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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Jack Clark, Scapegoat?

Covering the story that Tim Wallach has been hired as the Dodgers' new hitting coach, Jon Weisman reminds us that he advocated firing ex-hitting coach Jack Clark way back when. While I was unaware of Jack's leap from one minor-league assignment to the big club, his pedigree as an active hitter is otherwise impeccable -- as Dodger fans watching his 1985 NLCS performance would attest. To me, what made Clark interesting as a hitting coach was his impressive OBP. His high walk totals, even factoring in intentional walks, shows he had tremendous plate discipline, despite his characterization by some as a "free-swinger". Except for the first three years of his career, his OBP was consistent -- and usually, well -- above league averages. So he knew how to hit -- or take a walk -- as a player.

Now, you could certainly argue against the idea that hitting is, at the major league level, a teachable skill, but Jon doesn't do that. Instead, he says that, well, because some people assign Jim Colburn the glory of the pitching staff, the same ignominy should have attached to the hitting coach. Fair enough. But when your raw material consists of Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Wilson Alvarez, Guillermo Mota, Paul Quantrill, etc., etc., etc., how good do you actually have to be? I could be a hitting coach for Barry Bonds. I wouldn't be any help at all teaching Minnie Mendoza -- or, for that matter, Alex Cora. If you're going to be throwing comparisons like that around, Jon, ask yourself this: why hasn't Colborn somehow fixed Masao Kida? And, does Clark get credit for Alex Cora's completely respectable .291/ .371/ .434 line in 2002?

For the record, I was in favor of firing him at the time as well, but principally on the grounds that whatever was going on wasn't working. Unfortunately, in retrospect, it looks like the problem was in the front office, not the dugout.

Followup: Jon also worries about DePodesta's apparent casual assignment of the hitting coach position to someone equally inexperienced at coaching as Wallach. Well, say DePodesta believes the numbers tell all. Isn't is also possible he could have a sound basis for the opinion that coaching doesn't effect performance significantly? And if that's true, why not utter a few homilies for the press? After all, Moneyball made much of Beane's contempt for the field manager...


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