Is there anything Mark Canha can’t do?
The reigning 2020 Team MVP is having another fantastic year at the plate. He’s got an .841 OPS, his 141 wRC+ ranks second on the team and 23rd in the majors, and he’s also tied for second on the club in homers and steals. He does all this while batting leadoff and getting on base at a .378 clip, by any means necessary between a mammoth walk rate and an MLB-leading total of HBPs.
And that’s only the offensive side of the ball. On defense he plays a fine corner outfield in both LF and RF, usually drawing metrics around neutral territory, and he puts in full effort with impressive diving catches all over the place. He can also cover CF when needed, and while his career stats are negative there, they have trended upward in limited duty the last couple years.
His versatility has been a hallmark for years, as he’s played at least four positions in every season of his career — including 1B, and even a little bit of 3B in 2015-16. During the 2019 season he was the glue that held the lineup together, covering for several injured teammates throughout the summer and starting at least eight games at four different spots (five if you count DH).
Given that history of doing anything and everything asked of him, Canha’s latest feat should come as no surprise.
On Monday against the Los Angeles Angels he started in CF, which he’s done for the last couple weeks while Ramon Laureano is hurt. But in the 7th inning, RF Chad Pinder was hit by a pitch in the head and needed to exit. Pinder’s replacement, Skye Bolt, is considered the superior defender so he took over center while Canha shifted to right.
In the 9th, with their lead only three runs and their closer entering for a save chance, the A’s opted for some late defensive upgrades. They pulled 2B Jed Lowrie, moved LF Tony Kemp to the infield to replace him, and brought their final outfielder off the bench in Stephen Piscotty. But Piscotty traditionally plays RF, so Canha ceded that spot and moved across to LF, which had just been vacated by Kemp. The box score looked like this by the end:
- Canha, CF-RF-LF
That’s all three outfield positions, in one game! It’s only the 10th time that’s happened in Oakland A’s history, and Canha is the ninth player to do it, reports official scorer David Feldman.
- Jim Gosger (7/3/1968)
- Larry Murray (5/7/1977)
- Miguel Dilone (8/19/1978)
- Lance Blankenship (6/16/1992)
- Tony Phillips (4/25/1999)
- Rick Becker (9/17/1999 and 9/19/1999)
- Eric Byrnes (6/7/2004)
- Chad Pinder (9/21/2019)
- Mark Canha (6/14/2021)
Note: Bert Campaneris famously played all nine positions in a single game, but he did that in 1965 for the Kansas City A’s, so he’s not on this Oakland list.
Phillips was legendary for his versatility, in the way we now think of Ben Zobrist, but Tony waited until his second stint in Oakland to pull this particular move. Zobrist also played for the A’s but not long enough to find his way to CF, and he never achieved this outfield hat trick in any uniform, though he did do a 1B/2B/3B game for the Rays in 2010.
A few months after Phillips’ game, the A’s acquired Becker and he did it twice more that same season, and just two days apart in what for him was consecutive games. Each time it was due to Jason McDonald replacing Matt Stairs (either pinch-runner or defense), and Ryan Christenson (now the A’s bench coach) taking over for Ben Grieve (pinch-hitter or defense). The next year they released Becker in May but he picked up with the Tigers, and later that summer of 2000 he did it once more against Oakland.
In 2004, one of the teammates whom Byrnes shifted over to replace in the outfield was Mark Kotsay, now the club’s 3B coach. Pinder’s 2019 game came in a blowout victory when Oakland emptied their bench midway through for garbage time.
As for Canha, the A’s could have won Monday night without this particular contribution — after all, his two times on base in one inning during a game-defining five-run rally were valuable enough. But his ability to move around the field at will helped the team set up exactly the alignments they wanted, even as an injury suddenly changed the situation and again when they entered late crunch-time. He’s made more impactful displays of versatility in the past, but on paper this is a fitting symbol of what he’s capable of on defense.
And he can cook.