Oakland, CA

Blackburn And Barrera Are Oakland's Bright Spots So Far

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Luis BarreraJeff Marquis

By Rich Campbell

The A’s low attendance has been a story garnering national attention early in the 2022 campaign. The team’s decades-long struggle to get a new stadium seems to be coming to a head. The Howard Terminal project had another positive vote this month, and the team continues to consider sites in Las Vegas. The uncertainty around Oakland’s future creates a lot of negative coverage of the franchise.

Couple that uncertainty with offloading stars like Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, and Chris Bassitt in the offseason, while simultaneously boosting prices, and it seems to be having the desired effect: lots of highlights on TV that include a mostly empty stadium to reinforce the need for a new venue.

The non-weekend numbers are especially bad. Excluding Opening Night, the Monday through Thursday average attendance has been 3,878. While those numbers will improve once school is out for the summer, the situation is dragging down the spirit of the fanbase and, likely, the team’s performance on the field.

Record Recap: The 6-5 start to the season was a pleasant surprise. But, alas, it did not last. In the 33 games since we last checked in, the A’s record is a woeful 11-22 and they sit at 18-27 at this writing. Yikes! On the plus side, the A’s are a respectable 12-13 on the road, whilst at home they are an American League-worst 6-14. Think that has anything to do with the aforementioned small crowds that effectively eliminate a team’s home field advantage?

Stat Nobody Saw Coming: Paul Blackburn. Full stop. Blackburn has been unexpectedly great, opening the season with 4-0 mark and a sterling 1.91 ERA in 42 1/3 innings. He also sports an excellent 34:7 strikeout to walk ratio. If we were picking a likely A’s All-Star Game participant at this point in the year, Blackburn would be the odds-on choice, which nobody saw coming.

Who Is the New Guy? With such a young team this year, this space will focus on a new player each month. Luis Barrera was added to the MLB roster this month and is slashing .316/.372/.474 in 43 plate appearances. He also hit a memorable walk-off three-run home run on May 14 for his first Major League home run. Barrera is not technically “new,” as he did have a cup of coffee with the team in 2021 (eight plate appearances) and interestingly was designated for assignment earlier this spring. At age 26, he is the type of player who should get plenty of opportunities this year.

Regression to the Mean Candidates: Last month, the two players to watch were back-of-the-rotation pitchers Blackburn and Daulton Jeffries. Each had had two starts on the young season and each had an ERA under 2.00. As noted above, Blackburn has continued to excel, while Jeffries regressed to a 5.72 ERA after eight starts before landing on the 15-day injured list on May 20 with right arm nerve irritation.

This month’s candidate is Tony Kemp, who after 42 games is slashing .233/.311/.281. Look for a better month ahead as he tries to push his numbers toward last year’s .279/.382/.418 slash line.

Old Guys Report: While the 2022 squad is much younger than last year’s squad, there are still “old” guys on the team, and this space shines a light on one such player each month. Elvis Andrus is 33 years old -- and looking every bit the part of an over-the-hill shortstop, slashing .227/.303/.328. He still seems to have the joy, but his performance is lacking. It is unclear how much longer it makes sense to play him, as the time to see what the team has in 23-year-old Nick Allen may be here. My guess is that Oakland is hoping a shortstop on a playoff contender gets hurt and the A’s can dump the balance of Andrus’ $14.25 million salary for this year at that point on a team desperate for a veteran stopgap.

Coming Up: After wrapping up their current series in Seattle, the A’s return home to continue battling AL West foes, with Texas and Houston visiting the Coliseum. Then the Red Sox come to town to conclude the 10-game homestand. A road trip to Atlanta, Cleveland and Boston follows. Then the green and gold return home to face the Royals over Father’s Day weekend.

Rich Campbell is a Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University by day and A’s fan by night. He has previously been a sports business contributor at Forbes.com and his academic writing has appeared in Sport Marketing Quarterly. You can find him on Twitter @RichCampbellPhD.

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