MLBTradeRumors is introducing a new series in which two comparable free agents are analyzed side by side. Each post will conclude with a reader vote on the value of the two players.
Joe Saunders and Joe Blanton have a lot in common. They have both evolved into steady if unspectacular starters since being selected in the first round of the 2002 draft. Both of the 6’3” 31-year-olds were traded in waiver deals this past August. They even share a first name. Let’s move past the similarities and determine which free agent should appeal to teams more in the coming offseason, when both Saunders and Blanton will be eligible for free agency.
Saunders has averaged 175 innings over the course of the past five seasons and, unlike Blanton, hasn't missed significant time due to injuries in recent years. He’s six months younger than Blanton and he’s left-handed. Saunders also has the edge in career ERA (4.15 vs. 4.37). While Saunders has consistently kept his ERA below 4.50, Blanton hasn't posted an ERA below 4.50 since 2009. Let's not forget Saunders' two strong postseason starts against the elite offenses of the Rangers and Yankees this month.
Though Blanton missed much of the 2011 season, he pitched 191 innings this past season, and has completed at least 175 innings in seven of eight full years as an MLB player. He’s been every bit as durable as Saunders. Furthermore, he strikes out more hitters and does a better job at limiting walks. Blanton also throws harder than Saunders (90.4 mph) and generates more swings and misses (9.6% swinging strike rate). The right-hander’s ERA has been a little high in recent years, but once we look a little deeper, we’ll see he has produced more wins above replacement in his career, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference (Blanton has been worth 20.4 WAR to Saunders' 12.0, per FanGraphs). And though he didn’t pitch in the 2012 playoffs, Blanton has 40 solid postseason innings to his name.
Both pitchers have a case for a multiyear deal this offseason, when many teams will be looking for rotation help. Which begs the question...