Lázaro Blanco pitching for Cuba in the 2018 Serie del Caribe
Transaction Analysis

Transaction Analysis: Saltillo Grabs an Ace

Saraperos de Saltillo signed RHP Lázaro Blanco to an unknown contract

The signing of a talent like Blanco will always be big news, or at least it should be. When a team like Saltillo goes out and gets a player the caliber of Blanco it’s even bigger news. On the surface, this is a huge addition to the Saraperos roster and gives them perhaps the most formidable one-two rotation punch in all of Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. It’s what lurks beneath the surface that is potentially troubling.

As far as surface goes, Saltillo is getting one hell of a pitcher. Blanco is, rightfully, viewed as the best pitcher in Serie Nacional de Béisbol. He’s accomplished this thanks to some changes he made to his approach around 2011. At that time he changed his arm angle, essentially ditched his fourseam fastball, and started attacking hitters with a very low twoseam fastball and slider approach. He also has a really good changeup and has recently started throwing his fourseamer again while extremely limiting his forkball usage. 

In terms of results, this has made Blanco a groundball machine. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, never has and never will with his approach. What he does is use his repertoire of heavy, sinking, and fading away from the hitter pitches to induce weaker contact. Since 2012 he’s also shown much better control, averaging only 3 walks per game. Last year with Tigres de Ciego de Ávila he displayed his usual steady high-end stuff on the mound. Pairing Blanco with Félix Doubront gives Saltillo a top of the rotation that should help them easily get back to the LMB playoffs in 2020.

For as great as Blanco’s stuff is, his numbers often seem to go against his purported greatness. In 2019-2020 he threw 97.0 innings and posted an ERA of 3.90 with a 1.300 WHIP. Those numbers aren’t bad, but they aren’t ace stuff. Consider his ERA+ in the CNS and how it has progressed. From a 172 ERA+ in 2016 to a 72 ERA+ in 2019. A 72 ERA+ certainly doesn’t paint the picture of Blanco as a dominant force?

This is where the under the surface stuff comes into play. The only possible downside to this deal for Saltillo is that Blanco has logged a lot of innings the past few years. He’s essentially been playing baseball all year long in between his time pitching in the CNS, Serie del Caribe, and Canadian American Association. Blanco is 33 years old and not giving his arm much time to rest. Talking to some CNS folks it’s clear that Blanco still flashed greatness throughout 2019-2020 but his arm was tired. His arm will still be tired when he takes the mound for Saltillo and that may be a problem for them.

On the whole, the Saraperos have made a great signing. Blanco is a legitimately great pitcher and has the ability to be an ace in LMB. At the same time if his arm is still tired then he may struggle in a league that is experiencing its own offensive explosion thanks to a change in the baseball. I tend to believe that Blanco will succeed for the Saraperos, but the state of Blanco’s arm does concern me. A few months from now I’ll either be writing about Blanco’s great success in LMB or lamenting the need for him to give his arm some rest, this signing is that cut and dry.

Research assistance provided by Yirsandy Rodríguez

Lead photo courtesy of Roberto Morejón – SwingCompleto

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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