Sleeper alert: Hank Blalock

As an introduction to this post, I’d like to note that we’ll be having a fantastic new contributor to THT Fantasy Focus very shortly. His name is Chris Neault, and he currently writes the Disabled List Informer blog, a wealth of information about player injuries. One post in particular I’d like to draw your attention to concerns Hank Blalock. Read it before going any further here.

You’re back? Good.

Chris notes that Blalock had very good numbers in 2003 and 2004, but dropped off significantly in 2005 and 2006. Chris attributes this to a rare condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. This means Blalock had an extra rib hanging around at the top of the rib cage, underneath the collarbone. That can cause one to lose strength gradually—sometimes imperceptibly—when the surrounding nerves and arteries are compressed.

Chris believes this began happening to Blalock in 2005, and because of the condition, he began to lose strength without really knowing it. By 2007, this lack of strength began to manifest itself to Blalock noticeably, leading him to have surgery to have the rib removed. I looked up some additional power numbers for Blalock, and they all seem to backup this assertion.

Year	GB/FB	GB%	OF FB%	FB/HR	AB/HR	AB/2B
2003	0.81	32	39	16	20	17
2004	0.78	34	44	16	19	17
2005	1.18	39	33	15	26	19
2006	1.26	42	33	10	37	23
07-1H	0.95	37	39	11	29	13
07-2H	0.56	25	45	22	13	13

In 2003 and 2004, his numbers were good across the board: high flyball percentage, low groundball percentage, low GB/FB, high HR/FB, low AB/HR, low AB/2B. Then in 2005 and 2006, all these numbers plummeted: lower FB percentage, higher GB percentage, higher GB/FB, lower HR/FB, higher AB/HR, higher AB/2B.

If we look at 2007 in halves, pre- and post-surgery, we see similar trends. Pre-surgery, his HR/FB stayed low and AB/HR stayed high. Out of place was his improved GB/FB (thought not to 2003-2004 levels) and AB/2B; this could be due to a small sample size (144 ABs) or it could have come with age despite the injury. He was 26, right about a hitter’s peak age.

In the second half, though, all of his numbers reached their 2003-2004 mark or better. GB/FB, HR/FB, AB/HR, AB/2B, everything. It was in an even smaller sample size than the first half (64 at-bats), but even if we discount the entire year as a small sample size, removing that rib could be what it takes for Blalock to regain his earlier form.

Personally, I’m going to be drafting Blalock late in drafts. His current ADP, according to Mock Draft Central, is 206. That equates to Round 17 in a traditional 12-team mixed league.

I think taking a 27-year-old hitter, coming off surgery that could vastly improve his power, who has shown good skills in the past at this spot is a good choice. If nothing else, he meets the requirement for the late, high-upside pick strategy I wrote about the other day.

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