As a fan, it’s easy to slip into a world of subjective evaluation. It’s easy to lose yourself in the emotion of watching a game, find yourself shouting things you wouldn’t dare write in an article, and irrationally writing players off. I’ve done this with Kyle Blanks. I never gave him a shot, and I allowed my subjective views of him to cloud my objective analytical research. So I am taking a step back. I’ve got my objective glasses on. I’m ready to learn more about this Kyle Blanks I’ve been so quick to dismiss.
The first thing anyone notices when Blanks steps into a batters box is how huge he is. At 6’6″, 270 pounds, the first reaction from most is a simple question: Why is this football player coming up to bat for the Padres? Blanks didn’t play football in High School or College though. He stuck with baseball, and he performed well but lacked power. According to a 2009 story by Oregon Live, Blanks had all the discipline in the world while playing for Moriarty High School in New Mexico, but he didn’t hit many home runs despite his size. Blanks’ high school coach, Michael Chavez, said Blanks would often hit over .500 and due to the sheer number of intentional walks he received, estimated an OBP of somewhere around .750. Whether that number is truth or myth rising out of a small New Mexican town may never be known, but Blanks clearly had a unique talent at the plate.
Kyle Blanks was taken by the Padres in the 42nd round of the 2004 draft as a draft and follow. He went on to play for the Yavapai Community College where he transitioned from his High School position of shortstop to first base. According to a story done by the Daily Courier, Blanks led the Yavapai Roughriders with a .426 batting average, 10 home runs, 61 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. The 23 stolen bases stands out considering Blanks’ size.
From there, Blanks moved into the Padres minor league system. In seven seasons of minor league ball, ranging from the Arizona rookie league up through the Triple-A club, Blanks compiled a career .305/.395/.513 line. He hit 88 home runs as he started to find his power (24 in 2007 and 20 in 2008). He spent time in right field, left field, and first base. However, it became clear when the Padres traded for Adrian Gonzalez that Blanks would not be playing first anytime soon. He focused on his outfield play, and eventually cracked the Major League lineup in 2009.
In 2009, Blanks started 21 games in right field, 13 games in left field, and 4 games at first base. He hit .250/.335/.510 with 10 home runs and instantly earned himself a spot on the 2010 team. He did struggle through injuries, but appeared in 33 games with the Padres in 2010. In those games he hit .157/.283/.324. This was largely due to his recovery from injuries and his transition to the Major Leagues, but people began to lose faith.*
*I found myself in the subjective fan’s seat during this time, and I too lost faith in Kyle Blanks. This lead me to where I am today, just now beginning my objective journey in analyzing Blanks’ contributions to date.
In 2011, Blanks played in just 55 games, starting 35 of those in left field. In both March and September of 2011, Blanks suffered minor injuries. He still managed a .229/.300/.406 line with 7 home runs. Which brings us to his Major League career line. In a grand total of just 482 plate appearances, Blanks has hit .219/.315/.400 with 20 home runs, 63 RBI, and 22 doubles. His 482 plate appearances are equivalent to just about one full Major League season, but Blanks did not have the luxury of playing those games and getting those plate appearances in the course of just one season.
In limited time with Texas over the course of two seasons (a grand total of 206 plate appearances to be exact), Gonzalez hit just .229/.272/.401. However, when we was given the chance to play a full season with San Diego in 2006 (631 plate appearances), Gonzalez hit .304/.362/.500.
Nick Hundley is a platoon hitter, and has not broken the 350 plate appearances mark in his carerr during a single season. However, if we look at his first two seasons (505 combined plate appearances), Hundley struggles to a modest .238/.324/.385 line. As he got more consistent playing time in 2010 and 2011, Hundley found himself hitting a much more respectable .269/.354/.448.
Chase Headley did not find much resistance to his transition from minor league ball to Major League ball. In his first full season (368 plate appearances), Headley hit .26/.337/.420. He followed that up with .262/.342/.392 line the following year. And he has accumulated a career line of .269/.343/.392. Yet even Headley benefited from consistency. Last year, his third full year at third base, Headley cut down on his strikeouts, improved his batting average, and improved his OBP.
Kyle Blanks, if given a chance to play full-time, may very well follow the paths of the above three Padres players. It’s difficult to make a blanket statement about Blanks’ career to date because he has had such limited time. However, we can say he has almost 1 WAR (0.8) in less than a full season of Major League experience. He has hit 20 home runs in 482 plate appearances (an average of one home run every 24 plate appearance. He has also provided a solid defense in left field, saving a total of 16 runs according to Baseball-Reference.
So what’s the outcome in the experiment of objective analysis? I’ve been able to see the potential that many others still see in Kyle Blanks. I’ve been able to overcome my irrational distaste for Blanks and, dare I say, look forward to seeing him in a full time status in left field. If Blanks can manage full-time duties in left, the Padres have their 2012 outfield set. Chris Denorfia in right, Cameron Maybin in center, and Kyly Blanks in left.