Too Early To Give Up On Jeff Clement?

Clement has the best AB/HR ratio on the team this year, but power alone won't cut it.

I can’t really say that I’ve ever been a big fan of Jeff Clement.  At the start of the 2010 season, many were doubting him as a first baseman for his fielding.  I was less concerned with his fielding, and more concerned with his hitting.  Prior to being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clement had 219 at-bats in the majors with the Seattle Mariners, with a .237/.309/.393 line.  Clement had good numbers in AAA, although those numbers came in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

After being acquired by the Pirates, Clement displayed power, with seven homers in 98 at-bats in Indianapolis.  However, he hit for a .224/.313/.459 line, which for me put his major league hitting skills in question.  So it was no surprise that Clement only hit for a .201/.237/.368 line this year in 144 major league at-bats.  One positive is that he did display power, with seven homers, or a 20 AB/HR ratio.  However, power and nothing else doesn’t cut it at the major league level.

Clement underwent successful knee surgery recently, and will miss six months.  He is also out of options, which puts the Pirates in a tough situation.  Clement won’t be able to return until the end of March, which means he’s likely to start the 2011 season on the disabled list.  The Pirates could keep him around, and start him off on the disabled list, but keeping him would be a tough task, especially with all of the roster decisions that would have to be made this off-season.

Of course, you might be asking the question “why keep a guy who only hit for a .605 OPS in the majors this year?  As I said, I wasn’t a fan of Clement coming in to the season, but I can’t help but take an objective look at his stats after being demoted.  Since being sent down to AAA, Clement has hit for a .304/.337/.548 line in 168 at-bats, with eight homers.

You might chalk this up to being meaningless, because it happened at the AAA level.  However, it’s clear that Clement’s numbers this time around are a lot better than what we saw from him last year in Indianapolis.  The important question is how much better are his numbers?

It’s easy to point to his OPS, which was over 100 points higher this time around, and say that there was an improvement.  A lot of that came from his batting average.  Clement went from a .224 average to a .304 average.  The reason for that is his BABIP.  Clement had a .234 BABIP in 2009 with Indianapolis, and a .384 BABIP this year.  His career average is .324, which means that his .234 line was very unlucky, and his .384 line is very lucky.  Clement isn’t as good as the .304 average he’s putting up this year, but he’s not as bad as the .224 average last year.

A big problem this year is the decrease in walks.  Clement’s average jumped 80 points, but his OBP only jumped 24 points.  The reason for this is that his walk rate was cut in half, going from 10 percent to 5 percent.  His career average is 10 percent, and his 2010 stretch in Indianapolis was the first time he’s been this low since his first run in AAA in 2006, when he had a 6 percent walk rate.  Clement’s BABIP suggests that he’s not a .304 hitter.  If you put him in his normal BABIP range, he’s a .262 hitter.  The .262 average wouldn’t be a problem if Clement’s walk rate was around 10 percent, as his OBP would actually be slightly higher, at .348, assuming a normal BABIP and a 10 percent walk rate for his 2010 season.

There’s one big thing I’ll give to Clement: he’s got power.  Clement’s 20.57 AB/HR ratio this year in the majors was the best ratio on the team.  That’s a 27 home run season with 550 at-bats.  I think anyone would take that at first base right now, as long as it came from a guy who was a decent hitter.  That’s the problem here.  Clement is finally hitting for average, and while he’s not this good, it has to be encouraging that he’s at least playing above his normal BABIP rate, rather than way below it.  The problem I have is his walk rate.  Clement only walked 3.9 percent of the time in the majors, and didn’t pick back up in AAA, despite his hitting success.  He also didn’t show any improvement in the minors, with a 6.5 percent walk rate in June, and a 3.4 percent walk rate in July.

I’ve always viewed Clement’s upside as a poor man’s Adam Dunn.  He’s a guy who probably won’t be anything more than a .240-.270 hitter, but he can get on base at a good rate, thanks to a strong walk rate, and he can hit for power, probably good for 25-30 homers a year.  Clement has displayed the ability to hit for power at the major league level, but he’s lacking the other big strength, his normal high walk rate.

Right now Clement hasn’t proven himself at all.  The talent is there, but Clement hasn’t put it all together at the major league level.  He’s shown the ability to hit for power, but without either hitting for average or drawing a 10 percent walk rate, the power doesn’t cut it.  I’m not writing him off completely, as he only has 363 at-bats at the major league level.  Clement also showed improvement with the batting average after being sent to AAA, and nothing says that he can’t do the same in the majors.  So do the Pirates take a chance on Clement, and hope that he can put it all together, adding either hitting or the ability to get on base to his power swing?  A 27 home run guy is useless if it’s coming from a .200 hitter with a .240 OBP.  However, if those 27 homers are coming from a .260 hitter and a .330 OBP guy, suddenly you’re looking at a much more valuable player.

There is no disabled list in the off-season, so the Pirates would have to use a spot on the 40-man roster on Clement all off-season, and those roster spots will be very valuable.  They will also have to place him on the disabled list to start the season, giving him just 20 days of rehab in the minors before he has to be on the major league roster for good.  They could also choose to designate him for assignment, but they run the risk that another team could put a claim in on him.  If Clement does get designated for assignment, and clears waivers, it would provide a best case scenario, as the Pirates wouldn’t be limited with their observation of Clement at the AAA level in 2011.  The worst case scenario?  Clement goes somewhere else and either hits for average, improves his OBP, or both, which would basically turn him in to the first baseman that the Pirates will be looking for this off-season.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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