First Pitch: The Parallels Between Andrew Lambo and Jeff Clement

I can’t help but draw some parallels between the current Andrew Lambo situation and the Jeff Clement experiment at first base a few years ago. In both situations you’ve got a guy learning first base in the majors. Lambo has more experience at the position than Clement, which gives him an edge, but not enough experience to make you comfortable with his defense.

In each case the Pirates couldn’t play the player at his original position. Clement could no longer play behind the plate, and the Pirates have no need for Lambo in right field, since they’ll open the season with Travis Snider/Jose Tabata, and will eventually move to Gregory Polanco for the long-term.

The appeal for each player came with their bat, and especially their power potential. Lambo is coming off a season where he hit 33 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors. That’s actually better than Clement, who had 21 home runs in Triple-A in 2009, with 14 of those coming in the PCL.

Going into Spring Training, there wasn’t a lot of trust that Clement could work out. Most of the distrust came over his defense, with concerns that he couldn’t play the position. Ironically, the only thing Clement did well was play defense. In the majors he hit for a .201/.237/.368 line in 154 plate appearances. The power was good, but that’s all there was offensively. Defensively, Clement had a 14.0 UZR/150 in an extremely small sample size of under 300 innings.

I remember the defensive reports that Spring were good, and my main concern with Clement was whether he could hit at the major league level. He didn’t. That’s where I’m at right now with Lambo. Everything I’ve seen from him defensively says he can handle the position. Now is the time for him to show that he can hit in the majors.

Will Lambo be successful? I don’t know. I’m not going to take anything from his Spring Training numbers. To be honest, I don’t really look at Spring Training numbers for anyone, and the only time I ever hear about them is when people talk about a player slumping, or specifically mention his numbers. That has happened a few times recently with Lambo. I’m more concerned with his entire body of work. He finally hit in Double-A last year, then dominated during his time in Triple-A.

At this point, I don’t know if there is much for Lambo to prove offensively in the minors. It’s time for him to make the jump to the majors. As I’ve been saying all winter, that’s not a comfortable situation for them to be in, but it’s a situation that small market teams need to become familiar with. A team like the Pirates always has to give a shot to a player like Lambo who has a big breakout season at a relatively young age. It’s entirely possible that this could end up like the Clement situation again, but it’s also possible that Lambo is the next Garrett Jones, giving the Pirates a good platoon bat for the next several years.

If the Pirates can add an outside option for a cheap price (aka, not giving up a top ten prospect or a potential impact guy), then that wouldn’t be a bad idea from a depth standpoint. If that doesn’t happen, then they’ll get a chance to see whether Lambo’s breakout last year was legit. He doesn’t look like he’s going to be a plus defender, but he looks like he can handle the position. My only concern now is whether he carries his hitting over from the minors to the majors.

Links and Notes

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**The Pirates Minor League Catcher Roster Crunch Appears to be Solved

**Injury Updates: Stetson Allie Out a Few Days With a Minor Injury

**Clay Holmes Scheduled to Visit Dr. James Andrews With Elbow Tightness

**Polanco Tops MLB Pipeline’s Top 20 Pirates List

**How Grady Sizemore Could Impact the First Base Market

Tim Williams

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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • csnumber23

    Tim, I agree spring training numbers don’t mean a ton, especially for veterans. However, they do mean something when a guy is trying to earn a starting spot in the lineup and for that matter, make the team. To me he looks adequate at first defensively, which you can live with if the bat is there. He did very little in his brief time last year, then very little in winter ball and now very little in spring training. I know it isn’t long extended looks but we aren’t talking about a guy with a great track record in the minors. Last year was a nice surprise but I’m not seeing enough to go with him to start the year. This team is a contender and there are guys like Carp that can be had for a bullpen arm and a lower level prospect. We have to move a bullpen arm anyway unless there is an injury. In summary, I expect to see a trade before opening day unless there is an unexpected cut they want to claim on waivers.

    • emjayinTN

      Excellent summary of the situation, and especially the part about the team being a contender. At this point I would have to give the job to Gaby Sanchez full time. Those that worry about his ability to hit RHP’s should look at his numbers in 2010 and 2011 when he was the full time 1B for the Marlins – .264 and .257 against RHP’s, and of course, much better against LHP’s. 2012 was a nightmare for him that got a lot better in his time with the Pirates in 2012 and 2013. I stated before that there is no loss if Lambo goes to AAA, re-captures his confidence, and comes back up in May/June. Anyone who doubts he can be better for it needs to look at the stats of Brandon Moss in Oakland. There’s a guy who struggled big time, and hit 30 HR’s last year for the Athletics. It can happen.

