Sometimes, good things follow each other. When A’s general manager Billy Beane fired Bob Geren as manager in June 2011 and brought in Bob Melvin, it opened the door for Curt Young to return as pitching coach.
Young had seemed wedded to the A’s, first as a pitcher in the 1980s and then as a pitching coach, first in the minors then with the A’s, until he abruptly left after the 2010 season. He won’t say it was because of Geren — Young never criticizes anybody, an admirable trait which I obviously don’t share — but he had to be appalled by Geren’s ignorance. He and Melvin, though, blend as hand-and-glove, and the two are huge reasons for the A’s success.
The A’s have had a series of good pitching coaches, starting with Dave Duncan, then the cerebral Rick Peterson, but Young is the best at working with young pitchers. Typically, he deflects any praise.
“It’s really an organizational pattern because we have a certain way of coaching throughout the organization,” he said before the A’s workout Thursday.
True, but there are also pitchers on the current staff who have come through trades, and Young has worked well with all of them. I asked him about two very different young pitchers, Tommy Milone and Sonny Gray. Their arrivals were also quite different. Milone came in a trade, Gray was a highly touted draft choice.
“Milone had come through the Nationals’ system, which is a lot like ours,” Young said. “He has a lot of movement on his pitches, which keeps hitters off-balance.
“Gray is a power pitcher, though he has a nice curve he’s been working on, too.”
I asked him if there were any pitcher, with the A’s or another team, who Gray reminds him of.
“I always think of Timmy Hudson,” he said. “They both have such energy, it seems to overwhelm hitters.”
Hudson, of course, was the leader of the A’s pitching staff in the early part of this century and has since gone on to be successful with the Atlanta Braves, posting 205 career wins. If Gray is to match his success, the bar is high.
Playing home games in the Oakland Coliseum, with its unusual dimensions, requires a certain type of team. Because the huge foul areas can end an at-bat early, it’s difficult to sustain rallies with base hits, so the premium for hitters has been home runs, often preceded by walks. That’s exactly the kind of offense this year’s team has.
Conversely, A’s pitchers strive not to walk hitters, so if home runs are hit, they just produce one run. Catfish Hunter has the A’s single-season record for yielding home runs, but most were solo jobs, while Hunter pitched for three World Series champions and eventually made the baseball Hall of Fame.
Because Young knows what’s required, he can make pitchers from other teams into winners in Oakland. Beane traded away All-Star pitchers Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, as well as an excellent starter in Gio Gonzalez, but it hasn’t hurt because Young has done such a great job with their replacements.
Don’t let him get away again, Billy.