Athletics

How Mark Canha evolved into one of the most selective hitters in baseball

How Mark Canha evolved into one of the most selective hitters in baseball

If it seems like every Mark Canha at-bat lasts about 10 minutes, don't worry, you're not crazy.  

Between his elaborate pre-pitch routines and rapidly-improving pitch selection, Canha has made opposing pitchers work as hard as just about any other hitter in Major League Baseball this season.

Entering Sunday, the A's utility man was seeing an average of 4.34 pitches per plate appearance, tied for 11th-most in all of baseball among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. Only four qualified batters rank above Canha in the category, with Philadelphia's Rhys Hoskins leading the way at 4.59.  

"For me, it just had to do with kind of shrinking the zone -- shrinking my zone -- and not worrying about falling behind in the count or hitting with two strikes," Canha said of his approach. "Just kind of letting it play out and waiting for good pitches that I know I can do damage on. I think (earlier in my career), I've been a little overaggressive and just trying to hit early in the count and not being patient. ... It's about being selective and that's helped me."  

That mindset has paid off in a big way. While Canha is only batting .233 this year, his .371 on-base percentage leads the A's and his .874 OPS ranks third, behind only Matt Olson and Matt Chapman.  

Canha also has belted 12 home runs in just 163 at-bats, a rate of one homer every 13.6 ABs. That's the 15th-best clip in the American League among hitters with at least 150 plate appearances.

"You give him consistent at-bats and he's going to perform," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I think the big difference this year is the walks. You look at the average and that's really not indicative of what he's been doing. He's been getting on base, he hasn't been expanding the zone, and when you throw it over the plate, it's a homer. If you don't, he takes a walk and sets it up for everybody else."  

To Melvin's point, Canha owns the 12th-best walk rate in the majors at 15.7 percent. That's up from 8.3 percent last year and just 3.7 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, his 0.84 walk-to-strikeout ratio is tied for 11th, more than double last season's 0.39.  

"I just want to hit my pitch, whether it's the first pitch of the at-bat or the seventh or eighth pitch of the at-bat," Canha explained. "I think it's important to be aggressive early in the count if you get your pitch, and not be passive. That, in turn, will make guys a little more hesitant to attack you. If you're good at hitting early in the count, you might get yourself into some good hitters counts later. So it's a chess game. The main thing is just kind of trusting myself to attack my pitch."  

In order to do that, Canha has learned to lay off the pitcher's pitch. This season, he has only swung at 21.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, the 17th-best mark in MLB. Last season, that number was up at 31.1 percent. In 2017, it was 37.7 percent.  

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Essentially, these stats suggest that Canha's plate discipline has been the primary reason for his improvement at the plate in 2019. The 30-year-old is on pace to set career-bests with 21 home runs, 55 walks, and only 69 strikeouts.  

Perhaps just as important, even when Canha does make an out, he forces the pitcher to really earn it.

Why A's young catchers excited Bob Melvin heading into 2020 season

Why A's young catchers excited Bob Melvin heading into 2020 season

OAKLAND -- The catcher position is an important one, especially for A's manager Bob Melvin.

A 10-year catcher in the bigs, Melvin knows how underappreciated the position could be, but not to him.

For the A's, however, the position appears quite young. If today were Opening Day, 25-year-old Sean Murphy would be the starter behind the plate.

Not that this would be particularly a bad thing. In 60 big-league plate appearances last season, Murphy slashed .245/.333/.566 with four home runs and eight RBI.  

"And certainly the development of Murphy," Melvin told NBC Sports California at A's Media Day last Friday. "[He] did enough last year, and certainly in his minor-league career, to have us excited."

Across three minor-league teams last season, Murphy finished with a .964 OPS, 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 41 games. 

The A's also acquired a catcher in the Jurickson Profar trade from the Padres in Austin Allen.

"We're excited to see Allen -- supposedly he swings the bat really well," Melvin told NBC Sports California. 

Fans appear to be excited, too.

"Jonah Heim had a great year for us, too -- he's another roster guy for us, a switch-hitting catcher who really kind of had a breakout year for himself last year, so he's another guy we'll be watching."

Heim took advantage of the Pacific Coast League with a .358/.412/.557 line in 35 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. 

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"Who knows if there's something else we do before spring, or during spring -- or whatever, but we're comfortable with the guys we have right now," Melvin added.

The A's reportedly were targeting veteran catcher Matt Wieters before he ultimately signed with the Cardinals earlier this month.

With just a couple of big named catchers left on the free-agency block, the A's could make a bid on one of them, but there's always a possibility of a trade for one of those veteran names to be a part of that squad.

A's manager Bob Melvin has unique tie to 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl 54

A's manager Bob Melvin has unique tie to 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl 54

OAKLAND -- Bob Melvin can’t lose on Super Bowl Sunday.

Or maybe, he can’t exactly win.

With the San Francisco 49ers facing the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 2, the A's manager has important family connections on both sides.  

You may already know that Bob grew up locally in Palo Alto, and considers himself a “longtime 49ers fan."

“My grandfather had season tickets,” Melvin told NBC Sports California on Friday. “Our family always had season tickets to the games. Went to many during the [Joe] Montana days. It was part of my youth, obviously.”

But what you may not have known is that there’s also a Melvin on Kansas City’s coaching staff.

“A little qualifier here …” Bob explained. “My cousin is the tight ends coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. Tom Melvin. He’s been with Andy Reid since San Francisco State.”

Tom Melvin’s coaching career actually began with the Gators in 1984. He broke into the NFL in 1999, working there every season since.

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So, if Chiefs star Travis Kelce catches a touchdown pass -- or if 49ers running back Raheem Mostert sprints to paydirt -- how will the longest-tenured MLB manager pick sides?

“I’m going to have to sit on my hands a little bit,” Melvin explained.  

“If the 49ers win, I’ll be ecstatic. But there’s a little more at stake here when part of your blood is with the other team.”