Jeff Clement, A Conversation

Dave · June 29, 2007 at 9:45 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Originally, I was planning on bringing this up in the Future Forty update on Monday, but the more I thought about it, the more I think it deserves its own post. Jeff Clement, the #3 pick in the 2005 draft, is absolutely killing the ball in Tacoma right now. After going deep yesterday, his June line stands at .374/.446/.744, and the horrible April he had looks like a distant memory.

However, if you remember back to the last Future Forty update, I talked about how the scouting reports on him from the first two months of the season were horrendous. The main center of the discussion was about Clement’s batspeed, which most informed observers agreed was significantly slower than it was in college. There are no scenarios where a slow bat is a good thing, so I offered up this scouting information as a reason why I was worried about Clement, despite some positive statistical markers.

Well, obviously, Clement’s doing just fine right now. So, last week, I had another conversation with one of the scouts who saw Clement earlier in the year and told me about his slow-ish batspeed. Since he was now killing the ball, I went into the conversation with an attitude of “what did we miss, or what has changed?” Scout Friend’s answer was pretty surprising to me, and led me to think about the subject and do some more research the last few days.

Essentially, here’s what he said – Clement’s bat is still slow, and those same concerns about his abilities from April and May (“can’t get around on fastballs on the inner half, chases pitches up in the zone, and is only effective when he knows he’s getting a fastball from a guy who can’t get it up there faster than 92”) are still true. I was pretty surprised at this answer, honestly, and pressed him for how he explained Clement tearing apart the PCL the last month if he had a slow bat. His answer, somewhat paraphrased:

“He’s destroying soft-tossing left-handers who don’t have major league stuff. I don’t care if he can hit the ball over the wall against guys who won’t ever see the majors – I want to see him get around on a major league fastball. Look at his numbers – they’ll back me up on this.”

Now, to me, this sounded like a bit of a defend-my-previous-position-at-all-costs argument, but I have a lot of respect for this guy, and I know him well enough to feel that he wouldn’t take a stance on something that he doesn’t believe in. So, I took him up on his challenge, and tried to figure out if I could find some evidence to prove or disprove what he’s saying. Looking into Clement’s line, there’s one thing that just glares at you:

Vs LHP: .373/.462/.776, 25 for 67, 15 XBH
Vs RHP: .249/.332/.436, 45 for 181, 20 XBH

Jeff Clement is left-handed. That’s one of the most striking reverse platoon splits I have ever seen. Against right-handed pitchers, Clement has been a mediocre hitter. Against lefties, he’s been Babe Ruth. There have been huge amounts of research that show that the normal platoon advantage is about 9% when facing other-handed pitchers, and the amount of players who have true talent reverse platoon splits are extremely rare. In almost every case, left-handed hitters will hit righties better than southpaws.

Even though it’s a small sample size, the difference in performance between Clement vs LHP and RHP is still staggering. And you know what? It supports the scout’s claim. He really is feasting on left-handed pitchers. The entirity of his success this year can be credited to his ability to mash LHPs.

So, the conversation continued. I told Scout Friend that the raw numbers actually did support his claim, but that I still couldn’t believe that all of this success was coming off of guys throwing Triple-A fastballs. He says he’s convinced that Clement’s bat isn’t fast enough to get around on high velocity pitches, and every pitch he’s seen him drive this year has been below 90 MPH. I was still struggling with accepting this, so I decided to dive into the Rainiers box scores. Here’s a list of all the pitchers Jeff Clement has taken yard this year.