      • roberto

        if the Bucs had seen Lambo as a sure thing they would not have made an offer for Loney, asked about Davis, signed Ishikawa, traded for McGinnis, or asked about Carp. They are not quite sure either, but are not such idiots as to admit it.

    • gregenstein

      Spring Training numbers never mean anything for anybody under any circumstances. Ditto winter ball. I admit, I’m worried he won’t be able to hit, but not because of what he did this Spring or Winter.

      I highly doubt Mike Carp is available in exchange for Bryan Morris and some cannon fodder.

      • csnumber23

        Yes spring training numbers mean something in certain situations. Otherwise, why would they have position battles in spring training? I never said Morris and a nobody for Carp. Obviously a solid prospect will have to go, just not a top 10. I am hoping Morris but would expect someone better.

        • Lee Young

          cs….its more than numbers….they use the ‘eye test’. Also, there’s been many a spring battle where the guy with the better numbers gets sent down.

        • jalcorn427

          No, no they don’t. If a team in 2014 is basing its position decisions on ST atbats against minor leaguers and MLB guys not throwing 100% then the management needs fired. There is no predictive value in ST numbers, coaches are looking at scouting endpoints for these decisions, not numbers.

      • Lee Young

        Greg…additionally, SABRBUCS.com did a writeup on Carp analyzing his numbers and expects a regression to his norm, which is basically replacement level.

        I have no desires for Carp unless he DOES come cheap. If they want more than Morris and a 21-30 prospect, I’m rolling the dice with Lambo.

  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    I’m getting nervous about this to be honest. The defense seems to be below average- perhaps not as bad as G. Jones but he definitely is a step down from Sanchez. Lambo is not hitting. I am afraid that Hurdle is going to give the job to Sanchez full-time, and Sanchez can’t hit righties. I understand that Gaby is in the “best shape of his life” this Spring, but eventually his cracks will show if he is overexposed and asked to start every day.

    Furthermore, Ike Davis is injured, and I think the Red Sox would make us overpay for Carp.

    There are still three weeks for this to work itself out, but color me very concerned at this point.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Let me raise my hand as the numbers guy. I mentioned that he was at .095, but that was before yesterday. The bad part is that I look at the scoreboard and see that the Pirates scored 8 runs and I think that maybe one of our 1B “possibles” may have had a big day. So I pull up the box score and see we were 0 for 4 again with our LH hitting 1B guys. It is our lot in life to live by the numbers in baseball – whether they be the old numbers or the new, SABR numbers – it is our unit of measurement. And, you are right in that he could be the 2014 Jeff Clement, but I hope the final story will be a lot more positive than that, and I tossed out the name of Brandon Moss. I think Moss was given 2 or 3 major opportunities with the Pirates, but it has taken more years than that for the light to go on.

  • dcpinpgh

    Anybody know what Clements spring numbers were?

    • Andrew

      .276/.364/.448 in 58 ABs

  • lonleylibertarian

    I will try and be a bit calmer about this – but it seems to me that if you are the Pirates you would like to see if Lambo can hit enough to roll the dice with him as part of a 1st base platoon – but also as a LH bat off of the bench. To do this would you not want to see more than 20 odd at bats? Yes there are games left – but I just don’t understand why they keep trotting out McGinness and Ishikawa. If you get to 60 at bats and he is still not hitting then you go to plan B. If he hits better and finds his home run stroke you have a solution.

    And I will disagree slightly – this team is a POTENTIAL contender. If they get something out of first base, right field and 2nd base. Everyone seems to have assumed that Walker is going to be more like he was in August than he was early in the year – and he can’t hit right handed.

    • stickyweb

      Lonely, Walker’s OPS the last 3 years are .742, .768 and .757 while his WAR was 2.6, 2.6 and 2.7, making him a top 10 2B. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s the most consistent Pirate year-to-year by either measure. For better or worse, I think we know much less about what were going to get from Marte, Pedro and Mercer than Walker.
      Since there haven’t been any games played yet, at this point there’s no difference between a contender and a potential contender. Keep in mind that every team has at least one weakness and that the Bucs did pretty well last year without getting much production from RF or 1B. It’s almost a given they’ll be better in RF than last year (with Tabby, a healthy Snider, Decker as Plan C and Polanco coming in 2 months if he’s needed). Since Jones was below replacement level last year, and with several available options, there’s a good chance they’ll be better at 1B as well (if it’s only slightly better)

      • lonleylibertarian

        Just saying there were stretches last year were Walker seemed to struggle – great August – and good September – but not consistent contributor to the offense. Those nasty aging curves can start taking a bit off of the WAR from year 27 on – hopefully not. At the risk of repeating myself – give Lambo 10 days of starting and playing first – 3 at bats minimum for 10 games and we can talk – until then all u have to go on is small, unreliable samples. Gabby can DH – or come in late at 1st. Get the other guys over to Pirate City and let them start battling for who will play 1st base at Indy

    • Honusty

      Do you mean SS instead of 2nd?

