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Elephant Rumblings: Paul Blackburn leading A’s starters

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Oakland Athletics
Apr 21, 2022; Oakland, California, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Paul Blackburn (58) pitches the ball against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning at RingCentral Coliseum.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, Athletics Nation!

It’s been a surprising season so far for the A’s. With nearly 10 percent of the regular season complete, they’re standing at 8-6 despite having dealt a bevy of stars in the offseason, losing a good number of others to free agency, and starting their 2022 campaign on a tough ten-game road trip.

Sure, the Baltimore Orioles—whom the A’s just took three of four games from to win their first home series—are not exactly World Series contenders. But the O’s did manage to take a series from the Yankees before heading to Oakland, so one could imagine the birds came in with their confidence at a high ebb. Yep, we’re loving this scrappy Oakland squad so far!

The team’s surprising success is built on a number of individual players who are defying expectations, like Paul Blackburn, who is the A’s #4 starter right now, but pitching like their ace. He was DFA’d last year after five years of marginal performance in Oakland with an ERA of 5.74 and barely 5 K/9. He’s looking like a different pitcher now and his stats clearly reflect that:

  • Blackburn, 2022: 1.80 ERA 15 ip 8.4 K/9 0.6 BB/9

At a cursory glance, one might think that Daulton Jefferies has been the A’s ace so far. This tweet piqued my curiosity and prompted a deeper dive into the A’s starters’ stats on Fangraphs.

Both can boast phenomenal ERAs. Jefferies tops Blackburn by a significant margin by this metric—but Paul has significantly more Ks, fewer BBs, and lower WHIP. Plus, looking at Fielding Independent Pitching stats, Blackburn has a clear edge:

  • Blackburn, 2022: 1.39 FIP 2.09 xFIP
  • Jefferies, 2022: 3.71 FIP 4.40 xFIP

These numbers suggest that Jefferies has benefitted from better defensive play and that his numbers might come down to earth a bit as the season wears on. I’m not ready to bet that Blackburn will win the Cy Young award this year, but these stats evince that he has been a real deal. That’s why Paul Blackburn tops my Starter Report Card right now! And yes, I am saying this in hopes of summoning 2019 Frankie Montas—the version that plays a full season.

So, AN, any predictions on Blackburn’s success going forward? Tell us about it in the comments!

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