June 28th: Ryan Ketchner, LHP
June 22nd: Dan Meyer, LHP
June 13th: Tim Stauffer, RHP
June 9th: Bob Keppel, RHP, and Mike DeJean, RHP
June 5th: J.R. Mathes (twice), LHP
May 27th: Evan McLane, LHP
May 20th: Enrique Gonzalez, RHP
May 15th: Paul Mildren, LHP
May 10th: Miguel Ascenscio, RHP
May 6th: Joe Saunders, LHP
April 28th: Mark Alexander, RHP
April 7th: Shame Komine, RHP

He has seven home runs against righties and seven home runs against lefties. But, out of that entire list, there are three guys on there that regularly top 92+ with their fastballs: Bob Keppel, Miguel Ascenscio and Enrique Gonzalez. The lefties on the list? A veritable collection of junkballers and soft-tossers. Ryan Ketchner, Dan Meyer, J.R. Mathes, Evan McLane, Paul Mildren, and Joe Saunders – all guys who couldn’t break glass with their fastballs. Saunders is the only major league pitcher in the bunch, and he’s a guy who succeeds with command and changing speeds.

Looking at the data, Scout Friend was right – Clement has been destroying the ball off of lefties who don’t have major league fastballs.

Now, I’m not presenting this post as any kind of reason to jump off the Jeff Clement bandwagon. He was the #3 pick in the draft two years ago, so this isn’t some guy who scouts universally hated. He hit at USC, he hit in the Texas League, and now he’s hitting in the PCL. There’s too much history that says Jeff Clement can hit for me to buy the idea that he’s just a guy with marginal batspeed and his success won’t translate to the majors.

But I do find the entire conversation extremely interesting. I think it’s relevant information that Clement is loading up on Triple-A junkballers and struggling against pitchers with major league fastballs. I’m not sure what it means, but I don’t think it’s something we should ignore.

So, to be honest, I don’t know what to think about Jeff Clement. The numbers say I should be a fan – he’s a power and patience left-handed guy that looks like a perfect fit for Safeco Field, and after a long struggle, no one has been able to get him out for the last month and a half. But, traditional scouting can still see a lot of things that statistical analysis cannot, and in this case, there’s valid evidence of the scouting claim.

Is Jeff Clement going to hit in the majors? I don’t know. I think so, but I’ll be a lot more confident if he starts whacking the ball against some high velocity right-handers.


90 Responses to “Jeff Clement, A Conversation”

  1. Chris Miller on June 29th, 2007 12:54 pm

    You’re just too down on our man Willie, he just needs to work on increasing his bat speed 🙂

  2. AQ on June 29th, 2007 1:07 pm

    So – I was skimming through the posts and I didn’t see an answer/theory for this question: Why is Clement’s bat speed slower now? Did he sustain a nagging injury? Is he fatigued? It just seems unusual to me (perhaps it’s not so unusual?) for someone who is 24 to inexplicably lose bat speed. I’m not saying that it didn’t happen, because I am obviously not a scout. I just don’t understand how or why this would occur with someone his age (unless injury or fatigue played a role in it).

  3. Dave on June 29th, 2007 1:10 pm

    Why is Clement’s bat speed slower now?

    I don’t know. He’s had knee and back problems in the past, so perhaps he’s playing through more pain than we know? It’s really just speculation.

  4. marc w on June 29th, 2007 1:19 pm

    42 – just to clarify, Clement didn’t hit that double off of Lincecum. That was the game Timmy started, but Jeff hit the double off of reliever Brian Wilson. He looked lost against Lincecum that night but hey, he had company.

  5. darrylzero on June 29th, 2007 1:47 pm

    Dave, you mention above that Wlad’s power is for real (evidenced in part, no doubt, by his absurd April, when the good pitchers were still in AAA, ostensibly), but does this comment at all temper some of your enthusiasm about Jones’ recent June explosion?

    Obviously, Jones is a top prospect by any standard, and he should be on the Mariners right now, etc. Hell, I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about a prospect (non-Felix division, and for the record, I wasn’t clued in enough to baseball to really get pumped up about A-Rod while he was still a prospect). But considering how much I’ve been drooling over his June numbers, I’m wondering if I’ve been unaware of how bad the pitchers he’s been facing recently might be.

  6. Jeff Nye on June 29th, 2007 1:49 pm

    If Willie could improve his bat speed enough to merit the love he gets in the media, he would be better served at that point to offer his services for cheap, efficient windpower generation.