  • Hunter4221

    I don’t put much if anything on ST stats normally and I say the same about winter league stats. However, when you look at what Lamborghini has done since getting called to the majors last year it is about a 150 AB sample size and it isn’t good.

    That being said his k/bob ratio has been good so far this spring so not trying to read into anything too much yet. But I’m leaning towards the concerned side.

    • stickyweb

      True enough Hunter. But it’s also true that his 30-some MLB ABs were sporadic (only 5 games with more than 2 PAs so lots of PH and partial game situations) and he took almost 2 months off before joining the winter league against guys that had been playing consistently for a while by the time he started.
      I’m not saying there’s no reason for concern and I think he deserves a legit chance this year, but his last 150 ABs have come with so many pauses and gaps, that it’s not fair to even call it a sample size.

      • Lee Young

        sticky…our similar responses passed in the night or ‘ethersphere’?

        • stickyweb

          Yes Foo, great minds think alike. And apparently so do ours. :-)

      • Hunter4221

        I get that but you see a natural talent like Polanco deal with those pauses just fine.

        I’m not saying he’s guaranteed to fail by any means but the truly talented guys tend to get through those tough situations with an OPS over .700. Think of the challenges he’ll face when actually facing MLB level pitchers?

        I am fine if he gets a chance but this last six months hasn’t exactly given him a longer leash.

        • stickyweb

          Good point about Polanco, but again, he wasn’t limited to 5 starts the last 2 months of the season, he went as quickly as possible to winter ball and played in a country where he actually spoke the language (maybe even his home country?).
          Lambo actually OPS .703 last year in MLB (nearly what Jones did) even though he never really got a chance to find a groove. And I have no idea what his final Venezuela numbers were, but I know he was still driving in runs even though the avg and other numbers weren’t good, so he was still productive in some way.
          I think we’re in agreement that he deserves a shot and both of us have concerns. I just think it’s more of a concern that he’s only had 1 good season in the minors than his sporadic play over 150 ABs.

    • Lee Young

      It’s only 150 ABs, as you said. In his late season callup he got irregular ABs. Hard for a young guy to stay sharp on that schedule. His stint in winter ball was in Venezuela. How can ANYONE be mentally into baseball in Venezuela? As for his Spring Training stats….well, ITS SPRING TRAINING!!! :)

      I think he’ll be okay.

      • Hunter4221

        A LOT of excuses. I get small sample size but to have almost no success over this half year raises concerns for me. I’m not saying it means he’ll fail but if his natural talent can’t come through at all in those stretches it doesn’t make me feel better.

  • glassers

    Well I do agree that no one knows if Lambo will make it or not but when your trying to make a team ( unless you have a scholarship) you better show something . All the home games I have seen he actually has played fairly well defensively but his offense has been terrible . Hopefully he starts to pick it up !

    • Lee Young

      ‘all the home games’? pls clarify. Altoona, Indy, Bradenton?

      And, I am not comparing him to Pedro, but Kdro can look like an A ball hitter when he is ‘off’.

      Give Andrew a chance….I think he’ll be fine. You don’t hit 30+ HRs by accident.

      • glassers

        Bradenton , I am actually in his camp . Just reporting what I am seeing so far he has not been hitting . The last I looked it was something like 2 for 21 , he needs to pick it up . I hope your right but as I said no one knows for sure .

        • Doc

          In Bradenton…. what does actually watching himt count when Foo and I can evaluate him by reading articles.

          sheesh

          :-)

  • jalcorn427

    This whole “Hurdle doesn’t like kids” thing is myth. No one is complaining about the way Hurdle handled Marte, Cole, or Locke. Even Mercer got more playing time as he continued to surprise at the plate, CH has now stated for fact that he is the SS. Hurdle has been exceptionally receptive (for a very old school background) to the new school thinking in his lineups and game strategy. The organization under NH has a very good track record of player development, yet many fans want to act like its 2006.

