The pitcher who co-leads the American League in WAR with Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander is probably not the one you think.

It's not New York Yankees sensation Nestor Cortes, who's seeing Verlander's 1.38 ERA and raising him a 1.35 ERA. Nor is it Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman, whose relatively modest 2.40 ERA comes with a comical strikeout-to-walk ratio of 54-to-2.

Rather, the one AL hurler who's been as valuable as Verlander in 2022 is...Paul Blackburn?

That's his name, all right. I would say "don't wear it out," but probably only the most diehard Oakland Athletics fans are guilty of repeating Blackburn's name this season. And judging from the team's attendance, those are the only fans showing up to watch the A's.

All the same, the 28-year-old righty is performing like a true No. 1 starter. In seven starts, he's gone 4-0 and logged a 1.67 ERA through 37.2 innings. Though he's struck out only 29 batters, he's otherwise dominated the three true outcomes by permitting only five walks and one home run.

Since all this is coming from a guy whose previous five seasons in the majors produced a grand total of 30 appearances and a 5.74 ERA, you probably have questions. So, please allow me to guess what they are and attempt to answer them.

 

Where Did This Guy Come From?

Put it this way: Without Blackburn, Mike Montgomery might never have been a Chicago Cub and, by extension, been the guy to record the final out of the 2016 World Series.

The Cubs originally drafted Blackburn out of Heritage High School in Brentwood, California, with the 56th pick in the 2012 draft. Largely on account of his above-average curveball and ability to throw strikes, he went into 2016 ranked by Baseball America as the organization's No. 19 prospect. He then further boosted his stock with a 3.17 ERA in 18 starts through July for its Double-A affiliate.