Coco Crisp is the undeniable spark plug and all around leader of the Oakland A’s. His style of play is some of the most exciting baseball you can see anywhere in the big leagues. However, switch hitting is a gamble and for Coco I think it’s just about run its course. It’s real simple. He doesn’t hit when he bats right handed. Not since 2010, his first year with Oakland, has Coco been a legitimate threat from the right side.
I don’t care what anyone says, “but by switch hitting he gives a different look and gives the pitcher more issues”, “righty vs lefty, lefty vs righty means something”, “it makes our lineup more diverse”. Spare me, I understand the benefits of switch hitting but if your opinion sounds something like this then please, go away. I really could not care less about switch hitting if it doesn’t work! Can you imagine what Coco’s batting average would look like if he became a full time left handed batter? He would constantly be hovering in the .280 – .285 range, if not higher. For a player with as much speed and base stealing ability as Coco has, would benefit indefinitely.
Jesse Chavez may be the Oakland Athletics best pitcher. The best pitching anecdote in the MLB, that nobody outside of the Oakland A’s fan base is talking about.
I said it. Best Pitcher.
Not the best reliever, not the best set-up man, the best pitcher, so far. The season is still young, and the MLB is the definition of a marathon when it comes to professional sports, BUT who saw this coming? What Chavez has done is nothing short of stunning. One cannot fathom the pressure put on starting pitchers as it is, but think about having never been a starter, never even considered an elite reliever. A solid reliever at best, playing with his fifth team in seven years. Two injuries in the offseason within the same week (Jarrod Parker & A.J. Griffin), shaped an inevitable starting role for Jesse Chavez. Four starts and 26 innings pitched later, Chavez is leading the Athletics starters in ERA (1.38) and strikeouts (28). Throughout his career Chavez’s average length of outing per game has been 1.2 innings, this season his average length is 6.5 innings. In the pitching world, that could not be more on opposite ends of the spectrum. The most innings Chavez had ever pitched in a season was 67.1, and has already thrown 42% (28 innings) of that in the first three weeks of this season.
The likes of Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray make it doubtful for many to jump on the bandwagon, as Kazmir and Gray have yet to post losing contest’s in their own right. However, let us not forget that those two are starters, and have been starters. Especially Kazmir, now in his tenth season as a starter. Gray is young of course, but has been brought up and groomed through the minor leagues as a starter. Gray has always been expected, to be a starter. I cannot stress enough the change of role Chavez has taken on, that should make him so venerated as a newfound starter.
So far everything has been up, up and more up for Jesse Chavez and there are surely to be some down’s on the horizon. That’s pitching, heck that’s baseball, but I can’t help but be impressed and more importantly can only think of one question.
The NFL has always seemed to show a sense of……favoritism, if you will, for teams on the East Coast. Known as the “East Coast Bias“. Maybe I feel that way being a west coast kid and a die hard Raider fan most of my life, I may just be used to conspiracies and everyone hating me (Raiders).
Against all odds the western divisions are dominant, plain and simple. Many may have already drawn this conclusion, but let me break down just HOW dominant the west was last season. If you grouped every NFC and AFC division together, i.e. NFC West + AFC West, NFC North + AFC North, etc…and simply called these divisions the NFL East, NFL North, NFL South, and NFL West. It’s almost laughable how dominant the NFL West was in 2013.
With a combined regular season record of 79 (wins) – 49 (losses), the NFL West were 30 GAMES OVER THE .500 MARK and 17 games ahead of the next division… Let’s fast forward….
Out of the 12 total teams who made it into the postseason, five of those teams were from the NFL West. Though posting the worst overall regular season record, the NFL South had the second most with three teams in the playoffs, and the NFL’s East & North contributing two teams each. Obviously, the regular season brought huge success to the NFL West but the postseason should bring a different story and the other divisions would surely bring something to the table right?