  7. Dave on June 29th, 2007 1:50 pm

    But considering how much I’ve been drooling over his June numbers, I’m wondering if I’ve been unaware of how bad the pitchers he’s been facing recently might be.

    I think there’s a big difference between compensating for a non-prospect like Bryan LaHair who gets hot for a month or two against bad pitchers, and compensating for an elite prospect who goes bananas on the league.

    Adam Jones is for real.

  8. darrylzero on June 29th, 2007 1:56 pm

    Certainly, and I tried to make it clear that I believed wholeheartedly that he was for real. I was just wondering about getting a little overenthusiastic about June specifically. But I’m glad to hear you don’t think that’s a concern.

  9. dw on June 29th, 2007 2:24 pm

    But considering how much I’ve been drooling over his June numbers, I’m wondering if I’ve been unaware of how bad the pitchers he’s been facing recently might be.

    His April OPS was .773; Clement’s was .681. He had an OPS of .829 last year.

    His May-June OPS of over 1 probably translates into a .750 OPS at the MLB level. (I’m just guessing; Dave will be by later to point me to some quadratic equation Tom Tango wrote that supersedes Davenport translations. ) .750 puts him slightly above Guillen and Lopez.

    I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.

  10. huhwhat on June 29th, 2007 2:28 pm

    So in reference to what Scott Friend and his comments on hitters heating up because all the good arms are now gone, should we then look at Adam Jones and every other hot hitter since the beginning of the year as a farce in terms of there ability?

    48 – About Choo, I always thought he should have stayed a pitcher cause I never saw him converting very well and thought that the M’s were making a mistake by trying to make someone a position player when he has spent most of his time as a pitcher.

  11. williebfan on June 29th, 2007 2:50 pm

    Prickly today, aren’t we Dave?

  12. awolfgang on June 29th, 2007 2:51 pm

    thought that the M’s were making a mistake by trying to make someone a position player when he has spent most of his time as a pitcher.

    Hasn’t worked out to bad for Rick Ankiel.

  13. Calderon on June 29th, 2007 2:53 pm

    “He can’t hit lefties” is a subjective weakness in the player evaluation process. It’s blown out of proportion IMO.

    There are far too many big leaguers that struggle versus lefties to consider this a reason a prospect can’t hit in the majors. It will also have you go down the slippery slope of arguing for or against platoons using young players.

    I watched Clement last year and his bat speed was slow back then also. He could not turn on consecutive fastballs off Angel Guzman. Couldn’t even make contact to foul it off.

  14. The Ancient Mariner on June 29th, 2007 2:56 pm

    The problem isn’t that Clement can’t hit lefties, it’s that he can’t hit anybody with a good fastball. Which, if his glove was coming along the way we were all assured it was, wouldn’t be a problem; if he’s taking the Eric Munson career path, though, then it is.

    From what I’m hearing, I can understand Dave’s reluctance to move him, but I hope we do; Kenji’s playing well enough that we have time to come up with another catcher of the future, and I don’t think Clement’s the catcher of the future anymore. Which, since I don’t want to turn this into a trade speculation thread, leads me to make a request: Dave, would it be possible to do a thread looking at our top prospects and what kind of deal(s) would justify moving them at (or before) the deadline?

  15. planB on June 29th, 2007 2:57 pm

    63: I thought the problem was that he can’t hit RHP / fastballs… he murders LHP.

  16. Calderon on June 29th, 2007 2:57 pm

    While were at it let’s ignore the 38 homeruns LaHair hit the previous two seasons, and brush off Bryan as a non-prospect with a little more than two months left in the season.

  17. The Ancient Mariner on June 29th, 2007 2:58 pm

    Err, a post, I should say. I think the point’s still clear, though: if we’re going to try to make the playoffs this season and looking to deal for help, what return justifies moving Clement, or Wlad the Impaler, etc.?

