The Blackburn Extension

Today, the Twins announced that they agreed with Nick Blackburn on a 4-year, $14 million contract extension with an $8 million team option in 2014. At first glance, I was just a little upset with this news, considering that pitchers of the Nick Blackburn/Carlos Silva/Joe Mays mold don’t tend to last too long in the majors. However, that was before I found out that the extension merely covers Blackburn’s arbitration years, just like the Brendan Harris 2-year contract earlier this winter.

Honestly, I’m still not exactly pleased with the extension, but I’m glad to know that only the option year covers a year of free agency for Blackburn. In other words, unless the Twins released him, he was going to be with the team for the duration of his contract extension anyway.

There are several reasons why I’m a bit concerned about this extension. One, Blackburn has a very poor strikeout rate. Here’s the bottom 10 qualifying pitchers from 2009.

  1. John Lannan, 3.88
  2. Nick Blackburn, 4.29
  3. Joel Pineiro, 4.42
  4. Mark Buerhle, 4.43
  5. Zack Duke, 4.48
  6. Trevor Cahill, 4.53
  7. Braden Looper, 4.62
  8. Rick Porcello, 4.69
  9. Jason Marquis, 4.79
  10. Jon Garland, 4.81

Now here’s their ERA and FIP, in the same order as above.

  1. John Lannan, 3.88, 4.70
  2. Nick Blackburn, 4.03, 4.37
  3. Joel Pineiro, 3.49, 3.27
  4. Mark Buerhle, 3.84, 4.46
  5. Zack Duke, 4.06, 4.24
  6. Trevor Cahill, 4.63, 5.33
  7. Braden Looper, 5.22, 5.74
  8. Rick Porcello, 3.96, 4.77
  9. Jason Marquis, 4.04, 4.10
  10. Jon Garland, 4.01, 4.48

Wait…did I say I was concerned? Uh… *looks over FanGraphs data, tries to contradict data above*…

Crap.

Well, I suppose I could argue that most of those pitchers outperformed their FIP in 2009,* which suggests that they’re due for some sort of regression the next year. In Blackburn’s case, a difference between a 4.03 ERA and a possible 4.37 ERA isn’t that big of a deal, though. Maybe my gut instinct to be worried was wrong?

* In John Lannan’s case, by nearly a full run. He also did this last year, which is very odd. He’s a guy that should be out of baseball (or struggling to find a job), and yet he’s been Mark Buerhle-ing his way through the National League last year (at first glance, looks like he shouldn’t even be a professional, but at the end of the year, he’s spitting out an above-average ERA).

I’m sure some people will still draw comparisons to Carlos Silva and Joe Mays and point out that Blackburn doesn’t have a good future ahead of him. This might be true, it might not.

A good point that Seth Stohs made in his analysis is that this allows the Twins to lock up another core player for the future, which might be appealing to Joe Mauer. Hopefully it is, it would be nice to be able to hold onto someone of his caliber, and after the Johan Santana trade, I’m not exactly sure if I would trust Bill Smith to make another trade of this magnitude.

Finally, I know some people were making comparisons of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, and Glen Perkins as the second coming of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, but I think those expectations were a bit too high and also premature. I do believe that Baker, Slowey, and even Blackburn (and hopefully Liriano) have a good chance of being solid starters, but with the exception of Baker and Liriano, I’m not sure if any of them are going to reach the level of the three former Braves starters.

In summary, I guess my main thoughts are that the extension is slightly more good than bad, but I won’t be surprised if we start complaining about Blackburn’s performance a few years from now.

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6 Responses to “The Blackburn Extension”

  1. Jack Steal Says:

    It shows a committment from the front office which is nice. Blackburn has been the most consistent starter we have on the team and deserved an extension. Not sure if 4 years with an $8 million 5th year option is too much or not. I guess time will tell but there is no doubt Blackburn fits the Twins style of play perfectly. I like the signing it keeps Baker and Blackburn together for the next four years. Now sign Slowey and Liriano.

  2. Doctor_Teh Says:

    The thing I most like about Blackburn now is the fact that he is a sinkerballer. With how mind-numbingly bad our OF defense is and how good to great our infield defense is, sinkerballers are going to get a big boost on the Twins while flyball hitters are gonna underperform I would guess. Not that this makes Blackburn an ace or anything, but with how good I expect our infield defense to be, he shouldn’t get burned TOO often.

  3. Larry Smith Jr. Says:

    I actually DID make the comparison to Silva. I saw it as a slightly more bad than good extension, but not terrible. It seemed to me like it was just an unnecessary move, though I didn’t think of the “big picture” like you pointed out, wherein signing him shows a commitment that may lead to the signing of Joe Mauer. If that’s the case, then this was a tremendous move. For quite a long time the scuttlebutt among a few Detroit Tigers insiders has speculated that this was the true reason that Dontrelle Willis was extended (in advance of the Cabrera extension). Of course, 4/14 is nowhere near as awful as the Willis deal even if Blackburn never throws another pitch.

    Basically, I think the prism of history will shine brightly on this extension. If Blackburn does what he’s been doing, then the Twins just made an incredible steal, even in light of the fact that the deal only covers his arbitration years. He probably could get more in arbitration than he got in this deal if he continues doing what he’s been doing. If he falls off of a cliff, like Mays and Silva before him, then I know I’ll be left remembering how I said on this day that they should’ve just gone year-to-year with him so they could non-tender him when this happened.

    Either way, it doesn’t look like he’ll be paid a gross amount of money in any single season.

    • Andrew Says:

      Plus, think of Silva’s contract that he received in free agency. Sure, it was a different economic time and Silva was more “established,” but it’s a reasonable amount of salary. For the most part, it’s team friendly.

  4. Topper Says:

    Haha, people making comparisons to Silva and Mays, people like John Bonnes??? You are too quick senor.

    One thing is this could also be an appealing trade asset to teams if Blackburn does well this year. Young pitcher with “upside” locked into an easily managable contract? Just a thought

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