    • lonleylibertarian

      I hate to do this but I will have to call BS on this one…
      As a wise man once said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion – not their own facts.
      Hurdle found a way to give Barmes 330 plate appearances last year and The Dark Hole that is CB delivered a WRC+ of 52 – yes folks 52 – that means he was 48% worse than the AVERGE player in creating runs. For all batters with at least 300 Pas Barmes ranked 132nd and he ranked just 2 points ahead of the Cards super start SS Pete Kozma ;-)

      Mercer on the other hand had a very nice WRC+ of 113 which put him at #4 among NL SS – behind Rameriz and Tulowitski and Desmond [by just 2 points]

      Mercer did get 35 more PAs than Barmes – but I really don’t think Clint went out of his way to play the younger, FAR SUPERIOR offensive player.

      While J Hay sat at Indy tearing up the league we trotted out the pathetic thing that was Clint Barmes at the plate – and when we didn’t start him we had essentially an additional pitcher to pinch hit. Harrison got a measly 95 Pas – but posted a 95 WRC+ – again, FAR SUPERIOR to Barmes.

      Moving on to Marte – Many of us thought he should have come up sooner than the brought him to PNC – same with Cole. And I thought that bringing Lambo up around the All Star Break and putting him in RF might be an interesting option – if he had produced we don’t rent Byrd for the stretch run – but might not have needed him since we would not have had to put GI Jones out in RF and have him bat cleanup and provide Cutch with 0 protection…

      So feel free to hold on to your opinion – just know it does not hold up to the facts

      • jalcorn427

        Well if you only focus on offense, then Mercer is your guy. Your post is revisionist history regarding Jordy. Entering 2013, no one (not the front office, not fans, nor prospect evaluators) thought he could be a starting MLB SS. Barmes provides exceptional defense and it made no sense to bench him for Mercer when even NH didn’t view him as a realistic option. Jordy surprised and thinking has changed, I see no problem with their approach.

        Marte and Cole were never going to be in MLB earlier due to NH decisions, not CH. Hurdle doesn’t get to decide when top prospects are recalled. CH played each guy everyday since their arrival.

        My primary point is that CH, NH, and the Pirates staff know far more about these players than you or I or any other poster. I marvel at how much people think they know about talent evaluation without hardly ever seeing these guys play. The front office track record has been very good at deciding when guys are ready to play and at that time, they play. CH is not going to ruin the plan. I’m fairly sure that the organization has a very good handle on Andrew Lambo and what he can do, thus he will be used accordingly. The lack of trust in the process that got us to 94 wins is staggering.

        • lonleylibertarian

          Yes every team misses on players – and Moss is an awful first basemen defensively – worse than GI…

          But let’s take a step back – my basic claim is that the Pirates are really not young player friendly – they had a potential in house solution last year that they decided to pass on.

          They are playing games with the same guy this spring – maybe I am wrong and they have already decided to give Lambo a fair shot at the job once the season starts and are just not interested in seeing him have a lot of ABs this spring.

          Hurdle DOES prefer older players – Barmes is the living proof of this – they overpaid to get him because Clint liked him – he proved in 2012 he could not produce offensively and they continued to trot him out while they struggled to score runs.

          But I am fine with that – Hurdle is not a big fan of rookies – young players – I get it and I am OK with it – just don’t deny it.

          • jalcorn427

            Now who is claiming baseless facts? CH road a very young team in Colorado to the playoffs and has had no problem sticking with talented young players in Pittsburgh. Its just a myth created by fans who fall in love with fringe talents and can’t grasp why teams don’t play them more. Almost every fan base does this. Its kind of like backup QB/goalie disease. The young guy must be better than the vet we have and he just must be ready to play everyday. It ignores the fact that the organization knows far more about these guys than we do.

            With Barmes, you are ignoring his valuable skills and only looking at his worst skills. Not a very fair evaluation. Barmes was a big reason why the Pirates played dominant defense in 2013 and a big part of their run prevention success.

            • lonleylibertarian

              We just have differing perspectives – I like to see young players encouraged and given a chance. Not sure if you know Lambo’s history – but I thought he deserved a shot last year. if he produced then we don’t waste time with Morneau – maybe Byrd – if not what would have been lost?

              I have thought Harrison deserved better treatment/usage. Great guy to provide Pedro or Walker with a day off. But look who we see getting lots of ST starts – Robert Andino?

              I understand some – you – value Barmes a lot more than I do. I am an offense guy – love the long ball ;-)

              Does not make me right – just makes me react differently than you – and that’s fine.l

              And I feel a lot better after reading DKs column on the kid – sounds like Hurdle may give him a legitimate shot opening the season…

        • leowalter

          PLUS 1,2,& 3 jalcorn. Some of these complaints about many players are pretty amusing.

