Blackburn debuted with the Twins in 2007, appearing in six games out of the bullpen as a September call-up that season. He cracked the starting rotation out of spring training the following year, and put together remarkably similar back-to-back solid campaigns in 2008-09.
Blackburn parlayed those two years into a four-year contract worth $14M dollars, a deal that bought out all of his arbitration-eligible seasons with the Twins. Unfortunately for both parties, he was never the same pitcher after 2009 – put another way, he was awful. Over the next three years, Blackburn’s miniscule walk rates regressed, his already terrible strikeout rates got even worse, and his HR/FB rates skyrocketed. Factor in a lost 2013 season, and he has been worth a total of 0.1 WAR over the life of the deal via FanGraphs, and an even sadder -1.7 WAR according to Baseball Reference (!!!).
For the Twins, the Blackburn contract represents one of the worst in a series of bad moves made by then general manager Bill Smith in his four stellar years at the helm. (Hat tip to Tsuyoshi Nishioka.) Though it seemed defensible at the time given his numbers over the previous two seasons, the deal was essentially a premature long-term investment in a starter incapable of striking batters out. (Blackburn’s 11.4% strikeout rate was 5th worst in MLB in that span, among a top 25 that also included future Twins fireballers Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia. … Just wow).
It came at a time when smart front offices were increasingly valuing strikeout pitchers, and was a bad harbinger of things to come regarding the team’s approach to targeting and developing starting pitching. Indeed, perhaps no other pitcher epitomizes the “pitching to contact” philosophy that has so haunted the organization in recent years more than Nick Blackburn.
For all of the hate that I have (perhaps wrongfully) directed at Blackburn over the past four seasons, part of me wanted to see him pitch at Target Field one last time this season. I hope that he bounces back from his most recent surgery and gets a chance to start for another organization next year – preferably in the AL Central, for obvious reasons. Regardless, his legend will live on in this blog and elsewhere throughout Twins territory as a symbol of the dark times, and his exit as a sign of better days ahead. Deuces Blackie. #p2c
Originally published at pitching2contact