  18. The Ancient Mariner on June 29th, 2007 2:59 pm

    “While were at it let’s ignore the 38 homeruns LaHair hit the previous two seasons, and brush off Bryan as a non-prospect with a little more than two months left in the season.”

    No, actually, let’s understand the cause for that fluke and realize that he’s still a non-prospect.

  19. Calderon on June 29th, 2007 2:59 pm

    65: That was regarding Choo.

  20. Dave on June 29th, 2007 3:04 pm

    There are far too many big leaguers that struggle versus lefties to consider this a reason a prospect can’t hit in the majors.

    It’s a problem, whether you think it is or not.

    While were at it let’s ignore the 38 homeruns LaHair hit the previous two seasons, and brush off Bryan as a non-prospect with a little more than two months left in the season.

    Hitting 22 home runs in the Cal League isn’t an accomplishment. Juan Silvestre, anyone?

    Bryan LaHair is not a prospect. He’s an organizational player.

  21. Calderon on June 29th, 2007 3:08 pm

    You have to be patient with prospects. Look at Wlad’s numbers last year.

    Anyone here think Balentien would put up the numbers he has in his first season against PCL pitching?

    He’s out hitting Adam Jones right now with a .581 slugging pct and leading the team in half a dozen offensive categories. And everyone wants to trade him? My oh my.

  22. Calderon on June 29th, 2007 3:14 pm

    Dave, patience is all I’m advocating. In scouting prospects it’s hit or miss. I choose not to ignore Bryan’s performance at the lower levels.

    Anyone remember Jack Cust? He’s a big leaguer whether you think or not.

  23. Dave on June 29th, 2007 3:15 pm

    You choose not to ignore a bad performance in Wisconsin, a medicore performance in Inland Empire, followed by a bad performance in San Antonio? Awesome.

    Bryan LaHair has had a two week run in his entire life where he was any kind of real hitter. That was last August. It was a mirage.

  24. bhsmarine on June 29th, 2007 3:16 pm

    Is Clement feasting off the junk ballers fastballs or can he hit off speed stuff? If he is waiting for that 89MPH fastball only then I think there is room for concern. If he is crushing good sliders and curves then I think it is a positive thing to look at. This is assuming he hits RH junk ballers the same.

  25. awolfgang on June 29th, 2007 3:16 pm

    Dave, I just read over at the P-I about all the pitchers soon to come of the DL and the impending roster dilema that could insue. Do you really think that Hargrove would send down Feierabend and let HoRam continue to pitch?

  26. TomC on June 29th, 2007 4:07 pm

    Is there any data out there supporting the possibility that a 20 something year old man can improve his bat speed? Can a workout regimen increase bat speed, for instance? Or do we assume that all AAA players are at their bat speed maximum and that further offensive improvements come from better pitch selection? Honestly, I don’t know the answer to this. I defer to the wisdom and knowledge of this august crowd.

  27. Bucks on June 29th, 2007 4:11 pm

    on another completely different note, [deleted, off-topic]

  28. Colm on June 29th, 2007 4:12 pm

    Yes, he should have retired at the end of last year!

  29. JH on June 29th, 2007 4:28 pm

    I’m not going to go back and crunch the numbers on this or anything, but it would be interesting to see how Clement is hitting righties in May and June to see if those numbers are trending towards respectability along with his overall batting line.

    Seems tough for me to believe he could be putting up that June line while still being completely helpless against righties.

  30. Gomez on June 29th, 2007 4:57 pm


  31. Goose on June 29th, 2007 5:01 pm

    I see Logan has made an appearance. Still touting Brian LaHair as the best prospect in the system? LOL.

  32. Matthew Carruth on June 29th, 2007 5:11 pm

    Where is Scout Friend scouting Clement? At Cheney, on the road or a mix? If a mix, how heavy of a mix?

  33. Ralph Malph on June 29th, 2007 5:56 pm

    Hasn’t worked out to bad for Rick Ankiel.

    Bit early to say that. And you need another “o” in too.

