Sunday Notes: Kody Clemens Has Grown Into His Pop


Kody Clemens’s game is built around pop. Playing almost exclusively with Triple-A Toledo, the 25-year-old second baseman went deep 18 times last year in just 424 plate appearances. He knows what he brings to the table. Asked for a self-scouting report, Clemens began by saying he’s “grown to learn that a good part of my game is power.”

Born to a baseball family — his father is the seven-time Cy Young Award winner who shares his surname — Clemens grew up swinging from the left side. That was a matter of happenstance, not of design.

“It just came out that way,” explained Clemens, who is No. 21 on our Detroit Tigers Top Prospects list. “When I was young, my dad put a little bat in my hand and said, ‘Hey, hit the ball.’ I guess I stood up from the left side of the plate. It felt comfortable, so I kept swinging that way.”

The tutelage that followed was predictably based on the perspective of a pitcher. “The Rocket” primarily taught his three sons — Kacy and Koby have also played professionally — about attack plans and how to approach at bats. Mechanics were never much of a focus.

Kody is currently focused on finding the right balance between his bread-and-butter — pull-side power — and being a more well-rounded hitter. Drafted in the third round out of the University of Texas in 2018, the 6-foot, 195-lb. infielder slashed .351/.444/.726 in his final collegiate season, but he hasn’t come close to those lofty numbers since entering pro ball. His slash line at Toledo was a relatively pedestrian .247/.312/.466.

“My batting average has probably been below where it needs to be,” admitted Clemens, who matched his career mark last year. “At some point in the season I was in the upper .280s, but I kind of hit a little downward turn toward the end. One thing I’ve been working on is staying to the left side of the field, because of all the shifting that’s going on. I did really well with that in the first half, but then kind of got a little pull-happy later on in the season. But power is a big part of my game. That’s kind of where baseball has been for the past few years. Power stats are definitely valuable.”

That’s good news for Clemens and the Tigers. Middle infielders who provide pop while also playing solid defense are an asset for any team. His ceiling may not be particularly high, but the potential for Clemens to be a valuable role player is clearly there.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Mike Trout is 7 for 9 against Daniel Mengden.

Keon Broxton is 7 for 9 against Adam Wainwright.

Hunter Pence went 7 for 9 against Mark Buehrle.

Dustin Pedroia went 7 for 8 against Sidney Ponson.

Fred McGriff went 7 for 7 against Ryan Glynn.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from my recent conversation with 21-year-old Colton Cowser were his thoughts on fellow Baltimore Orioles outfield prospect Coby Mayo. I asked Cowser which of his teammates at Low-A Delmarva stood out the most.

“There were a lot of good guys,” said the Orioles 2021 first-round pick. “But Coby Mayo is kind of a monster. I don’t think he even knows how good he can be. He can hit the ball really hard, and he’s got a rocket for an arm. He’s also a good athlete for his size.”

Who showed the best pop in batting practice?

“The one who was most consistent with home runs in BP was probably Connor Norby,” Cowser said of the 2021 second-rounder. “But the most raw power was definitely Coby.”

Mayo, a 20-year-old fourth-round pick in 2020, is No. 6 on our Orioles Top Prospects list. The 21-year-old Norby is No. 13. Cowser is No. 4.

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Sign-stealing stretches back to the early days of baseball, and with very rare exceptions, the players involved have either taken advantage of it or simply kept their mouths shut. Al Worthington is one of those rare exceptions. I learned as much while reading Thom Henninger’s The Pride of Minnesota: The Twins in the Turbulent 1960s, which was published by Nebraska Press last spring.

Per Henninger’s book, Worthington — a Twins reliever from 1964-1969 — learned late in the 1959 season that his then-team, the San Francisco Giants, was stealing signs from the grandstand by use of binoculars and relaying them to the dugout. A devout Christian, Worthington complained to the manager and was subsequently traded to the Red Sox prior to the following season.

Worthington remained a man of conviction. Boston sold his contract to the Chicago White Sox with a month left in the 1960 season, and soon thereafter Worthington discovered that his new team was using a flashing light in the scoreboard to relay stolen signs to their batters. His complaints once again ignored, he left the team and went home (per Worthington’s SABR BioProject entry).

