Nobody likes to be wrong. No one really wakes up in the morning, yawns, stretches out their arms, and declares, “Sure hope I’m proven incorrect on a bunch of stuff today!” But if you have to be wrong, probably the most satisfying way is to find that the players on your favorite baseball team might be better than you thought. And who cares that you embarrassed yourself across the interwebs? At least your team benefits so it’s all good.
For me, I like my crow with a side of catsup because, as my grandmother used to say, “I can eat a boot if it comes with catsup.” (Cindi later tested that theory with one of her special recipes, but let’s not get into that just now.)
Anyway, enough prefacing. Let’s talk about Paul Blackburn and Sheldon Neuse.
The Power Of The DFA
I am really beginning to wonder if the journey of 1,000 redemptions begins with a single DFA. How many careers have been on life support only to get jump started not by a defibrillator but rather by the player being designated for assignment only to stick around and rejuvenate his career?
A less recent example of this is Liam Hendriks, whose DFA caused him to rethink his career and get out of a funk from which he seemed to emerge with a new mentality. Suddenly, the “new old Liam” took the same arsenal and went from fungible middle reliever to dominant closer.
More recently, the A’s shocked the world (ok, maybe just him and me) last month when they DFA’d Luis Barrera. Barrera had come up as one of the A’s more intriguing prospects, and with the COF wide open — especially until Ramon Laureano returned — the smart money seemed to be on Barrera to have a crack at a big league job, not on a DFA. Barrrera cleared waivers and has returned to the big leagues hitting balls hard line to line and providing the season’s most dramatic hit to date when he walked off Raisel Iglasias yesterday afternoon.
In between these two DFA events came a relatively non-newsworthy moment: the removal of Paul Blackburn from the 40-man roster. This came less as a shock to A’s fans and more as a “what took so long?” given that Blackburn’s last effective season had been 2017 and he had put up ERAs of 7.16, 10.24, 27.00 (ok 2.1 IP), and 5.87 since.
Apparently, Blackburn used the DFA as the exilir it has been for many before him. I have been known to be a tad critical of Blackburn, suggesting that I would like to DFA him and then re-sign him just so I could DFA him again. I have certainly intimated he was a terrible pitcher and may have hinted that he eats babies for pleasure.
Crow, meet mouth. All Blackburn has done for the 2022 A’s so far is to post a 4-0 record and a 1.67 ERA that ranks 3rd in the American League. He has been a staple on a team that has generally played more like paper clips and he deserves a lot of props for reinventing himself as a pitcher rather than taking my suggestion that he might be more suited to the night shift at IHOP.
Thank you, Paul, and remember: I always believed in you.
Not A One-Month Wonder
Hey, still could be two-month wonder but ever since I praised Sheldon Neuse for how he had hit so far and then added that it wouldn’t last, all Neuse has done is continue to be the A’s best and most consistent hitter.
Neuse’s minor league profile suggests that there is power potential in his bat, so it’s not all that alarming that his success has been more “punch and judy” than “mash and trot”. He has continued to use the right side of the diamond expertly, while showing increasing signs of hitting balls hard to the pull side. And he continues to have both a reasonably discerning eye and an actual approach — he is basically playing the part of Jed Lowrie and it is reflected in the stats.
The stats, as of this morning, show a .281/.346/.388 slash line, fueled by a .386 BABIP that, while not sustainable, is also not the product of luck so much as a smart approach. Neuse has perfected the art of dragging the bat to play pepper with the right side hole, which is forcing infields to shift less and open up more room on the left side of the diamond. His May numbers may not be good in a small sample, but to me what’s more important is that he is still showing a solid approach that is more “hitter” than “hacker”. Honestly, Chad Pinder could take a few notes.
Meanwhile the disaster which produced 7 errors, at various positions (1 at 1B, 1 at 2B, 5 at 3B), in the A’s first 22 games has turned around in Semienesque style. Neuse has not committed an error since and has turned in numerous plays that were above average. He has certainly not been a defensive liability so far this month and may in fact have been a strength.
So perhaps Neuse will just regress into being the 228/.290/.298 hitter found in the 2-week sample that is May. But to me, Neuse is emerging as one of the A’s most consistent players and a guy who appears to have an idea of what he should do, wants to do, and can do. I have gone from “enjoy it while it lasts” to “something to build on” — after all Neuse is still only 27 and offers positional versatility.
Well done, Sheldon, and remember: I was always your biggest supporter.
Adam Oller, on the other hand..........well, that’s an article for a different day. Yikes. Your reflections on these players are welcome. Yummy, yummy crow.