2013 Posteason Standings NFL West (Seahawks, Niners, Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers)
W-L: 8-5 NFL South (Panthers, Saints, Colts)
W-L: 2-3 NFL East (Eagles, Patriots)
W-L: 1-2 NFL North (Packers, Bengals)
Once again posting the only winning record the west was once again, dominant. Here is a twist though. Out of the 5 losses the west had, 4 of them came from another west team. The one loss from a non-west team was a come from behind, miracle comeback, 1 point loss that the Colts handed to the Chiefs in quite possibly the most entertaining game of the entire playoffs. Never mind the fact that half of the Chiefs roster, including their best player in Jamaal Charles, was injured by halftime. Before the west were forced to start playing each other, they had a 2-1 postseason record. For the readers who are not familiar with how the NFL Playoffs work, the first round is called the Wild-Card Round, or better known as “Wild-Card Weekend”. Then we move on to the Divisional Round, then Conference Champions, then the Super Bowl. Four total rounds of postseason play.
What might be most interesting statistical feature of all is once we get passed the Wild-Card Round, the New England Patriots recorded the only victory that did not belong to an NFL West team for the rest of the playoffs. A victory that came in the Divisional Round. The west won 3 out of the 4 Divisional games, both Conference Championships, and the Super Bowl. If you related college basketball to the NFL the Conference Championships are essentially the “Final Four”, 3 of those 4 teams (75%) were from the west. We all know how the Super Bowl ended so let’s not bring that up and go into detail, but let us not forget that both of those teams were from where? The West.
When putting the numbers on paper, making it all black & white, looking at the smallest of details, we found even more dominance than simply met the eye. Which is staggering. However, the big question here is, will the west continue their dominance? or will a contender emerge.
Jarrod Parker, originally planned to be the Oakland A’s opening day starter, will most likely be sitting out the entire 2014 Season with the second Tommy John Surgery of his career. A.J. Griffin is likely out until June with “elbow discomfort”. Though some only look at the 46 Home Runs given up in his first two seasons, Griffin also owns a career record of 21-11, 3.60 ERA , and threw more innings then any other pitcher on the team (2013 Season) with an even 2oo innings. Parker was not far behind with the second most at 197 innings pitched. That is a lot of production to lose so close to Opening Day. Two big blows for the A’s pitching staff without question, but this is what the Oakland A’s are all about aren’t they? Diversity? More importantly in this case, the Oakland A’s are and have always been about pitching depth.
(Parker Above, Griffin to the Right).
Pitchers like Tommy Milone, and Jesse Chavez are being given spots in the starting rotation. A rotation of Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Milone, and Chavez may look less then stellar to some who don’t know these pitchers like A’s fans do. Many forget that Tommy Milone was the #3 starter in the 2012 Season behind Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon before Parker and Griffin were around. Throwing a team high 190 innings, Milone was a solid contributor. Posting a 13-10 record and a 3.74 ERA. The big question is, can Tommy Milone get back to the pitcher he was in 2012? (Milone shown below)
Every A’s fan remembers that Jesse Chavez game. The game where Jesse came in and pitched 5 shutout innings (adding 7 K’s and only 1 hit) in relief to beat the perennial Yankees. It was one of the more impressive relief efforts in recent A’s memory as the game went 18 innings and both teams were running out of pitching options. Already in the 13th inning the A’s had but one pitcher left in their bullpen, it was Chavez. Surely having no idea the game would go 18 innings Jesse was up to the task. Sitting down Yankee after Yankee, it felt like he pitched a lot longer than 5.2 innings. Maybe that’s because it was near 2 am and I was fighting the sand man by game’s end. Chavez became the long reliever “guy” after that. The big question is, can he convert these long reliever sessions into quality starts?
