in what sadly qualifies as one of his best outings this season.

    The right-hander's results weren't bad until Corey Hart took him deep for a three-run homer with two outs in the fifth, but he had been dancing on a tight rope all day. Milwaukee put runners in scoring position in each of the first four innings only to come away with one run; indeed, Hart's back-breaker seemed inevitable.

    It was a typically ineffective effort from Blackburn, who has turned in only one quality start in 10 outings this year.

    Granted, this isn't necessarily an earth-shattering development. We've seen him struggle before. But in past instances, his periods of turmoil have directly coincided with arm ailments, as his two worst seasons have both been followed by surgeries. This year, Blackburn's health did not seem to be in question while he cruised through spring training with a 2.12 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 17 innings, but his performance since the start of April has been inexplicably dreadful and hardly reminiscent of his glory days.

    In 2008 and 2009, Blackburn was a valuable starter – an inexpensive, above-average innings-eater. During that period, he made up for high hit rates by commanding the zone and hitting his spots relentlessly, averaging around a walk per game. This season, he has issued multiple walks in seven of his 10 starts and thrown a career-low 60 percent of his pitches for strikes.

    Blackburn routinely ranks as one of the most hittable pitchers in baseball, and that's certainly been true this year; his opponents' batting average of .329 is nearly 20 points higher than any qualifying starter. A guy like that simply can't survive with mediocre command, and that's where he's at right now. We're not seeing many signs that it's ready to turn around, either.

    Unfortunately, the Twins have little choice but to stick with him at this point. With Carl Pavano and P.J. Walters both on the disabled list, the club is already short on starters. Beyond that, they have a vested interest in letting Blackburn work through these issues and try to recapture the form that made him effective in the past. Like it or not, he's under contract next year for $5.5 million, and if the Twins are going to swallow that money and cut bait they'd better be completely certain he doesn't have it in him any more to produce the way he did in his early years.

    I'm not ready to jump to that conclusion yet, and neither are they I'm sure. But the team's patience can't last forever. Especially with a guy who hasn't been able to put together a full season since 2009.
    This article was originally published in blog: Blackburn's Persisting Struggles started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. greengoblinrulz's Avatar
      greengoblinrulz -
      Blackburn has a 5.32 ERA since leaving the Metrodome (or since signing his contract).
      Another HORRIBLE decision from Bill Smith....but sadly what else are you gonna do.
      The guy is an atrocious pitcher on the team with the worst starting pitching in baseball.
      Only shot is to deal him in offseason for some other teams horrible contract & hope.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Other than the one bad pitch that resulted in the home run, he had a pretty good day today. His trend seems to be improving, and he may yet be an effective #4 or #5 starter.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      Other than the one bad pitch that resulted in the home run, he had a pretty good day today.
      Nine hits and two walks in six innings qualifies as "pretty good"? How far our standards have fallen.
    1. silverslugger's Avatar
      silverslugger -
      I know the trend in baseball is to lock up players through their arbitration years and 1 to 2 of the first free agent years while gaining cost certainty. This is definitely one of the situations where going year to year would've been much preferable. Arbitration has been around long enough that teams should be able to build in some certainty based on past experience. I understand that almost all players are getting raises through this process, however, the bank isn't broke unless they have a monster year. In which case, they deserve it. I would more than trade the cost certainty for the flexibility of being able to make decisions one year at a time during those arbitration years.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      No GM is going to trade for Blackburn, so we're stuck with him through next season. $5.5 million is ridiculous for a back-end starter.

      PJ Walters wasn't great but he's at least as good as Blackburn, and he was picked up on the scrap heap for pennies.
    1. Chance's Avatar
      Chance -
      Right now the twins can either pay him 5.5 million to lose us games next year or they can cut ties and pay a total of 8 million or so by signing another average pitcher who might win some games. Great options.
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      Thank you for finally calling out Blackburn on his start this year. We rip on Marquis for his performance and when he was cut Blackburn had an ERA that was identical. We rip on Liriano for his performance this year and he has an ERA almost a point lower than Blackburn. Even if you take his 2009 WHIP he would rank 83/112 pitchers in baseball. He just isn't that good when he is good and he is really bad when he is bad.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by silverslugger View Post
      I know the trend in baseball is to lock up players through their arbitration years and 1 to 2 of the first free agent years while gaining cost certainty. This is definitely one of the situations where going year to year would've been much preferable.
      Right, because Blackburn isn't the kind of player that's likely to get big arbitration awards anyway. His contract was pretty much all risk, with little potential reward.
    1. chuchadoro's Avatar
      chuchadoro -
      Quote Originally Posted by jharaldson View Post
      Thank you for finally calling out Blackburn on his start this year. We rip on Marquis for his performance and when he was cut Blackburn had an ERA that was identical. We rip on Liriano for his performance this year and he has an ERA almost a point lower than Blackburn. Even if you take his 2009 WHIP he would rank 83/112 pitchers in baseball. He just isn't that good when he is good and he is really bad when he is bad.
      +1

      I've had enough of the excuses made for Blackburn by the Twins and their apologists. He's too strong early in the game, so his sinker won't sink. He's battling through injuries. He's battling his tail off. He's close. Maybe the real reason for Blackie's struggles is he's a replacement-level pitcher with a penchant for grooving waist-high sinkers over the middle of the plate.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Nine hits and two walks in six innings qualifies as "pretty good"? How far our standards have fallen.
      This is a case where the numbers sound a little worse than it actually was. Yes, the 5th inning was bad, and he did give up a couple of hard hits early in the game, but until the 5th his control was better than it had been recently. You take out the 5th inning, and he did OK. Not good, but not bad either.
    1. peterb18's Avatar
      peterb18 -
      Here is a comment I made last week about Blackburn: He just doesn't have enough quality to his pitches--not enough movement, not a real good fastball, terrible curveball, etc. Everything has to be perfect for him to be successful. If he is pitching I wouldn't but a ticket!
    1. TwinVike61's Avatar
      TwinVike61 -
      Quote Originally Posted by peterb18 View Post
      If he is pitching I wouldn't but a ticket!
      I think that's a typo but...a butt ticket ?
    1. Fire Dan Gladden's Avatar
      Fire Dan Gladden -
      Blackburn is currently the textbook example of "sunk money".
    1. peterb18's Avatar
      peterb18 -
      Quote Originally Posted by TwinVike61 View Post
      I think that's a typo but...a butt ticket ?
      Typo---buy a ticket
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