Arizona Should Wave White(sell) Flag on Clark

It’s funny where some teams like to spend money. The Arizona Diamondbacks organization is not able to spend a lot of money in the current economy yet General Manager Josh Byrnes recently brought back aging pinch hitter Tony Clark despite his 2008 line of .225/.359/.318 in 151 at-bats (108 games). His season was split between San Diego and Arizona, which could possibly help to explain his dismal .318 slugging percentage and .093 ISO (But the SLG% only increased from .307 to .333 with the move out of Petco Park).

At 36 years of age, it’s quite possible that Clark will continue to struggle in 2009. His line against right-handed pitchers was just .198/.354/.248, which makes him almost useless against them if this was not simply a one-year fluke. On the plus side, he did hit .273/.468/.477 with runners in scoring position, which is a situation he would face fairly often as a pinch hitter (at least one would hope). When there are no runners on base, though, Clark struck out a almost half of the time (41 times in 92 plate appearances).

Now the $800,000 that Arizona will pay the pinch hitter this season is not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but these moves do add up, especially for a club that does not have a ton of wiggle room in the budget. What makes matters worse is that the organization has some in-house talent that could possibly provide the same production – if not more – for half the salary.

Josh Whitesell has been around. He was originally selected by the Montreal Expos in the sixth round of the 2003 draft out of Loyola Marymount University. Despite solid minor league numbers, Whitesell moved slowly – one level at a time – and eventually was deemed expendable by the now Washington Nationals. Arizona gladly scooped him up prior to the 2008 season and the left-handed hitting first baseman had a nice season in Triple-A with a line of 328/.425/.568 with an ISO of .240 in 475 at-bats. He also posted rates of 13.5 BB% and 28.6 K%. The 26 year old earned a brief MLB stint with two hits in seven at-bats (and seven games). In those seven games, Whitesell walked one, struck out twice and slammed a solo home run.

He’s definitely earned a shot at a regular roster spot. Whitesell is cheaper than Clark, has more upside and creamed right-handed pitchers in 2008 at Triple-A to the tune of .342/.442/.602 in 342 at-bats. Admittedly, it is hard to know how a young player will adjust to a part-time role – and a high-pressured one at that. Whitesell, though, did well in 2008 with runners in scoring position by hitting .331/.438/.586. Truth be told, there are not many – if any – unimpressive numbers in Whitesell’s statistics from 2008. He deserves a shot, and Arizona could certainly benefit from replacing Clark with the youngster and allowing Whitesell to get his feet wet as a pinch hitter while also playing regularly at first base against right-handed pitching.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

6 Responses to “Arizona Should Wave White(sell) Flag on Clark”

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  1. Greg Foley says:

    Not to mention James D’Antona who could also do Clark’s job better than Clark.

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  2. D-Backs Blog says:

    I would agree with you except for the fact that this team is lacking tremendously in veteran leadership. We lost Randy and O-Dog. We need Clark’s experience in this still young clubhouse. Having said that, I think we’ll see Whitesell up here by the All-Star break.

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  3. PHXMLB says:

    I’m not a big fan of the “veteran leadership” rationale, not when it means spending too much money on an old player whose skills are in decline. Especially not when it comes at the expense of playing time that could be given to a youngster. I wouldn’t volunteer to have my mind erased of 2001 World Series memories, but the way that team was constructed was painful to me.

    All that said, I think Tony Clark may be an exception. He’s a very bright guy and looks to me like a manager in the making. I don’t worry too much about his line from 2008, since he was deployed only sporadically and spent most of the year in PETCO. That doesn’t mean I want to see him get 250 AB, but for the $800K they’re paying him, Clark brings some value. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a player/manager on a ML club, but if the Snakes get off to a slow start this season …

    Over the course of the year, I would hope to see Josh Whitesell take that 1B job for good. Neither Clark nor Chad Tracy strike me as the kind of players for whom a club should hold back a younger player. With Conor Jackson seemingly a full-time LF, Arizona will need a long term answer. No reason that Whitesell should not get his shot.

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  4. TheTimeIsNow says:

    Boy, was this prescient. Late April, and Tony Clark’s line against righties is .091/.091/.364 . Meanwhile, Whitesell is leading the Pacific Coast League, where he is languishing, with a .517 on base percentage, while batting ..370 with a .630 slugging percentage. This could have been predicted from the spring — Whitesell led the team in on base percentage (.429; best of all hitters with 30 or more at bats), tied for the team lead in home runs (3) and walks (11; despite receiving only the 11th-most at bats on the team), was second in runs (12), and tied for second in RBIs (12), while batting .308 with a .519 slugging percentage. Let’s bring Whitesell up … this is ridiculous.

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  5. Looks like Whitesell just got called up to be the everyday guy since Clark AND Chad Tracy are struggling. Just picked him up in my league by the way…

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