(Bob Melvin on left & Jesse Chavez on right)
Let’s not forget about the other side of the ball. It has now become inevitable for the A’s lineup to start producing. Yoenis Cespedes has now completed two MLB seasons, and heading into his third. Brought in on a big contract, something the A’s are not accustomed to doing, Cespedes needs to live up to it. In a down year statistically last season, we saw flashes of greatness from the “Cuban Missile”. Winning the 2013 MLB Home Run Derby, Cespedes absolutely crushed his competition, and the first Oakland Athletic since Mark McGwire in 1992 to win the big show. Not only that, Cespedes was by far the most consistent batter the A’s had in the 2013 ALDS against the American League Champion Tigers posting at least 1 hit in every game of the series, the only player on the team to do so. Coco Crisp is the teams lead off batter and well known “spark plug”, but Cespedes needs to be the teams rock. Coco is the reason a team can get into the playoffs, but a player like Cespedes could be the reason you win, in the playoffs. Throw Reddick into the mix as another player that needs to bounce back with a big bat, and match his offensive play with his stellar defensive play. Reddick comes up with some of the most eye popping catches you will ever see, but the lack of his offensive production last season almost diminishes his defensive efforts. Each of these players bring the components you look for in an All Star and team leader. Power, speed, great defense and quite possibly the most important attribute, charisma. These three will be the reason the offensive unit ultimately succeeds or fails.
(From left to right, Cespedes, Crisp, Reddick)There you have it. Some are already calling the Oakland A’s 2014 campaign a defeat on the horizon with the early injuries. True A’s fans know better. We know it’s never over until it’s over. The A’s have never been a team to win or lose because of individuals, the A’s are a team that win based on opportunities given in the moment. Anyone can answer the call of the doubters, but the question is, who? and when?
On March 11, 2014. The Pittsburg Steelers did something they aren’t accustomed to doing. They signed a player through Free Agency. Usually a franchise motto of building through the draft, the Steelers made a statement by signing Free Safety Mike Mitchell to a 5 year $25 million deal. A deal from a team Mitchell grew up knowing all too well. “Growing up around the Cincinnati area that was a team you knew about and being a Bengal fan as a kid…you were afraid of them.” Mitchell said about his new team at a Press Conference on March 13 and couldn’t be more ecstatic about the opportunity. “To play for such a storied franchise, you know 6 Superbowls….its cream of the crop, its top notch, the best of the best”. Once considered a classic Al Davis draft bust and nearly being cast out of the league, the former second round draft pick is getting a legitimate second chance at the sport he loves.
Coming out of a less than glamorous Alma Mater, Mitchell played his college ball at Ohio University (not to be confused with Ohio State University) where he was a standout player. Starting in 30 games, 23 at Strong Safety, 7 at Free Safety, Mitchell recorded 212 tackles, 3 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 13 passes defensed, and 7 interceptions. Though posting some strong numbers and accompanied by some bone crushing hits on film Mitchell was overlooked by many NFL Scouts and wasn’t invited to the 2009 NFL Combine. Al Davis decided to gamble on the Hard Hitting Safety anyway.
Four seasons in Oakland, Mitchell never found his stride. Backing up already established starters in Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff, Mitchell found himself scraping for playing time as a utility player. Playing anything from gunner on Special Teams to Outside Linebacker, Mitchell was never given an opportunity to play his natural position. After minimal production and no contract extension from the team that drafted him, Mitchell hit free agency with little enthusiasm. A glimmer of hope arose when a one year contract worth less then $1 million came about from the Carolina Panthers. Mitchell signed.
Going into the 2013 season Mitchell was poised to once again fill a backup role. After an injury to former teammate Charles Godfrey another opportunity opened for Mitchell, an opportunity he would eventually close. Mitchell stepped into his new starting role and never looked back. Making an immediate impact he collected 3 interceptions in his first 3 games as a starter. Bringing emotion, natural leadership, big hits, and big play ability, Mitchell had arrived…….….66 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a team leading 4 interceptions by seasons end, the Steelers were looking to steal Mitchell. “As soon as I heard Steelers…I jumped at the opportunity.” Though they aren’t his childhood team, playing for a team like the Steelers is a dream come true for Mitchell because they embrace the type of intensity and play style that Mitchell ultimately plays. “I know what the franchise is about, the way they play football here I really think fits my personality, it’s very hard-nosed…there were just too many things to pass up.”
Its been a roller coaster…… Overlooked in college, almost draft bust, one season make or break contract…..Mike Mitchell is now simply concerned about one thing, helping the Steelers win their 7th Championship…..