Monday, January 11, 2010

Will Clark

Oddly, the theme of this year's Hall of Fame season seems, to me, at least, to be a player who was not even on the ballot: Will Clark. Perhaps it's the rash of just-less-than-great players from the 1980s recently elected, a renewed emphasis on defense, or just better context surrounding the offensive explosion of the 1990s, but I'm ready to declare 2010 The Year Will Clark Was Finally Appreciated. For someone who frequently posts around the Web with the handle WillClark4HOF, this is great news. A round-up:

1) The Strange Case of Will Clark, Lincoln Mitchell
2) Looking into Hall's Crystal Ball, Rob Neyer
3) Best Players in Baseball, Joe Posnanski (with a recap from Neyer)

Will the Thrill finished his career with an OPS+ of 137, tied for 88th among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. For comparison purposes, Jim Rice's 128 is 179th and Andre Dawson's 119 is 358th. His power peak was very brief (and early, 20+ homers just twice after age 27), and he retired early, but Clark deserves to be remembered as a great player, if for no other reason than he may have put together the greatest performance in LCS history: against the Cubs in 1989, he batted .650/.682/1.200 with two homers, a triple, and three doubles with 8 RBI and 8 runs scored across 20 at-bats in five games.

I think this quote from Posnanski perfectly sums up Clark's underratedness:

So what do you think? Good numbers, right? I mean, they don’t pop your eyes out or anything — if you were judging Clark’s Hall of Fame case, those numbers would probably register as being good but nothing historically special.

So how is it that those numbers made Clark the best player in baseball for those five years? Well, for one thing, he played half his games in awful hitting Candlestick Park. For another, it was a low-scoring time — those 109 RBIs in 1988 led the league as did those 104 runs he scored in 1989.

Then, you add that he did a lot of things that are not reflected in the traditional stats. He walked quite often — led the league in walks in 1988. Twice in the five-year
stretch, he led the league in times on base and in runs created. He led the league in equivalent average in 1988, was second in 1989 and third in 1991. He was an above average defensive first baseman.

People often talk about how it can be unfair to judge previous players by today’s standards. But I think it’s unfair that some of the players who did the things that helped teams win baseball games were so under-appreciated. Will Clark had baseball’s best OPS+ from 1987-91 too.

Poor offensive ballpark? Check. Played in a low-scoring environment just prior to a massive offensive boom? Check. Good at the things that don't show up as home runs or RBI? Check. Missed time with injuries to keep his counting stats down? Check. Sounds to me like a perfect recipe for under-appreciation. History will look very favorably upon Clark, perhaps much more so than his college teammate, Rafael Palmeiro.

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