The days of Jack Clark in pinstripes

Once upon a time, before the Internet, before Twitter, before beat writers with blogs and fans with blogs, before MLB Trade Rumors and even Mike and The Mad Dog, Jack Clark was a member of the Yankees. Now, I personally don’t remember much about Clark’s one-year tenure in the Bronx because I was five and baseball was a thing I watched during the summer and not a 365-day obsession. But Clark holds a special place in my heart because his Starting Lineup figurine was one of the first of my collection.

In a way, Jack Clark is the poster child for strange Yankee moves in the late 1980s. Clark made his debut in 1975 as a 19-year-old rookie for the Giants, and he was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. He spent 13 years in the NL and hit .276/.372/.487 with 229 home runs and seemed to hit free agency at both the right and the wrong time.

For Clark, the winter of 1987/1988 was the right time because of his production. While ankle ligament injuries limited his playing time toward the end of 1987, he finished the season third in the NL MVP race and hit .286 with a league-leading .459 on-base percentage and .597 slugging. He belted 35 home runs and drove in 106 runs in just 131 games. It was though the wrong time because of collision. Owners were colluded to keep prices down, and only the Yankees, with a popular incumbent first baseman, offered Clark a multi-year deal.

The NL Champion Cardinals tried to keep Clark, but the Yankees, who careened from player to player in the late 1980s, moved quickly. He a two-year, $3-million with up to $1 million in performance bonuses and vowed to stay healthy. Notably, the deal came together quickly and with few rumors. No mystery teams were involved, and the Yanks had their hitter.

With Clark on board, the Yankees had certainly spent their riches. The team, with its average salary of $718,670, had the highest payroll in the game, but the fans were skeptical. In reactions to the signing, one wondered if Clark could pitch and another said the Yanks signed the wrong Jack. They needed Morris’ arm and got Clark’s bat.

From the start, it was an odd fit. Yankee Stadium was ill-suited to a right-handed power hitter, and even though the Yanks claimed Clark’s arrival had nothing to do with it, the team moved in the left field fences in 1988. Those dimensions, whether thanks to Jack Clark or not, are still with us today at the new Yankee Stadium. Still, he struggled in the Bronx. Clark hit .242/.381/.433 with 27 home runs in 150 games and struck out 141 while drawing 113 walks.

Yet, more importantly, Clark was unhappy. He didn’t like being the DH, and when the Yanks ill-advisedly traded Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps, Clark didn’t like getting shuffled around in the outfield. He wanted his set role, and he wanted to return to the National League. So he quietly requested a trade, and the Boss seemed happy to oblige.

After obtaining first place as late as July 27, the Yanks slipped to fifth before the season was over, and before October was out, Clark found himself en route to the Padres. The Yanks received Lance McCullers, Jimmy Jones and Stanley Jefferson from San Diego, and the three of them amounted to not much else.

After leaving New York, Clark played two years in San Diego and two in Boston before calling it quits. He posted a .396 OBP over his final four seasons and could still get on base even as his power and health diminished. He ran into financial troubles after his career ended and has bounced around organized baseball since then. His Starting Lineup figure still rests in a shoe box in a closet at my parents’ place, and his time in New York, embedded in the outfield dimensions or not, still stands as a testament to a time when the Yankees had no plan.

Open Thread: Ace

Ewww. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

If you’re reading this site, then there’s little doubt you’re aware of the job Al Aceves did for the Yankees in 2009. He gave the team whatever they needed each time he was called upon, and was probably their most important reliever behind Mariano Rivera. Today’s a bit of an anniversary for Ace, who signed his first professional contract and joined the Blue Jays’ organization ten years ago today. He was 19 at the time. After a year in their system, the Jays sold his rights to the Yucatan Leones of the Mexican League, where he played for the next six seasons before hooking on with the Yanks. As I wrote on Friday, there hasn’t been any update to Aceves’ status this winter since he broke his collarbone in December, but he’ll find a job soon enough. He’s too good not to.

Anyways, here is your open thread for the night. The Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Talk about whatever, enjoy.

Baseball’s Golden Age

I ran across this little number in my Google Reader today, courtesy of Rebecca Glass. It’s a map of baseball’s geography before expansion and the game headed west towards the Pacific, but I’m sure you already figured that out. Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool so I figured I’d pass it along. I love seeing all the New York teams and logos through the years.

