Athletics

Oakland's Khris Davis pacing MLB strikeout record

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USATSI

Oakland's Khris Davis pacing MLB strikeout record

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is set to smash through a previously untouched barrier Sunday: Some batter likely will walk back to his dugout after becoming the 40,000 strikeout of the season.

There were 30,801 strikeouts in 2005. At the current rate, this year’s total will be about 40,060.

“It kills me. I can’t watch the game. It’s not baseball,” Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage said Thursday. “The only thing that’s the same in the game is the bases are 90 feet and the mound is 60 feet, 6 inches. That’s it.”

The strikeout record has been broken for 10 consecutive seasons, and this year’s total will be well above the 38,982 who whiffed in 2016. There were 39,334 through Thursday, with three full days remaining.

More batters are swinging for the fences, part of the computer revolution that transformed nearly every aspect of the game, from defensive shifts to shorter outings by starting pitchers, to more relief pitchers on each team’s roster. The season home run record of 5,694, which had stood since 2000 at the height of the Steroids Era, was shattered with nearly two weeks left. Cleveland’s Roberto Perez hit No. 6,000 on Thursday as the total rose to 6,022.

“If you’re striking out, you’re not hitting into a lot of double plays. It was like 10 years ago when I think the analytical people started saying that strikeouts aren’t really that bad,” Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost said. “They would much rather have one out than the chance for two.”

Boston’s Chris Sale has 308 strikeouts, the most by a big league pitcher since Arizona’s Randy Johnson had 334 in 2002 and Diamondbacks teammate Curt Schilling fanned 316. Indians pitchers have reached double digits in strikeouts 90 times, the most since at least 1913.

In earlier eras, strikeouts were a smear on a slugger’s baseball card. Babe Ruth never struck out more than 93 times in a season. Joe DiMaggio fanned 369 times in his career, to go along with 361 home runs.

The Yankees’ Aaron Judge may have set a big league rookie record for home runs with 51 through Thursday, but he’s also fanned 205 times. Oakland’s Khris Davis was at 194 and Texas’ Joey Gallo at 193.

[RELATED: Khris Davis on The A's Insider Podcast]

“They have determined the importance of hitting the ball in the air, the importance of hitting home runs, and I think players have bought into it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I think you can be extremely productive striking out 150 times a year. If you can drive 100 and you can score 100, there’s a lot of things that you can do. So I think the game has shifted gears a little bit.”

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff are concerned about the decrease in action, especially in an era that had professional sports competing with screen time for the attention of youth.

Teams averaged 3 strikeouts per game when the Yankees’ Murderer’s Row ruled baseball in 1927. The average didn’t top 4 until 1952, 5 until 1959 and 6 until 1994. It passed 7 in 2010 and 8 last year.

“Everybody digs the long ball. If you struck out that many times back in the day, your (butt) would be back in the minor leagues,” said Gossage, who advocates small ball as a way of defeating both power pitchers and infield shifts. “I think these computers got these kids — they’re all like robots. You’re telling me that a guy, a professional hitter, can’t hit a ball the whole left or right side of an infield that’s gone? How about laying down five or six or 10 bunts, like Boog Powell would have done?”

 

Ryan Christenson named bench coach as A's solidify 2018 staff

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Ryan Christenson named bench coach as A's solidify 2018 staff

Ryan Christenson has worked his way up the coaching ladder in the A’s farm system, and on Thursday he was named the team’s new major league bench coach.

The announcement makes Christenson, 43, the right-hand man for manager Bob Melvin and essentially the No. 2 man in the dugout. It also settles a position that was in flux over the course of the 2017 season. Mark Kotsay began this past season as bench coach but stepped away from the team in June to be with his family after his daughter, Sienna, suffered a serious eye injury.

Kotsay is expected to remain with the big league club in some form of non-everyday role. Chip Hale finished the season as bench coach but will now switch back to third base coach, a position he originally was hired for leading into the 2017 season. Hale also coaches Oakland’s infielders.

“At some point in time we knew Ryan was going to be here,” Melvin said. “He went through all the classifications (managing in the minors). He did well with a young group. It’s a good fit bringing him in, and he’s ready for the bench coach role. He’s done a lot of managing.”

Though the bench coach works in closest tandem with a manager throughout the game, Melvin also noted the importance of having a third-base coach that thinks right along with him and is on the same page. From that standpoint, he said having Hale in that role is important.

“Chip’s so good at third, that even though I’m used to having him on the bench, it’s tough not to use him (at third),” Melvin said. “Certainly this isn’t a demotion for Chip.”

It’s the first appointment on a major league staff for Christenson, who has spent the past five seasons managing in Oakland’s farm system, starting with low Single-A and working his way up to Triple-A Nashville this season. He led Double-A Midland to back-to-back Texas League titles in 2015-16, and his teams went 391-307 (.561) over those five seasons.

The rest of Melvin’s coaching staff will return intact in 2018. That includes pitching coach Scott Emerson, who took over that role midseason after the firing of Curt Young, and hitting coach Darren Bush. Like Christenson, Emerson and Bush both were promoted from within the farm system to their eventual spots on the big league staff.

All three men have extensive history coaching the large group of young players that are establishing themselves as the A’s core, and that’s a factor worth keeping in mind when evaluating the makeup of this staff.

Emerson, who assumed Young’s duties in June, will return as pitching coach despite the A’s staff posting a 4.67 ERA, highest by an Oakland staff since 1999. A’s pitchers also surrendered an Oakland-record 210 home runs.

“Similar to Ryan, he knows everybody, what we have here and in the minor leagues,” Melvin said of Emerson. “He’s been a good fit here and continues to be a good fit.”

Bush oversaw a group of hitters that showed improvement as the season wore on, scoring the fifth-most runs in the American League after the All-Star break. The A’s set a franchise record for strikeouts – in line with the rise in whiffs throughout the majors -- but also hit the fourth-most homers in franchise history.

Melvin’s staff is rounded out by first base coach Mike Aldrete, bullpen coach Garvin Alston and assistant hitting coach/catching coach Marcus Jensen. Steve Scarsone, who filled in as interim third base coach from June through the rest of the season, will resume his duties as a traveling instructor throughout the farm system.

Young A’s fan writes letter to team after fires take home, beloved memorabilia

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Twitter @KatieUtehs

Young A’s fan writes letter to team after fires take home, beloved memorabilia

Young Athletics fan Loren Jade Smith is among the thousands of people affected by the Northern California wildfires. Along with his family's home, the fire storm took his most valued possession -- his A's memorabilia collection. 

In his disappointment, Smith wrote a letter to the A's that has since gone viral. 

After the letter was shared throughout the Twitterverse, A's President Dave Kaval said the team would reach out to Jade and his family to replace his memorabilia. 

And since Kaval's announcement, the A's community of fans has responded with offers to send the young fan some memorabilia. The A's have even set up an address where fans can send Smith their gifts.