  34. debaser on June 29th, 2007 10:13 pm

    I think the implication that Clement’s success lately is because top prospect arms are being promoted to the majors at a rate exceeding that of AA to AAA promotions should be challenged, or at least not accepted at face value without some evidence.

    Of the elite arms named in post #1, only Gallardo and Lincecum played in the PCL, and Gallardo was called up relatively recently. Tacoma has yet to play New Orleans this year, and Clement held his own against Lincecum– 2 for 7 with 2 doubles, a walk, and two strikeouts.

    Furthermore, there are a number of prospects with major league arms still in the PCL: Ubaldo Jimenez, Humber and Pelfrey from New Orleans, most of the Round Rock rotation, a good number of arms from Omaha, and Eric Hurley just got added to Oklahoma.

    I’m just not sure we should buy the underlying assumption– that AAA generally experiences a depletion of pitching quality from June through August. It’s a narrative that seems to make sense on the surface, but does the evidence support Scout Friend’s assumptions here?

  35. debaser on June 29th, 2007 10:19 pm

    Oops.. I meant to say “Tacoma has yet to play _Nashville_ this year,” not _New Orleans_….

  36. darrylzero on June 29th, 2007 10:53 pm

    debaser… You’re probably right, but I’m not sure that helps Clement that much. I mean, whether or not the bit about promotions is accurate this year (sounds like more of something to keep in mind rather than a knock against Clement specifically), he’s still only killing soft-tossing lefties. That’s still a good sign, that he can kill even soft-tossing lefties, but it matter regardless of how many aces he might have faced sans-callups.

    Whether or not that’s just par for the course in thinking about the AAA –> MLB transition is an interesting question though.

  37. Oly Rainiers Fan on June 29th, 2007 11:06 pm


    I must be missing the plot. The scout and the stats are both saying Clement can’t get around on a good fastball, and the stats say he’s not hitting well against RH pitching. You’re saying (I think) that the two are related (i.e., he’s sucking against RH pitching BECAUSE they’re largely throwing him good fastballs he can’t get around on).

    Then in post 10, you’re like ‘we (and everybody else) need LH power hitters’ (paraphrased), as if that has anything to do with Clement.

    But isn’t the point of having a LH power hitter that LH generally hit RH pitchers better than LH pitchers – which Clement isn’t doing? I’m unclear how that makes him ‘LH sock’ that us or other teams want… I mean, isn’t the definition of ‘LH sock’ = LH batter who tears up RH fastball pitching? And we always want it because the majority of pitchers are RH. Isn’t that what we’re always looking for (and that we never find)?

    As an aside…Carl Everett is playing Indy League ball for the Long Island Ducks.

  38. mlb2131 on June 30th, 2007 7:30 am

    Clement does indeed have a double against Linecum, but only 1.

    His other double against Fresno that won the game in the bottom of the 9th was against a reliever, righty Brian Wilson….does he throw hard? ;).

  39. Bilbo on June 30th, 2007 10:34 am

    Well his BABIP against LH is very high at .413 and his BABIP against righties is very low at .264, which would largely account for his weird reverse splits. Also, his K:BB against LH is 15:10 and against RH it is 30:20 so he is seeing the ball very well. Also, don’t guys with slow bats (especially LH) usually struggle against same handed pitchers first since the reaction time is a little slower?

    I think the scout is a little off base and is defending his previous position as much as anything. Clement can hit LH and RH and his bat will play in MLB.

  40. bookbook on June 30th, 2007 8:58 pm

    This is fascinating. Thanks for bringing us this insight, Dave.

    I have generally believed the AAAA player is a jackalope, rather than an actual subclass of players. (No, Petagine’s 7 plate appearances with the M’s didn’t convince me otherwise.)

    I will neither write Clement off, nor raise him exalted to the heaven’s based on the past month and a half. As I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to do.

    Other sources of evidence: would a player with a slow bat hit more to the opposite field, because he wouldn’t have time to pull the ball, or is that overthinking it?

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