Sunday, December 12, 2004

The LA Times reports that the Lads might sign Matt Clement to a three-year, $21M deal today or Monday. This is the going rate for middle-of-the rotation starters, which Clement, even under the tutelage of Bud Black, projects to.

With Carl Pavano apparently destined for the Bronx, Clement easily took over as the best non-Pedro pitcher on the market. I have considered Clement a better bet for the future than Pavano, but it's really close and I think you can make the argument the other way. But Pavano was way over his head last season, in my opinion, and Clement has been more consistent the past few seasons:

                 Matt Clement                              Carl Pavano

2002 205.0 .251 .099 .021 112 2002 136.0 .149 .073 .031 79
2003 201.7 .201 .093 .026 103 2003 201.0 .157 .058 .022 94
2004 181.0 .245 .099 .030 123 2004 222.3 .153 .054 .018 137
587.7 .232 .097 .025 112 559.3 .153 .060 .023 107
Just breaking down their numbers, you can see how their styles differ. Clement is more of a power pitcher; Pavano is into control, finesse, and keeping the ball in the ballpark. (He has been aided in this the last two seasons by pitching in Florida, which in 2004 decreased home run production just a bit, especially in comparison to Clement -- Pro Player's HR Factor as reported by ESPN was .987, while Wrigley's was 1.329, second-highest in the majors to their cross-town rivals.)

Interestingly, though Clement has a higher groundball-to-flyball ratio than Pavano, in 2004 only 31% of Clement's batters faced hit groundballs, where for Pavano it was 37% (the major league average was 32%; thank you, Hardball Times Baseball Annual). It's because Clement takes care of more outs himself via the whiff, where Pavano relies more on his defense -- a sketchy proposition given recent Angel developments.

Once you take the parks out of the equation, Clement gains ground on the homers, and Pavano only has the walks. Pavano was close to a win better last year, but given their peripherals over the past few years, Clement seems to have at least as much of an upside. Also encouraging is the fact that, as the Times notes in their salivating article linked to above, many scouts still feel Clement has not fully realized his potential.

This, if true, is made to order for Bud Black, who performed nicely with another such pitcher last season: Kelvim Escobar. If Clement can turn in a year as good as Kelvim last year, that's pretty valuable. I don't know if the Lads really preferred Pavano and are just jumping at Clement now that Pavano's unavailable, but I think $7M per for Clement is a tremendously better value than the ~$10M per that has been rumored for Pavano.

The Angel rotation is the part of the team most due for improvement in 2005, I believe. The only performer who did better than we might have expected was Kelvim Escobar, and even that was fairly predictable given his talent and the fact that he was being assigned one role for just about the first time ever. John Jekyl and Lackey Hyde's ERA+ of 98 was close to his career mark, but we witnessed woeful underperformance from Ace Washburn and The Big Mango, Bartolo Colon. Colon bouncing back to a merely league average performance would be worth at least one win (he was 10 runs below average last season, but if he were pitching well, he would have more innings and be even more valuable), and if he can return to his career ERA+ (116) it could be at least a win-and-a-half and probably more. Clement should also be a solid improvement over the batting practice pitchers that were shuffled through the 5 slot in the rotation; his +18 Runs Saved Above Average last year (which I think is a fair expectation of his talent level) bests the Sele/Ortiz combination by 23 runs, so there's another two wins or so.

So we're looking at another three or four wins just from the rotation, without accounting for possible improvement from Lackey and Washburn. I'd still like to acquire Pedro or the Unit, if the price is right, but if the Clement signing goes down, it's a solid, if unspectacular, move.

I think Clement could be the biggest offseason signing, and the one with the most impact. I'm not sold on the idea just yet, but I think there's a case -- as with Escobar -- that Clement is a mid-rotation guy who has far more upside than most people realize.
No question that Clement would be a nice middle-of-the rotation addition...but he's certainly not the big stopper the Angels need.

The explaination for signing Finley rather than chasing Beltran (at least the only explaination that made much sense) was to make more payroll room for a first-rate pitcher. While Clement would be a nice addition, he is not that first-rate pitcher. Even signing Clement, we'd still have to get a Pedro or Big Unit class of pitcher for the Finley signing to make sense.

So sure, sign Clement. Then go get a stopper!
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