Tempering The Clement Enthusiasm

Matt Clement has been pitching rather well for the Red Sox lately – he is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA. Can I temper your enthusiasm, please? Let’s start out with the big strike against Clement – 2004. In the first half of 2004, he was a Cy Young contender. In the last half, Cy Yuk. He struggled with run support, but nonetheless, his productivity declined after the All-Star Break.

         Date            W  L       IP      H       R       ER      HR      BB      K       ERA     WHIP    BAA
Pre All Star      7     8       117.1   94      41      38      10      45      123     2.91    1.18    .217
Post All-Star     2     5       63.2    61      38      36      13      32      67      5.09    1.46    .250

So what, you say. New year, new team, and Jason Varitek. This article was spurred on by this one, by Jackie MacMullan, on the 12th. Varitek is lauded for helping him out, but guess what? So far, Matt Clement is having a worse season than his last three seasons.

Had Foulke not imploded in the ninth and blown his second save of the year, we would have been showering Matt Clement with flowery headline praise today for seven crisp innings of one-run baseball. It should have been his fifth game without a loss, and it was particularly rewarding because he walked only one batter for the fifth time in the last six games. Clement’s most worrisome trait in the past has been his maddening lack of control. Is it a coincidence now that he’s with the burly catcher, he seems to have corraled that problem?

His control has been very good recently, but I spoke to Joe of The View From the Bleachers and Joe said that if he recalled correctly, Clement would go streaks of walking people and impeccable control. Let’s wait more to see how Clement’s control stacks up. However, one statistic given in the article is good – home runs.

Listen closely, and the buzz in the clubhouse is that Varitek has done wonders for Clement. Aside from his improved control, he hasn’t given up a home run in 45 innings and has expanded his pitches. The pitcher deserves all the credit for putting the ball where it needs to go, but the catcher has played a role in suggesting just where those pitches might work best.

Joe says Clement gave up HRs with consistency in his career with the Cubs, so good. He seems to be giving up less home-runs, so let’s all pat ourselves on the back, and attempt to for his newfound control. But guess what? He’s still worse than the last three years. Let’s disregard ERA for a minute, which while I think is the best qualifier for a pitcher, is also very misleading. We’re also disregarding wins and losses – we know how fickle those can be. Can we focus on Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched and Batting Average Against? Let’s do that and include ERA to judge how misleading ERAs are.

If you notice below, Clement, while having a good ERA so far this year, is having a worse peripheral year.
2002 3.60 1.20 .215
2003 4.11 1.23 .227
2004 3.68 1.28 .229
2005 3.06 1.40 .267

Not only has his WHIP and BAA climbed the past three years, he’s taken a big jump this year. If we look back in his 2004 splits posted above, we can see that in the second half of the year, he posted a 5.09 ERA with a better WHIP and BAA than he has so far this year. Are we as confident in Varitek still?
Now, the question here is how in the heck is Clement so effective? It could be Jason Varitek which says a lot about Tek, but hitters are having more success off Clement. His walks have been miniscule this year (3, 5, 2, 1, 1, 4, 1, 1, 1) so perhaps Tek has corralled Clement’s control. But with this control, he’s around the plate more, so more hitters are … well, hitting – and they’re finding the gaps. That’s why his WHIP is higher – because of the hits, not the walks. But would you be surprised to hear he’s not really that much better in control? He has 18 walks to date. If we roughly multiply his starts (8) by 4 (to get 32 starts, what most starters get) then we can multiply 18 by 4 as well, and that gives us 72 walks for Clement. It’s a messy way to predict total walks, but you get the point. This actually hurts, because then Clement doesn’t have improved control. His walk totals from the last three years? 85, 79, 77. So the jury’s still out on control, for he’s only five walks better so far. He has however, only allowed one home-run, and 52 hits. Multiplying each by four, he will allow 4 home-runs on the year and 208 hits. There’s your success, because last year he had 61 hits last year and 10 HR, and it got him his 5.09 ERA after the half. All those hits don’t score because he’s NOT GIVING UP THE LONG-BALL! Instead of three-run shots, or grand slams, he’s not allowing runs, or if he is, just one or two. That’s very helpful.
So while Clement’s having a worse year with giving up hits and on target with walks, his true saving grace is that he’s not giving up the long-ball.
It’s a bit scary to imagine his ERA if he starts giving up gopher balls, so uhhh … let’s not do that, Matt. Okay?