Jeff Clement, A Conversation
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 (“canâ€™t get around on fastballs on the inner half, chases pitches up in the zone, and is only effective when he knows heâ€™s getting a fastball from a guy who canâ€™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.