Pitching coach supreme

Nice to see that beat writer Joe Stiglich devoted some space this morning to Curt Young, the A’s pitching coach who seems to have King Midas’ touch. You could argue that Young is the most valuable member of this team. A team missing projected starters Esteban Loaiza and Rich Harden and without its two best relievers, Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer, nonetheless leads the American League with a 3.11 ERA.

The recognition is long overdue. Young is quiet, humble and unassuming, the result of his Midwest upbringing, and he stepped into a difficult situation when he replaced Rick Peterson, the former A’s pitching coach who was never shy about advancing his theories. Young was handed a terrific staff in 2004, because Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito all were in the fold. But that can be rough when you’re new, because anything less than the expected results is immediately going to be assumed to be the fault of the new guy.

Well, that’s precisely what happened. Mulder had a terrible late-season fade in Young’s first season (and to this day, never really has regained his top-notch form), and that put some heat on the former A’s left-hander, because the unfair assumption was that Peterson would’ve been able to fix Mulder’s problem.

Of course, Young never let on that he felt any pressure and kept doing his thing. Three years later, he belongs in any discussion involving the game’s best pitching coaches.

In my opinion, it’s sweet justice, too. Young was a talented lefty for those dynamic A’s teams in the late 80’s, and in 1987 — Tony La Russa’s first full season as the team’s manager, and the year that the A’s went from dregs to players in the AL West — Young might’ve been the best left-hander in the game for a three-month stretch. But he hurt his arm in a late June start at Chicago against the White Sox and really was never the same after that. He had spurts of excellence, and he was dynamite in the second half of 1988, but he was never what he was in that first half of 1987.

It looks like his ultimate legacy for the A’s will be in his work as the pitching coach. After all, had you had been told that Chad Gaudin, Joe Kennedy and Lenny DiNardo would be three-fifths of the rotation in late June, you probably would’ve said the A’s would be in last place. And I probably would’ve believed you.