With the goateed Matt Clement, we reach the end of the starting rotation of the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time. And how. For while Matt Clement initially got a bad reputation after the 2003 playoffs when rumors abounded that he refused to go to the bullpen in the NLCS, we all know that Dusty Baker was the mismanaging nitwit behind that decision. And here’s the thing. Without Clement, the Cubs wouldn’t have been in the 2003 playoffs at all. Not a bad contribution for a player who was a gamble in the Antonio Alfonseca trade. So Matt Clement rounds out the starting rotation of the Best Bad Cubs Team of My Time.
Matt Clement’s professional baseball career began two decades ago, when he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the third round of the 1993 amateur draft. Clement was a lanky religious kid from Pennsylvania who WASN’T Amish. Who’d have thought? Clement had crazy-good stuff, but was wilder than a cat with a sparkler tied to its tail. Which is something Amish people do for fun. In his second season in the minors, Clement struck out 98 guys in 138 1/3 innings, but also walked 91, hit eighteen batters, and threw 31 wild pitches.
Nevertheless, Clement had a big arm and a lot of potential if he would ever find his control. So the Padres brought him up for a cup of coffee in September of 1998. Clement made his MLB debut on September 6, 1998 at every pitcher’s nightmare park, Coors Field. The Padres were in the midst of getting blown out by the Colorado Rockies 9-0 when Clement took the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning. Clement didn’t help. He surrendered three runs on four hits, including a two-run double to Angel Echevarria. Can that possibly be right? YES.
Clement appeared in four games for the 1998 Padres, made two starts, and went 2-0 with a 4.61 ERA and lofty 1.610 WHIP. He struck out thirteen hitters in 13 2/3 innings, but again he walked seven. Still, Clement showed enough to make the Padres’ starting rotation in 1999. He gave the Padres exactly what they should have expected from his minor-league numbers. He went 10-12 with a 4.48 ERA and 1.528 WHIP while striking out 135 and walking 86 in 180 2/3 innings.
His control got remarkably worse in 2000, when he posted a 5.14 ERA and led the league in walks (125) and wild pitches (23) in 205 innings. He was averaging 5.5 BB/9 on his way to a 13-17 record. Just before the start of the 2001 season, the Padres sent Clement along with Omar Ortiz and Eric Owens to the Florida Marlins for Cesar Crespo and Mark Kotsay. Clement made 31 starts for the Marlins, going 9-10 with a 5.05 ERA and another league-leading wild pitch count (15) in 169 1/3 innings. Clement was still striking out guys at a decent clip (134), but he was also still walking too many (85).
Right before the start of the 2002 season, incumbent Cub closer Tom Gordon’s shoulder exploded. The Cubs desperately needed a closer. Preferably one who killed Mandy Patinkin’s father. So they went fishing and landed Antonio Alfonseca along with Clement in exchange for Jose Cueto, Ryan Jorgensen, Julian Tavarez and Dontrelle Willis. The four-letter site was up in arms about letting Willis go, but the Cubs were desperate for a closer. You see, they thought they actually had a chance to compete after finding themselves unexpectedly in a pennant race late into the 2001 season. THAT’S ADORABLE.
As you may recall, Alfonseca was an absolute turd, as fat closers north of 30 years old tend to be. Had the Cubs not also landed Clement in the deal, the trade truly would have been a disaster. Clement, however, had something click for him in Chicago. His BB/9 dropped to 3.7. Not great, but the lowest total of his career. Meanwhile, he topped 200 strikeouts for the first time ever, whiffing 215 in 205 innings. His 9.4 SO/9 was two strikeouts higher than it had been in any previous full season. Clement tied Kerry Wood for the team lead with twelve wins, and finished only two strikeouts behind him. Remember how we all hated Larry Rothschild until he was gone, and then we realized that the problem wasn’t Larry, but that no one listened to him?
In 2003, Clement was the fourth starter in a monster rotation. Because of the way things ended, it’s tough to appreciate it, but all four of Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Clement threw 200+ innings, won 13+ games, and struck out at least seven hitters per nine innings. They were nothing short of filthy. Clement, as that rotation’s fourth starter had a 106 ERA+ and a 1.230 WHIP. No wonder they got away with sending Shawn Estes out there 28 times.
Despite having a bad start in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, Clement was great against the Marlins. HE HAD A THIRD OF THEIR WINS IN THAT SERIES, GUYS. In Game Four of the NLCS, Clement outdueled former trade partner Dontrelle Willis, going 7 2/3 innings and allowing three earned runs in an 8-3 Cub win. And, to be fair, Kyle Farnsworth gave up the one runner he inherited from Clement, because Farnsworth decided to let ALL of his inherited runners score during the NLCS.
Clement followed up his 2003 performance with an even better 2004, though he ended up 9-13 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.282 WHIP. Unfortunately, Clement, Zambrano, and new addition Greg Maddux couldn’t overcome all of the starts lost to injury from Wood and Prior. BUT THAT ALSO OPENED THE DOOR FOR GLENDON RUSCH.
Clement was granted free agency after the 2004 season, and the Boston Red Sox signed him to a three-year deal. In the first half of 2005, Clement made the Cubs look bad for not re-signing him. He went 10-2 with a 3.85 ERA and 1.265 WHIP, earning himself a spot on the AL All-Star team. And then, on July 26, 2005, this happened.
I remember hearing about this happening, seeing the replay, and feeling terrible for Clement. For a guy who was frequently knocked for pitching scared and always looking over his shoulder to the bullpen, this was about the worst thing that could have happened. I had a feeling Clement would never be the same, and he wasn’t.
Clement’s second half was brutal, as he went 3-4 with a 5.72 ERA and 1.514 WHIP.
The next season, Clement made only twelve starts for the Red Sox, finishing 5-5 with a 6.61 ERA and 1.760 WHIP in 65 1/3 innings. At the end of the season, he had shoulder surgery which finished his career. Though he finished up his contract with the Red Sox in 2007, he didn’t see MLB action and wasn’t part of that World Series team. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008 and the Toronto Blue Jays before the 2009 season, but was never called up. A shame, because he would have had the classiest facial hair in all of St. Louis.
Nowadays, Clement coaches basketball for his old high school and presumably makes high-quality wooden furniture. Go read that article, just so you can see how geeky Clement looks as a basketball coach.
Greatest Cub Moment: Duh. September 27, 2003. With a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates on the penultimate day of the 2003 season, the Cubs would win their first NL Central pennant. Prior did his job in game one, striking out ten Pirates and allowing only two earned runs in a 4-2 Cub win. Clement took the mound for game two, and was even better. He went 7 2/3, allowing one earned run on seven hits as the Cubs won the nightcap 7-2, and the whole of Chicago went apocalyptic.
Worst Moment as a Human: Clement giveth, and Clement taketh away. September 20, 2004. On nearly the anniversary of Clement’s great doubleheader win came this stinker. The Cubs were hanging in the Wild Card race by the skin of their teeth. Just like the year before, Prior had won game one of the doubleheader, this time against the Marlins. Clement was awful in game two, lasting only 2 1/3 innings and allowing five earned runs on three walks and three hits. The bullpen was surprisingly brilliant, but the five runs were all the Marlins needed as they beat the Cubs 5-2.