Paul Blackburn shined for the A’s in 2022 before his season ended early due to injury, and his 2023 season was slowed down by another injury stint as well. Still, Blackburn showed enough and had his moments that proved he’s still worth one of five spots in the rotation, albeit after not his best season.
Blackburn was acquired from the Seattle Mariners on November 12, 2016, in exchange for first baseman Danny Valencia.
What were the expectations?
After an injury in August cut his 2022 season short, Blackburn was projected to bounce back in 2023 in a big way. Blackburn, a seasoned veteran, electrified in the first half of his 2022 season and earned an all-star game nomination as the team's sole representative. As the longest-tenured Athletic with about six years up and down the organization including being designated for assignment in 2021, Blackburn was also expected to be the leader, mentor, and elder of the pitching staff.
Blackburn’s season didn’t kick off at the big league level until May 29 after the birth of his child and an injury list stint when he broke his fingernail in Spring Training rubbing dirt off his cleats. Perhaps the injury and delays had an impact on Blackburn because he struggled out of the gate. While still striking out hitters at a decent rate, Blackburn surrendered many hits and earned runs through July. Blackburn peaked in August where in five starts, Blackburn allowed just eight earned runs while pitching to a 2.35 ERA in 30.2 innings. Blackburn certainly had starts where he flashed his 2022 excellence like going seven innings scoreless with eight strikeouts in St. Louis or six innings scoreless at Milwaukee, but other than that, Blackburn was knocked around pretty good.
In the end, Blackburn went 4-7 with a 4.43 ERA in 20 starts and 103.2 innings pitched in 2023. He struck out 104 batters but also surrendered 117 hits.
What went right? What went wrong?
Blackburn's strikeout numbers were up this season from his all-star 2022, but one number that spiked was his walks. Blackburn walked 3% more batters in 2023 and with the decrease in command came better hitter counts and more hits and earned runs surrendered in the process. Blackburn's freakish Spring Training injury after his resurgent 2022 season was cut short was also a blow to the staff and himself as it appeared the 52 games missed could’ve thrown him off.
One additive that can’t be taken away from Blackburn's presence, however, is his mentorship, knowledge, and work ethic, especially for the younger arms surrounding him. Guys like Hogan Harris, Luis Medina, and JP Sears benefitted from seeing how a veteran processes his starts and his routines, and it benefitted them throughout the season. Before Blackburn returned from the IL on May 29, A’s pitchers had a 6.87 ERA. By the end of the season, it was down a full run at 5.48.
Along with Sears, Blackburn will look to hold down the A’s starting staff in 2024 in what he hopes could be a season closer to 2022 rather than ’23. Blackburn will turn 30 years old today (December 4th) and has had seasons impacted by injuries the past few seasons, so keeping him healthy and active could be a key for the front end of the A’s staff.