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Quick hits: I love Jerry Blevins (and you should too)

Jerry Blevins is what’s right with baseball — let’s read his Wikipedia page together!

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

A few days ago, the Braves acquired left-handed relief specialist Jerry Blevins from the Oakland Athletics for cash considerations. I could not be more excited about a move that includes “cash considerations.” I love Jerry Blevins. As a concept of a baseball player, Jerry Blevins is, well, the best. He’s what’s right with baseball.

Why? Well, think about baseball in its purest form. You’ve got guys wot hit balls hard. You’ve got guys wot throw balls hard. The game is largely about power and speed, and while it might be entertaining to watch finesse and wiles try to match up with those purer expressions of force, the deck has been stacked against anything but maximum effort for a while now. Even if there isn’t a velocity bias in scouting, you’re still not getting many looks if you don’t throw hard. If you can’t run or field, you better hit the ball very often and very hard, because non-well-rounded offensive players are seeing their markets shrink and shrink as a new wave of more versatile phenoms accedes to MLB rosters.

And, yet, there’s still a bit of an edge case that hasn’t quite been crowded out by all this increased focus on being the titular hero of a Daft Punk song — the left-handed specialist, the LOOGY, if you prefer. MLB’s incipient rule changes may more or less kill this role as soon as next year, but for now, it’s still present. And Jerry Blevins may not be its best paragon, but a LOOGY he is nonetheless.

2019 is Blevins’ 13th career MLB season. He has, to date, appeared in 566 MLB games. But, in those games, he has pitched only 463 23 career innings. Even in this day and age of heightened relief specialization, the average relief outing is just above an inning. The average relief outing faces just under five batters. For Blevins’ career, much of which took place before three pitching changes in an inning was somewhat of a norm, he’s averaged far less than an inning per appearance, and only about 3.5 batters faced per outing.

It seems like it should logically follow that with the above, we also have Blevins facing primarily lefties, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. For his career, he has faced 942 left-handed batters and 1,018 right-handed batters. But, in true LOOGY fashion, he has retired 78 percent of the lefties he’s faced but less than 66 percent of the righties, meaning that if you count exposure by fractional innings rather than by batters faced, he’s actually slightly ahead in terms of innings pitched (this is a bad descriptor) against lefties (234 13) than against righties (229 13). For what it’s worth, however, in high-leverage situations, he has faced a lefty batter slightly over half the time (51 percent), so at least there’s that.

Anyway! Jerry Blevins! He has one skill, and it’s an awesome skill. He gets lefties out. In his 12 seasons before this one, he had:

  • An FIP against lefties of 2.00 or lower four times;
  • An FIP against lefties between 2.00 and 3.00 three times;
  • An FIP against lefties between 3.00 and 4.00 once; and
  • An FIP against lefties above 4.00 three times, including a career-worst 4.98 last year that required him to take a minor league deal to start the year.

(For xFIP, the corresponding numbers are one, five, four, and then two seasons above 5.00, including last year.)

Meanwhile, against right-handed batters:

  • No FIPs against righties below 3.00 in any season;
  • An FIP against righties between 3.00 and 4.00 four times;
  • An FIP against righties between 4.00 and 5.00 five times; and
  • An FIP against righties above 5.00 three times.

(For xFIP, the corresponding numbers are zero, one, six, five).

Jerry Blevins doesn’t throw hard. His highest average fastball velocity was 92.4 mph, during his rookie season. It’s been below 90 mph, on average, in each of the last four years. That didn’t stop him from having one of his most productive seasons ever (0.9 fWAR, tops in his career, in 2017).

That last stat actually more or less gets to my overall love for Jerry Blevins, beyond just a recitation of his career stats. He’s played 12 seasons. He’s amassed 3.9 fWAR, total, in under 465 innings. That basically means that for his career, he’s given a team about 39 innings a season, within which only around six innings (or 24 batters) were in high leverage. (Only 14 innings / 63 batters a season were in non-low leverage, on average.) So, take all that, and then combine that with the fact that in his career, Jerry Blevins has made just about $25 million. That’s about $1 million per 12 high-leverage batters, or 30 non-low leverage batters faced in a season. And he just kept on doing it. Now that he’s a Brave, it looks like he’ll keep on doing it still.

Jerry Blevins is all about leveraging one skill into MLB roster longevity and steady, sizable paychecks. He made $7 million in 2018, his worst MLB season to date. Baseball is wonderful for many reasons, but multifariousness has to be near the top of the list. Part of that multifariousness is a niche for Blevins to fill, and he’s filled it. Is he going to stick around to keep filling it in 2019 with the Braves? I wouldn’t bet against it. But I’m so excited to watch him try to do it, again and again.

By the way, Blevins’ Wikipedia article is a treasure trove of wonder about his career. See awesome excerpts below.

Jerry Richard Blevins (born September 6, 1983), nicknamed Gordo (Spanish for “fat”)

I don’t get it. Maybe that’s the point? At 6’6, 190 lbs, he is one lanky dude. Baseball nicknames are weird and surrealist, I guess?

Before graduating in 2001 with fewer than 40 other students, Blevins was only recruited to play college baseball by a local Division III school. Blevins chose instead to attend the University of Dayton on an academic scholarship. As a freshman, he attended an open tryout for the Dayton Flyers baseball team and earned a spot on the roster.

So, we’ve got Jerry Blevins, product of a high school graduating class smaller than my individual high school classes. (I was part of a graduating class of nearly 700.) We’ve got Jerry Blevins, going to college on an academic scholarship rather than for athletics... and walking on to the baseball team.

Blevins was designated for assignment on May 23, 2011. He was later re-added back to the 40-man roster, only to be designated for assignment again on July 19. He was re-added to the 40-man roster a day later.

Jerry Blevins, strong survivor of a multi-DFA season. Insert theoretical high five from Luke Jackson here.

In his career, Blevins was traded three times: for Jason Kendall, for Billy Burns, and for Matt den Dekker. When he was traded for Kendall, Kendall put up 2.4 more fWAR in his career after that, to Blevins’ 3.9. (Kendall also became a free agent after a half-season, and it’s not clear why the Cubs traded for his sub-replacement-level self anyway.) Billy Burns put up 0.9 fWAR in his entire career; Blevins nearly matched that (0.8) in his lone season with his new team, the Nationals. Matt den Dekker has had a 1.1 fWAR career, but 0.0 post-trade for Blevins. Basically, trade Jerry Blevins for stuff at your own minor peril.

On April 19, 2015, Blevins was hit by a comebacker and suffered a distal radius fracture of the left arm and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Blevins was recovering when he slipped on a curb and re-fractured his arm again and missed the rest of the season.

Well, that’s just wacky. We’ve seen trash cans, dugout steps, dirtbikes, and the like exacerbate the already injury-prone nature of pitching. But, a curb? Those things are everywhere. Pitchers beware.

On June 24 at Citi Field, after a late injury to Jason Vargas, Blevins made his first Major League start. He allowed home runs to the first two batters he faced, Kike Hernandez and Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Blevins became only the second pitcher since 1900 to allow home runs to both of the first two hitters in his first career start. He was pulled after two innings.

Baseball!

On August 16 during the Mets’ 24-4 rout of the Phillies, Blevins had his first MLB hit and RBI. It came off of position player Scott Kingery who was pitching with the Phillies trailing by 17 runs.

Even more baseball!

What will Jerry Blevins do in 2019? Well, hopefully, get used primarily against left-handed batters. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. Just keep him away from curbs.

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