Cubs captured the best years of Matt Clement’s brief MLB career

You want to talk about a guy who was overlooked during his Cubs career? Look no further than Matt Clement, who was tasked with living in the shadow of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood for much of his three-year stint on the North Side.

But don’t let that take away from the role the right-hander played for Chicago from 2002 to 2004. Just weeks after coming to the Cubs in a late-March trade from the Marlins, Clement got to work – and outperformed the former Rookie of the Year in almost every statistical measure by season’s end – something very few folks today, I’m sure, are aware of.

Here’s how the two stacked up:

  • Wood: 12-11, 3.66 ERA/3.86 FIP, 1.245 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 213.2 IP
  • Clement: 12-11, 3.60 ERA/3.34 FIP, 1.205 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 205 IP

So in other words, Wood edged him in innings pitched. That’s about it. Clement was a workhorse for that ’02 Cubs team – but no one remembers that because of what happened in 2003, when the Wood and Prior duo atop the rotation took the league by storm and Carlos Zambrano burst onto the scene in a big way.

Still, Clement was no slouch that year. He took a step back, sure, but he still eclipsed the 200-inning mark, giving manager Dusty Baker four 200-inning starters in his rotation. Come October, the right-hander got rocked by the Braves in the NLDS – but bounced back with a quality start in Game 4 of the NLCS, pushing the Cubs to one win away from the Fall Classic.

We know how that played out – the Marlins came roaring back to take the series and eventually take down the Yankees in the World Series. But that was certainly no fault of Clement’s, who took the ball and delivered under the bright lights.

In 2004, Clement was sharp early on, carrying a sub-3.00 ERA in two of the season’s first three months. But unless you know the tale of the run support (or lack thereof) he received that year, you don’t know the whole story. He took the ball 30 times – and got a whopping 2.63 runs per game from his offense. Any time that’s the case, it’s going to be tough to come away with wins.

Chicago Cubs: In less than a decade, Matt Clement’s career was over

And that was it. He hit free agency that winter, played two years with the Red Sox – earning an All-Star selection in 2005 – and threw his last big league pitch at the ripe age of 31. When you look at what he did in Chicago as opposed to elsewhere in his career, it’s clear the Cubs figured out how to maximize Clement’s effectiveness and really get the most out of him.

The Prior-Wood combination was the story of the times. But without Clement, that Cubs team wouldn’t have been nearly as deep – so here’s to the man who inspired fans to wear fake facial hair in the stands at Wrigley when he toed the rubber.