PHOENIX -- Why isn't there competition for the center field job in Oakland?

Many believe there should be between incumbent Coco Crisp and newcomer Chris Young. They both cover plenty of ground and have good offensive skills, although their offensive skills are not identical.

But there is Crisp's lack of arm strength that serves as a clear dividing line.

"Coco Crisp is going to be our opening day center fielder," manager Bob Melvin says.

Young will be asked to play left, right and center and spend time as the designated hitter.

Melvin's decision goes opposite of the prime defensive metric of the 21st century -- UZR (ultimate zone rating), which assesses how many runs a defender takes away. It gives a clear edge to Young, but Melvin and general manager Billy Beane have no problem turning a blind eye to the UZR.

"We have our own proprietary defensive ratings metrics," Melvin said. "It's the best I've ever seen, better than any of the others. And it tells us that we have two elite center fielders."

Said Beane, "There's a reason it's proprietary. It's an ongoing process to improve our analysis. More than that, I'm not willing to say."

Beane and Melvin believe there isn't as much difference in the two outfielders as systems such as UZR show.

As important as a big arm can be for an outfielder, it's not the only issue. Just ask another weak-throwing outfielder, Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.

"Coco doesn't have the greatest arm; I didn't have the greatest arm, either," Henderson said Friday on his first day of work in the A's big league camp. "There are ways you get around that.


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"You get a good jump on the ball, that's the first thing. Coco's got very good range and a real good first step to the ball. Then when you get the ball, you get rid of it quickly. You have to have good vision to be able to know where the cutoff man is and get the ball to him as quickly as possible."

The cutoff man is going to be an important factor in Oakland this season. For most of last year, Cliff Pennington was the starting shortstop. When Stephen Drew came aboard, Pennington moved to second base.

Pennington, who is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, owns a great arm. Drew, who signed a free-agent contract with the Boston Red Sox, has a good one. When A's outfielders hit the shortstop as the cutoff man in 2012, there were many chances for good things to happen.

With the two shortstop candidates this year, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie, the cutoff men's arm strength won't be the same. That will increase the need for the center fielder to get the ball off quickly and accurately.

"When you watch Coco, you'll see him get his feet in position to get off a good throw to the cutoff man," Henderson said. "You don't need a strong arm to do that. I know when I was running the bases, I was concerned more with how quickly the outfielder got rid of the ball than with how strong his arm is."

There's more than just defense to the A's desire to have Crisp in center. He's the club's leadoff hitter, and he performs better offensively when he's in center.

At this time last year, the A's were playing Yoenis Cespedes in center and Crisp in left. Crisp hit .194 and had a .260 on-base percentage until a Cespedes wrist injury led to the two of them switching places.

From that point on in late May, Crisp hit .271 with a .326 on-base percentage and 11 homers. That production was crucial in the A's rallying from 13 games out of first place in the American League West to win the division on the last day of the season.

Young is a one-time All-Star with more power -- he's averaged 20 homers over the last three seasons -- but he doesn't hit for a high average. The A's believe he can adapt to a utility role in the outfield.

"Chris can play anywhere," Melvin said. "You see that more every time he's out there in left and right. But the fact is we have two above average center fielders."

One is an incumbent on a team that won the division last year, one who generates a lot more offense when he's playing center.

"Coco is an important part of what makes us go," Melvin said.

That's something the A's don't want to tinker with.

  • Josh Donaldson's statistics aren't much to look at this spring (.111 with no extra base hits), but Melvin doesn't seem concerned in the slightest.

    Asked if it was time for Scott Sizemore, the starter at third two years ago who is in the competition for the second base job in 2013, to get some work at third base, Melvin said no.

    "Donaldson's average isn't good," the manager said. "But he's hitting the ball hard, and had a couple of home runs taken away in that rainout we had (in Peoria) with the Mariners (last Friday).''

  • Starter Bartolo Colon threw four innings and gave up the two runs Arizona scored in the first in Friday's 2-2- tie. "He threw the ball good," Melvin said. "They got some decent swings against him in the first, but he made some nice pitches."

    Colon has had a tough spring, allowing 22 hits in 11 innings (six in four innings Friday), but Melvin said he's not worried and that the veteran will come around.

  • The A's executed baserunning drills in the morning workout with Henderson as the featured guest. Henderson said there is more to stealing bases than being fast. "There were guys who could beat me in a race," he said, "but it's about getting a lead, getting a jump, being low, knowing the pitchers and knowing how to slide."

  • Melvin said he won't be doing too much revision to the number of at-bats Jemile Weeks is getting with Weeks back now after time lost to a bruised right shoulder. "It is what it is," the manager said. "Everybody is going to get ABs."

    online extra
    Melvin tunes up for season by arguing play at plate, avoids ejection. www.mercurynews.com/athletics