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Ty Blach’s low strikeout rate doesn’t have to doom him

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There have been other left-handers who thrived for dozens and dozens of seasons with a similar skill set. They just aren’t that common.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants
“Please do not eat me, large older man.”
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Ty Blach is an enigma. I’ve been thinking about him lately because it’s my job, but also because I have no idea what to make of him. I’ve already mentally penciled him in for the fifth starter’s slot, even though the Giants have millions and millions of reasons to hope for an effective Matt Cain. There’s also a chance that the Giants could sign a free agent starter or make a trade. Heck, there’s a chance there will be a spring battle in which, I don’t know, Ricky Romero ends up with the job.

For now, though, I’m assuming it’s Blach’s job to lose. Which means we should get used to idea and investigate it a little more.

Blach gave up a bunch of runs in Triple-A in 2015, was much better in that regard last season, and now we’re here, confused as all heck. The strikeouts and walks didn’t change much between those two seasons, just the hits and homers allowed. He might have been the same pitcher in both seasons, just a little luckier in one of them, unless he was a little unluckier in the other one. He doesn’t have the history or pedigree that would normally make a team like the Giants consider him to be a default option.

However, and most importantly for our biases, we have a vision of what a successful Blach would look like:

He lived off a 91-92 mph fastball that day, throwing it 70 times out of his 99 pitches. We were conditioned to expect a generic junk-throwing crafty lefty, but that’s not bad velocity at all. It’s what we’re used to from Madison Bumgarner, really. The location was super, and the deception was just enough.

If the Dodgers score some runs off Blach in that game, the Cardinals make the postseason, knock off the Cubs, and lose in the NLCS. That start almost certainly cost the Dodgers the pennant. Can’t prove it, but you know it’s true.

So we can see how Blach would succeed, and it’s not completely unusual or novel. We’ve watched pitchers succeed with that skill set for years. The only difference is that Blach hardly strikes anyone out, which is why he’s never been a list-making prospect. He’s struck out 6.2 batters per nine innings pitched over his minor league career, and that includes a deceptively gaudy mark in San Jose (with the notoriously difficult batter’s eye) that he’s been unable to repeat.

Let’s say he’s good for six strikeouts per nine innings in the majors, then. That’s roughly his mark in the minors, and we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll keep it going in the majors. Is it possible for a non-knuckleballer to succeed that way?

Kirk Rueter

HI, WOODY! But remember the part about the 91-92 mph fastball. Blach might be on a path to woodydom, but he’s not there yet. Anyway, we’re going to celebrate Blach Friday by looking for left-handers with strikeout rates at 6.0/K9 or below and remember the most successful ones.

Since 2000, there have been 38 left-handed starters who threw at least 200 innings with a decidedly below-average strikeout rate. Of those ...

  • One of them was a Hall of Famer (Tom Glavine)

  • One of them was a perennial All-Star with one of the best injury histories for a starting pitcher in modern history (Mark Buehrle)

  • Three of them were older dudes in the third act of their long careers (Kenny Rogers, David Wells, and Jamie Moyer)

  • A couple of pitchers who picked up Cy Young votes (Mark Mulder, Jarrod Washburn)

  • A few of them who were the same person using an elaborate scam to pick up multiple paychecks (Mark Redman, Jason Vargas, Paul Maholm, John Lannan, Joe Saunders)

  • There were a couple dozen forgettable pitchers

  • One of them was Damian Moss (Damian Moss)

This is a self-selecting sample because it eliminates the pitchers who were so dreadful that they couldn’t accumulate 200 innings in the majors. So those couple dozen forgettable pitchers? They’re not only the default, but they’re also success stories compared to the hundreds and hundreds of pitchers below them.

However, I’m okay with that list. Is Ty Blach going to be Tom Glavine? No, but at least there’s a Hall of Fame pitcher that allows him to think there’s at least a chance. Is Blach going to be Mark Buehrle? No, but at least there’s a reminder that Buehrle existed, even though he was extraordinarily unlikely to exist in the first place.

Is Blach going to be Jarrod Washburn or Paul Maholm, pitchers who provided a lot of utility for their teams over several seasons? Seems somewhat more unlikely, just because the odds are against every pitcher, but we’re getting more realistic.

Conclusion: I’ll wait for Blach’s performance to make me pessimistic about his future, not start the pessimism early because of a low strikeout rate. Other pitchers have overcome the same problem and thrived, even if they’re exceptions and not the rule.

These last few seasons have been all about the exceptions, not the rule, for the Giants. That helps when you’re looking to justify irrational optimism.

Happy Blach Friday, everyone.

Please note that I started the post with that sentence and worked backward.