It was an incredible season for the Oakland Athletics. In spring training, nobody saw them coming. On Opening Day, nobody saw them coming. In July, nobody saw them coming. But somehow the A's stormed from behind and captured the American League West flag on the last day of what was, for them, truly the championship season. And there's plenty of credit to go around. Which makes choosing the A's Player of the Year -- the player who best symbolizes a comeback for the ages -- so difficult ...
There were a lot of things to like about the 2012 Oakland Athletics. After too many years of anemic hitting, the A's finished sixth in the American League in home runs, thanks largely to newcomers Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, and Brandon Moss. The Athletics' bullpen was simply outstanding; essentially, once the A's discarded Brian Fuentes, every Oakland reliever pitched effectively or brilliantly.
But my favorite symbol of the A's shocking season is a starting pitcher.
In 2011, two Athletics, both of them still young, won in double figures: Trevor Cahill (12-14, 4.16) and Gio Gonzalez (16-12, 3.12).
The A's traded both of them for even younger pitchers: Trevor Cahill for Jarrod Parker (and two other prospects), Gio Gonzalez for Tommy Milone (and other prospects). Parker was a year younger than Cahill, Milone a year younger than Gonzalez.
If I could find a photo of Parker and Milone together, I might make them Co-Players of the Year. Because while everyone thought that trading Cahill and Parker meant the A's were punting 2012, it turns out they were simply reloading.
I'm going with Milone because he was not as highly regarded as Parker, prospect-wise. Why? Because of his "below-average fastball", which led Baseball America to rank Milone as just the Nationals' 13th-best prospect before the trade.
What Milone also had, though, was an outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors, nearly 10-to-1 in his Triple-A action. I'm sure the A's would have preferred a 95-mile-an-hour fastball, but they took the high-80s fastball and the stunning control instead.
In the event, Milone's strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors was something of a mirage. Instead of 10 to 1, with the A's it was roughly 4 to 1 ... which is still really, really good. Significantly better, in fact, than Gio Gonzalez's in 2011 with the A's and in 2012 with the Nationals.
Is Tommy Milone a better pitcher than Gio Gonzalez? Well, let's not go nuts quite yet. But when the A's traded Gonzalez for Milone, they got a little younger and a little cheaper and they wound up winning 94 games, with Milone tying Parker for the team lead with 13 victories. I'm almost reminded of a certain bestselling book from a few years back ...
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.