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In Memoriam: Nick Blackburn

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The Twins have announced that starting pitcher Nick Blackburn will have surgery on Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, likely ending both his season and his career in Minnesota. This will be Blackburn’s third procedure in the past calendar year, and he has been limited to just six minor league starts this season as a result. With the Twins holding an $8M club option for 2014, this will surely mark the end of his time with the organization.

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.

W-L GS IP K% BB% HR/FB ERA FIP fWAR rWAR
2008 11-11 33 193.1 11.7 4.7 10.0 4.05 4.40 2.4 2.3
2009 11-11 33 205.2 11.1 4.7 9.4 4.03 4.37 2.9 3.2

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

Updated 08-16-2013 at 01:10 PM by jdotmcmahon

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Comments

  1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
    September 30,2008 - Blackburn starts game 163 for the Twins against the White Sox.

    The one or two hits he gave up in 7 1/3 innings included, of course, that HR by Thome.

    It was a gallant effort. He certainly pitched well enough to win.

    Sadly, that was pretty much the highlight of his career. Great game.
  2. Thrylos's Avatar
    Agreed with Oldgoat about that game being the highlight of his career (and funny enough, 2 beloved by most Twins' fans players were the reason the Twins did not make the post-season: Jim Thome with that home run and Mike Cuddyer who did not try to knock AJP out and score)

    I am amazed that the Twins did not try a pen role for Blackburn (like they did with Perkins) It was probably the $ and that ill-advised contract. In the minors he did have a 97 mph four-seamer (that Andy took away) which would had been a decent weapon in the pen.

    Maybe he'll surface as a pen guy someplace
  3. Rosterman's Avatar
    He will surface somewhere, but might have to start in the high indy leagues. But he showed nothing this year that I would gamble with even a guaranteed minor league contract. It's his call if he wants to pitch for peanuts with the hope of a return to the bigtime. Hey, Matt Kinney and Dan Serafini still plugged along year after year. His big thing now is to have his medicals covered and to heal.
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