(Image via Bill Sports Maps)

The RAB Radio Show: January 24, 2010

Two big moves went down on Friday that will affect the AL East. First, the Rays signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. Second, the Blue Jays traded Vernon Wells for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. Mike and I break down what it means for the Yankees.

We also touch on the pitching topics we’ve discussed today, particularly Mike’s not about Mitre. He’s not the best option, of course, but remember, the Yankees need the depth wherever they can find it. David Phelps is nice, but he’s much nicer if he’s the guy coming up to spot start in May, not the guy who’s pitching on April 5.

Podcast run time 33:08

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Is it possible that Mitre really is the best option?

They should let him grow facial hair. Maybe that'll work. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Wanna play a game? Let’s play a game…

Pitcher A: 4.61 K/9, 3.12 uIBB/9, 1.31 HR/9, 37.3% GB, 5.44 xFIP

Pitcher B: 4.83 K/9, 2.67 uIBB/9, 1.17 HR/9, 50.9% GB, 4.34 xFIP

Pitcher C: 5.89 K/9, 3.11 uIBB/9, 1.32 HR/9, 44.7% GB, 4.74 xFIP

Pitcher D: 5.10 K/9, 2.29 uIBB/9, 1.32 HR/9, 40.7% GB, 4.59 xFIP

Four pitchers, all of whom have been connected to the Yankees this offseason at one point or another. Pitcher C probably looks the most enticing since he has the highest strikeout rate and the second highest ground ball rate, but he also has the highest walk rate (for all intents and purposes anyway, a 0.01 uIBB/9 difference is one walk every 900 IP) and second highest xFIP. Pitcher A looks like a guy you’d avoid at all costs, and Pitcher D is interesting enough, but only when compared to the other three guys listed. Pitcher B boasts the best ground ball (by far) and xFIP, plus a mighty fine walk rate. The strikeout rate is ugly, but at least he makes up for it somewhat with his performance in the other categories.

You’ve probably figured it out by now, but Pitcher B is Sergio Mitre. Pitcher A is Armando Galarraga, Pitcher C is Jeremy Bonderman, and Pitcher D is Freddy Garcia. Those are 2010 stats and yes Mitre was used primarily in relief last season, but none of those other guys pitched in the AL East. The point of his largely irrelevant exercise is to show that all of these guys suck just as much as the others, but Mitre has one thing on all of them: the dude gets ground balls.

Strikeouts are without a doubt the preferred method of retiring batters, but if you can’t do that consistently the next best skill is the ability to generate ground balls. Grounders never turn into homeruns (without defensive miscues, anyway), and in fact big league hitters managed just a .241 wOBA (.020 ISO) on ground balls last season. Compare that to a .329 wOBA (.361 ISO) on fly balls and a .737 wOBA (.248 ISO) on line drives. Mitre has been a sinkerballer his entire career, and last year’s 50.9% ground ball rate is actually well below his career mark of 58.7%. Since 2003 (his first season), that 58.7% ground ball rate is the seventh best in baseball (min. 400 IP), trailing only noted sinkerball specialists Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, Chien-Ming Wang, Tim Hudson, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook. Chad Qualls is a full percentage point behind Serg for eighth place.

And since I know you’re wondering, Mitre has a 16.5% line drive rate in his career (17.0% in 2010), which (believe it not) is the fourth lowest in baseball over the last seven seasons (again, min. 400 IP). The only guys ahead of him are Carmona, J.C. Romero, and some guy named Mariano Rivera. A ton of ground balls and a limited number of line drives are two traits you want in any pitcher, and you know what? Mitre has them, moreso than most other pitchers, and perhaps those traits will be even more prevalent as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery.

I’m not trying to defend Mitre as the fifth starter, because I certainly don’t want to see him out there 25+ times next season, but he simply might be the best option compared to the other dreck that’s out there. I still want the Yankees to bring in another pitcher (preferably Kevin Millwood at this point) just to have someone else that can compete for the job and for added depth, but with any luck the fifth starter won’t be needed much early in the season anyway. Sergio’s ground balls might be more helpful than chasing random free agent pitchers for one extra strikeout for every 10 or so innings pitched.