Lázaro Blanco in action for the Cuban national team.
Transaction Analysis

Transaction Analysis: The Leones Snag An Ace

Leones de León signed RHP Lázaro Blanco to an unknown contract

A few months back I wrote about Blanco signing with Saraperos de Saltillo of Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. Unfortunately, the LMB season ended up being canceled because of the Coronavirus, and Blanco never took the field in Mexico. However, my thoughts on Blanco that I posted that day came back to the forefront when it was announced today that he signed with the Leones in Liga de Béisbol Profesional Nacional. 

On the surface, this is a huge addition to the Leones roster. They are far and away the best franchise in all of the LBPN. Blanco immediately makes them better as the moment the ink dries on his contract he is the best pitcher in the entire league. This is the equivalent of the New York Yankees signing Gerrit Cole, only to an even more extreme level. There’s Blanco at the top of the LBPN pitching ranks, then a very, very large gap until you get to whomever the second-best pitcher will end up being in a few months.

León is, obviously, getting one hell of a pitcher. Blanco is a legend in Serie Nacional de Béisbol, and though he’s probably not the best these days he’s still one of the best. 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 and went on a great playoff run. 

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 León, just as it was for Saltillo a few months back, 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. In this sense, the Coronavirus may have helped Blanco in that it allowed him to rest. He’s currently pitching in the CNS, but his arm had months of rest when it otherwise would have been logging plenty of innings in Mexico.

On the whole, the Leones have made a great signing. Blanco is a legitimately great pitcher and should be an ace in LBPN. There’s no reason to think that Blanco won’t find immediate success with his new club. Blanco will have the whole of Cuba behind him, but most importantly his arm is well rested for a change. The Cuban ace should come out and immediately leave his mark on the league. If he doesn’t then Blanco has more than just a tired arm to worry about.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Unknown

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), boyfriend, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Baseball Prospectus, Baseball.FYI, & Beyond the Box Score. Member Internet Baseball Writer's Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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