OAKLAND -- Gutted in the offseason, the A's pitching staff lost three All-Stars through trades -- and they have never been better. As the names and faces of the A's change like the seasons, one man has found a way to bring consistent excellence to the mound in Oakland, no matter who is on it. His name is Curt Young, and he is the unsung hero of the A's starting rotation.Oakland's starting rotation has an American League-leading 3.72 ERA, something very few of the so-called baseball experts expected to see after the team traded Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill in the offseason. Yet, here they stand, armed to the teeth once again. "We are first in the league in ERA without too many household names here," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "It's tough to even put a price on what Curt has done here. It is phenomenal." When Young returned to the A's after spending the 2011 season with the Red Sox, he didn't know the team's two best pitchers would be traded. So far it hasn't mattered in the slightest bit. He was given another talented crop of youthful pitchers to help develop, and so far he has passed the test with straight-A's. "That's the goal," Young said. "You come in with young guys and you hope you can make them believe and give them enough confidence. Then they have to go out and do it." And they have. This season 45 of the A's innings pitched have come with a rookie pitcher on the mound. Over those 360.2 innings pitched by rookies, the A's have a 2.99 ERA. "A lot of times you don't recognize the pitching coach for what he's done," A's starting pitcher Tommy Milone said. "Obviously he's done a great job. You can tell just by how the pitchers have thrown all year." The A's have gotten it done with their two most experienced pitchers Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy spending time on the DL. Rookie right-handed pitcher Jarrod Parker -- who came to the A's in the Cahill trade -- has a 3.07 ERA. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 15 starts. Milone -- who came to the A's in the Gonzalez trade -- has nine wins and a 3.54 ERA. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of his 18 starts. Another rookie, A.J. Griffin, has allowed three runs or less in all four of his starts. "Whenever you have someone like that behind you, and doing everything they can to prepare you, then you are going to have a lot of success," Griffin said of Young's leadership. "He does a lot of stuff behind the scenes that helps us go out there and be ready to compete." When told that some of his pitchers said he was the unsung hero of the staff, Young brushed off the remark like a veteran. He likely wants to defer the attention, and rightfully so. What he has done with the staff is remarkable. What the pitchers have done on the mound might be even more impressive. "Their talent is really showing up," Young said. "They've been on good routines, we've given them rest when they can get it. Once you get on a roll like that, you really can't wait to get out there. I believe that's the case with all these guys." This is Young's 24th season in the A's organization, and his eighth season as the A's pitching coach. He left the A's prior to the 2011 season to join the Boston Red Sox and returned prior to this season. It's not surprising the Red Sox went after him. During his previous seven seasons with Oakland, he led the A's to an A.L. best 4.03 ERA. After changing general managers after a disappointing season by Red Sox standards, the uncertainty within the Boston coaching staff brought Young back to Oakland. Melvin believes the A's were lucky to get him."He's a great fit here in Oakland," Melvin said. "He looks a lot better in white shoes than dark shoes."The A's have been one of the surprises in Major League Baseball. They are a season-high three games over .500, and 12 a game behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot. They have done all of that while scoring 343 runs -- the fewest in the AL. The A's secret to success? The pitching staff. The secret to their success? Curt Young."I think we got our guys in the right frame of mind," Young said. "It's all about the team. If they go out and pitch well, we have a chance to win the game. That's really what I feel these guys are possessed on doing."Armed and Dangerous The A's starting rotation is already the envy of the AL. Wait and see what happens when they get Brett Anderson back. Arguably their most talented pitcher, Anderson is recovering from "Tommy John" surgery. He is throwing simulated games in Arizona and should be heading out on a rehab assignment soon. Dan Straily, 23, is a right-handed pitcher for the River Cats who is lighting up the Minor Leagues. He just won MiLB pitcher of the week honors, and paces all of baseball in strikeouts. Straily's 154 strikeouts this season are rivaled only by Felix Hernandez (140), Justin Verlander (136), and Stephen Strasburg (135). Of course, they did it in the Major Leagues, but you can see the point.Straily is 3-2 with a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings with the Sacramento. He could be well on his way to joining the A's rotation if they decided to move a veteran like Colon.
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 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.
No doubt. So touching. We are reaching out to family so we can replace their collection. https://t.co/Gwk48heAyR— Dave Kaval (@DaveKaval) October 15, 2017
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.
If you'd like to donate baseball memorabilia to our pal Loren, please send items to the address below and we’ll make sure they get to him. pic.twitter.com/xI3ZwWWfNA— A's, But Spooky 🌳🐘🎃 (@Athletics) October 16, 2017