3. Jack McKeon, 1989, +10.7 (17-12-1)
Coming off his strong 1988 season, McKeon set his winter sights on the NL West title. The Padres eventually fell short, finishing three games behind the Giants. This time, three moves drove the improvement.
In December of 1988, McKeon signed left-handed pitcher Bruce Hurst to a five-year, $11 million contract. Recognized as one of the game’s best left-handed arms, Hurst had 18 games against just six losses for Boston in 1987, and, in 1986, he helped pitch the Sox within one game of the World Series championship.
With the Padres in 1989, Hurst fulfilled every expectation. In 33 starts, a league-leading 10 of them complete games, he compiled a 15-11 record and 2.69 ERA, the best of his 10 major league seasons. He worked 245 innings, all of that amounting to an exceptional +4.7 WAA. Only Bret Saberhagen, Orel Hershiser and teammate Ed Whitson delivered more mound value than Hurst in 1989.
McKeon’s second big strike was the October 1988 trade with New York that sent slugging first baseman Jack Clark to San Diego. Clark only hit .242, but he did produce 26 home runs with 94 RBI. More importantly, Clark intimidated pitchers, who walked him a league-high 132 times, 18 of them intentionally. That helped drive Clark’s value to +1.9 WAA.
The third major improvement came from the farm system. Right-hander Greg Harris, who had made a brief debut in 1988, slid into the bullpen and worked a prodigious 135 innings over 56 appearances. His 2.60 ERA included six saves and a +2.5 WAA.