Worthington went on to finish his career with 75 wins, 111 saves, and a 3.39 ERA over 602 big-league appearances. He had a 2.62 ERA and 88 saves in his six seasons with the Twins.

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A quiz:

Pete Alonso hit a rookie-record 53 home runs in 2019, two years after Aaron Judge hit 52 in his first season. Which player had previously held the record for most home runs in his rookie season?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Detroit Tigers announced this week that Lou Whitaker’s No. 1 will be formally retired on August 6 prior to a game at Comerica Park. The should-be Hall of Famer will be the 11th Tiger to receive the honor. Alan Trammell’s No. 3 was retired in 2018.

Frank Herrmann has joined the Toronto Blue Jays organization and will be working across multiple departments, including scouting, player development, and baseball operations. A former MLB reliever who spent the last five seasons pitching in NPB, Herrmann was a guest on episode 948 of FanGraphs Audio in November.

Jim Riggleman has been hired to manage the independent Pioneer League’s Billings Mustangs. The 69-year-old will reportedly be first former MLB manager to hold that position in the Pioneer League, which was affiliated from 1939-2020.

Per Federal Baseball’s David Driver, former Washington Nationals pitching coach Paul Menhart will be joining Taiwan’s Wei Chuan Dragons as a pitching instructor.

John Sanders, whose big-league career comprised one game for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965, died earlier this month at age 76. A native of Grand Island, Nebraska who went on coach at the University of Nebraska, Sanders was 19 years old when he pinch-ran for Wayne Causey in an 11-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

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The answer to the quiz is Mark McGwire, who homered 49 times for the Oakland A’s in his 1987 rookie season.

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This past Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio was a treat for pitching nerds. The guest was Brian Garman, a Driveline-trained pitching coach who serves in that role for the Dayton Dragons, the High-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Among the many topics addressed was the relationship between velocity and command. More specifically, does the quality of command decrease with added velocity?

“I don’t necessarily agree with lower velocity being easier to command,” Garman said on the podcast. “I think a lot of what the industry has done is, we take these guys, we train them to go be maniacs; we want them to get strong, move fast and be explosive. Then we put them on the mound, and if a guy doesn’t dot up every pitch, all of a sudden people start to panic, and say. ’Hey, maybe we should take our foot off the gas a little bit. Take 2-3 mph off and just feel it. Command it that way’. Generally, what I’ve seen is that that backfires. It never goes as planned.

“I usually err on the side of speeding the guy up,” Garman continued. “Make him go faster. Get a radar gun out and ask him to throw harder. I think once you start to back a guy off, A: It becomes too mental, B: They’re searching — they’re trying to feel for something — rather than being instinctual, being the athletes they are. So, I think when you try to back a guy off, command actually gets worse. You’re better off just letting the body work at the rate that it wants to work. If we can just get the athlete to trust it, and kind of turn the brain off… now we have the groundwork. We have somewhere to start, a jumping off point.”

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Who was better, Andy Pettitte or CC Sabathia? I asked that question in a recent Twitter poll, and the results were equal parts predictable and surprising. The player I expected to garner more support did just that, but the margin was far wider than I would have imagined. Sabathia received 89% of the votes cast, while Pettitte got a paltry 11%.

Sabathia went 251-161 with a 116 ERA+, 3.78 FIP, and 66.5 WAR.
Pettitte went 256-153 with a 117 ERA+, a 3.74 FIP, and 68.2 WAR.

Those overall numbers represent a coin-flip difference, so Sabathia’s better sustained peak presumably held great sway with voters. Sabathia had six seasons with 5.0 or more WAR, and they came consecutively. Pettitte had four seasons with 5.0 or more WAR, and they came over a nine-year stretch. Sabathia’s high was 7.4, Pettitte’s was 7.2.