    • lonleylibertarian

      And as for NH and his talent astuteness – look who plays 1st base for Oakland – that fiasco happened pre Hurdle – but on the Huntington watch – I frankly think it will be the way the Lambo thing plays out – jerk the guy around like they have been doing and he goes to the AL next year and hits 30+ HRs. Moss was shoved aside for Clement and Jones – and yes his numbers were awful-but what the heck happened when he got to Oakland?

      • jalcorn427

        So, no teams miss on players, huh? That’s ridiculous logic. Moss was cut by Philly too after we had him. He changed his swing completely to hit flyballs and K a ton (30%) since his time here. He is a completely different guy now who will not have sustained success.

        This is Bob Smizik logic, criticize any thing a Pittsburgh team does wrong without considering that every team makes mistakes. Its the balance of good vs bad choices that matters. How can you argue with the results?

        • smurph

          Exactly right jalcorn. The Pirated missed (didn’t wait long enough) on Joey Bats. On the other hand you could say Minnesota missed on Garret Jones. The Yankees blew it with Burnett and Martin whom they paid not to play with them. The Dodgers should have held onto Roberto Clemente.

        • leowalter

          jalcorn : are you reading my mind or what ? That sounds exactly like something I would,or have said the past 3 or 4 years.

  • smurph

    The comparison to Garret Jones is an interesting one. His batting stance and swing are very similar to Jones. Both Jones and Moss had several chances in the majors before they had success. The main thing Tim said is nobody knows if he will succeed now or two years from now, or ever. I am kind of at a different view than emjay. Give Lambo his shot. Split playing time between him and Sanchez. If he is not effective after 6-7 weeks, then maybe send him to Indy, especially if one of the guys down there is tearing it up. That wouldn’t mean you are giving up on him. Just that he’s not ready yet.

  • NorCalBuc

    Comparisons to Moss negate the vital point that Moss was THE man brought over in the Bay trade. Moss faced a monumental task in coming to a barren organization, with tremendous expectations placed upon him.

    He gets to Oak-town and finds himself in a different role, lower in the lineup and lower in the expectations department. As an aside, our incumbent 1B at that time, Adam LaRouche, was miscast here as well, as THE power man in the clean-up spot, whereas in ATL. he was never more than a number 6 hitter. Another guy who could not carry a club, with little to no other power options on the team.

    But that was the position the Bucs were in at the time. No McCutchen, Marte, Martin or Pedro, let alone Polanco on the way. Gabby can also help carry Lambo through the mid spring, so…..

    I tend to agree with smurph; let Lambo have a good 6 weeks at 1B, and if we have a better option in Indy (McGuiness!), then we make the switch.

    • smurph

      Legitimate points on Moss and “LaRouche”. In the case of Laroche, it just seemed at the end that he just didn’t care. I know he has that stoic look and it is tough playing on a last place team, but he just seemed to be going through the motions at the end.

      • https://profiles.google.com/117072260031604417798 PikeBishop65

        LaRoche was essentially Jeff King MINUS the dynamic personality.

  • marty34156

    Biggest parallel between Clement and Lambo? Neither are any good.

  • marty34156

    Lambo will struggle to put up a .680 OPS in the Majors, I’d hope Hurdle doesn’t play him everyday.

  • Monsoon Harvard

    I’d rather they don’t give Lambo six weeks and instead send him to
    triple A and make him reproduce those numbers from last year before calling him up. If they don’t pull off a deal to get Carp or Adam Lind or whoever, they should go with Sanchez full time for the first month and if he doesnt hack it, or if Lambo shows in triple A he is performing the way he was last year, then and only then call up Lambo. If nobody hits, then it’s time to pay the ransom on Carp or whoever, or maybe even get creative and teach Tony Sanchez first base.

    I sure wish Tony Sanchez could play first base. He might be a better option in the long run, especially if they extended or resigned Martin…(Martin said he’d be open to that, and they have all the money they saved from not getting anybody this winter or signing Burnett)…His hitting is good enough that he would better serve the team playing everyday than as a back-up catcher to Martin.

    I’d prefer they make a deal for Carp or somebody else with proven numbers at this point.

  • Y2JGQ2

    Well I was at the game today- and in a limited sample size, the only thing he smoked, was a smoke circle after a few bad AB’s, he was the only player they left in the entire game, and oh….it wasn’t even at first base. Not really a good sign….. he’s about to have his ticket punched to indianapolis, if nothing else, to get his feet under him

  • Y2JGQ2

    I’d go even further than Clement, and revisit Brandon Moss, who more or less had the job handed to him, just couldn’t hit. all three of them are too similar