Blossoming Blach Brightening Bleak 2017

Heading in to the 2017 season, the main question surrounding the Giants largely set starting rotation was how long Matt Cain could last in the fifth starter role before being yanked in favor of Ty Blach. Then a certain two-wheeled travesty took place, and the course of San Francisco’s season and potentially it’s future was altered. As many expected, Blach entered the rotation in late April, but it was to replace the current ace, not the former.

It began earnestly, with a five inning effort against the Dodgers in which Blach allowed 4 hits and two earned runs in a tough luck 2-1 loss. Since then, with the exception of a rogue clunker in Cincinnati, Blach has emerged as the Giants stopper and most consistent starter, going 7 innings or more in 6 of his last 7 starts. His recent brilliance culminated Friday night with his first career complete game shutout, a tidy 112-pitch gem in which he walked none and did not allow an extra-base hit, notching his fourth consecutive win.

Sure it came against a plummeting Philadelphia Phillies team that ranks 13th in the NL in runs scored (just ahead of the 14th ranked Giants) but it was the type of performance that showcased Blach’s efficient, polished style. With a fastball that averages right around 90 mph and no true swing-and-miss pitch, the 26-year old’s pitch to contact approach looks more like a seasoned veteran who’s learned to win with less than a rookie in his first full big league season.

While it’s no sleight against Blach, it’s in sharp contrast to the blue chip starter formula that generally calls for a 95+mph fastball and a devastating breaking ball. The Creighton product primarily relies on a sinking fastball and change up, mixing in a slider and curve ball that rarely generate swinging strikes. It’s a style that’s a joy to watch as a fan, keeping games crisp and moving quickly, and it is well known its beneficial to the defense playing behind Blach. To that point, San Francisco has not made an error in any of the rookie’s last 5 starts.

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Ty Blach’s whiff percentage by pitch type. While he saw a slight uptick in swinging strikes on his fastball and breaking balls in May, the left-hander still did not have a whiff rate higher than 8% for any of his pitches. Data courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net

Don’t expect any Bumgarn-ian blasts from Blach, but he has shown some competency with the bat as well. Aside from his noted dominance of All-World ace Clayton Kershaw, Blach nearly made history Friday night when he came within one ball of walking in four straight at-bats, which would have made him the first pitcher since 1950 to draw four walks in a game. His OPS now sits at .521, 37 points higher than that of center fielder Gorkys Hernandez.

As Blach continues to impress in the starting rotation, the question becomes: What will the Giants do with the rookie upon Madison Bumgarner’s return? Given his performance, it seems unlikely he’ll be sent back to the bullpen, but thus far Matt Cain has performed well enough to keep his fifth spot in the rotation. The decision will depend largely on a) How soon Bumgarner will make his return and b) Who the Giants trade if they do indeed become sellers. The club expects Bumgarner to be ready sometime during the month of July, but there are still two full months until the trade deadline. Will the Giants move a starter prior to July 31st?

It’s tough to say. With the West emerging as the most competitive division in the National League, it would take a remarkable run to vault San Francisco back in to the playoff race. However, if the team can crawl back to somewhere near the .500 mark by midseason, will that be enough to convince the front office that the nucleus of a contender remains in place, and they should largely stay the course with the current roster? The precedent is there; the Giants were on their way to a losing season in 2013 and chose to keep potential trade pieces Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez, and we know what happened the following year.

-AC

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