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What Do the Phillies Have in Kody Clemens?

Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Kody Clemens has been a ray of light in 2023.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies didn’t expect to have a seven-time Cy Young winner helping them out on the mound at any point this year at Citizens Bank Park, and yet, here we are.

Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, and of course, Kody Clemens all got hacks in against Roger Clemens prior to Friday’s contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a series facing a weak Detroit Tigers lineup during which the Phillies offense averaged only three runs the game, Philadelphia came out with four per game against a notably better Dodgers’ staff.

Now the Clemens’ aren’t the only ones to thank for that of course. Surely a change in BP pitcher didn’t have that much of an effect on the Phillies’ offensive output, but Kody Clemens’ production all year long has certainly been a welcome addition.

Since Apr. 23, Clemens sports a .310/.363/.512 slashline. Given his superb defense at first base this year, that line would probably net him an All-Star appearance in a larger sample size. Unfortunately, it’s only across 91 plate appearances and with a .379 BABIP.

Clemens is getting a little lucky, not Bryson Stott or Trea Turner in April-lucky, but the baseball gods have been kind to him. Statcast expects him to regress to an OPS of approximately .690-.700, give or take a few points. That includes his 1-for-16 start to the year, so that number can be expected to rise a little further once regression takes hold.

However, splitting the difference between a .700 expected OPS, a .764 actual OPS and a .875 OPS over his last 91 plate appearances, one would expect Clemens to be a below-average to average hitter overall.

That’s still valuable of course, but the bulk of that value comes from his versatility and defense. Clemens has been utilized almost entirely as a first baseman this year by the Phillies, but that’s not what he’s played most of his career.

Clemens got the bulk of his innings last year with the Tigers at third base, where a .764 OPS is far more valuable. He can also play second base, left field and right field. The Phillies even used him at shortstop for 2.0 innings during an Apr. 16 blowout victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Playing up to five positions, Clemens’ .764 OPS goes from a stopgap at first base, to solid at third base, to a near market inefficiency as a super utility player.

One need only look as far as the free agent deals for Aledmys Díaz, Marwin Gonzalez or Kiké Hernández in years past. Even though all have a career OPS+ between 94 and 102, they have a combined career earnings of nearly $100 million.

Though WAR doesn’t always show it, utility-men have a value unseen by traditional statistics. Based on the contracts extended to those players, it’s something general managers and baseball insiders are well aware of.

While Díaz (with a .523 OPS) and Hernández (with a .661 OPS) are making a combined $18 million this year for the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s respectively, the Phillies are paying league minimum for Clemens. Even more impressive is the price Phillies president Dave Dombrowski paid for him.

Few mentioned Clemens’ name when the Phillies traded for Gregory Soto in January. The meat of the deal was Nick Maton and Matt Vierling for the Tigers’ two-time All-Star closer. Donny Sands and Clemens were throw-ins.

Now Clemens has proven to be even more valuable, through ⅖ of the season, than Soto by a wide margin, and more valuable than Maton or Vierling to boot.

The early returns on that trade depict a win for the Phillies. The dog days of summer and the stretch drive will tell just how big a win Philadelphia got when they made that deal last winter.