It seems unlikely that their October resumes were much of a factor. Sabathia threw 130-and-a-third postseason innings and went 10-7 with a 4.28 ERA. He pitched in just two World Series games, losing his only decision. Pettitte threw 276-and-two-thirds postseason innings and went 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA. He pitched in 13 World Series games, winning five of nine starts.

Was Sabathia, who had more All-Star berths and won a Cy Young Award, the better of the two pitchers? He probably was. Even so, his margin of victory in the poll is a little surprising.

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Sticking with polls, one from last Sunday merits mention. I asked how many teams should qualify for the MLB postseason, with the options being eight, 10, 12, or 14. The results were telling:

Of the 500-plus people who voted, 35.3% chose 10 teams, 34.9% opted for eight, 23% went with 12, and 6.7% opined there should be 14.

The current format comprises 10 teams, four fewer than MLB is reportedly negotiating for. More postseason teams means more postseason games, which means more revenue for owners. Money is the primary reason behind an expanded playoff structure.

As evidenced by the poll, fans want something very different. As well they should. Compromising the integrity of the game so that billionaire owners can fatten their pocketbooks is a bad idea for baseball. The regular season should matter.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Philadelphia Phillies prospect Daniel Brito is continuing to recover — with hopes of playing again, no less — after suffering a brain hemorrhage, then going into a month-long coma. Matt Gelb has the story at The Athletic (subscription required).

Travis Snider is retiring after 16 professional seasons. Shi Davidi talked to him for SportsNet Canada.

DNVR’s Patrick Lyons wrote about Charlie Blackmon’s legacy with the Colorado Rockies.

The High-A Lansing Lugnuts are honoring the Page Fence Giants, a prolific Black baseball team that called Adrian, Michigan home from 1885-1889. Stephanie Sheehan shared some of their history at MLB.com.

The Baseball Hall of Fame’s Bill Francis shared the tale of Shufflin’ Phil Douglas, an enigmatic New York Giants pitcher who in 1922 was banished from baseball after allegedly writing a letter.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Greg Maddux had 1,194 assists and was charged with 53 errors. Nolan Ryan had 547 assists and was charged with 90 errors.

Walter Johnson’s 547 hits are the most for a pitcher in MLB history. (A handful of his hits came as a pinch-hitter.)

Gene Stechschulte hit his only career home run in his first big-league plate appearance. A right-handed pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Stechschulte did so as a pinch-hitter in an April 2001 game. He didn’t take the mound that day.

Luke Voit had 234 plate appearances and 22 home runs in 2020. Rabbit Maranville had 747 plate appearances and no home runs in 1922.

Hughie Jennings had 121 RBIs and no home runs for the Baltimore Orioles in 1896. Jennings had 51 HBPs that year, the most for a player in one season.

The San Francisco Giants acquired Ron Hunt from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a four-player trade on today’s date in 1968. A second baseman, Hunt led NL batters in HBPs in each of the next seven seasons. His 50 HBPs in 1971 is a modern-day record.

Players born on today’s date include Oad Swigart, a native of Archie, Missouri who pitched parts of two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates In 1939, he posted a 4.44 ERA while allowing 27 hits and 14 runs. In 1940, he posted a 4.43 ERA while allowing 27 hits and 14 runs.

Also born on today’s date was Crazy Schmit, a pitcher, and occasional outfielder, who played for five teams from 1890-1901. Born Frederick M. Schmit, in Chicago, the southpaw went 2-17 with the 1899 Cleveland Spiders — a team that infamously finished 20-134 — on his way to a career record of 7-36.

A second Crazy Schmit note: Schmit and Bill Phillips each started 10 games for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Both went 1-9 with nine complete games. Schmit allowed 98 runs. Phillips allowed 97 runs.

Earlier this week I noticed that 1970s pitcher Marty Pattin had seasons where he went 10-10, 14-14, and 15-15. That got me wondering what the most seasons with double-digit wins and the same number of losses is, and it turns out that Pattin shares the record. Per Statcast (via SABR’s Jacob Pomrenke), the other pitchers with three such seasons are Mark Buehrle, Bullet Joe Bush, Doug Davis, Dave Goltz, Orel Hershiser, and Al Leiter.





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