Blue Jays tragically watching infielder turn into this year’s Santiago Espinal

After a promising start to his Blue Jays career, Ernie Clement hasn't lived up to expectations this season.
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Ernie Clement
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Ernie Clement / Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

While the Toronto Blue Jays scuffle along amidst a stretch of games against "weaker" opponents, it's hard not to notice Ernie Clement stuck at the bottom of the lineup. It's starting to feel like we're watching a different version of former Jays infielder Santiago Espinal.

Clement's falloff from the player the Blue Jays saw in a small 30-game sample last season is concerning. After being celebrated as one of the "Buffalo Boys" who helped breathe life into the lineup down the stretch in 2023, there's not much to celebrate this year. It's perhaps even more glaring because the team pegged Clement to start most games at third base this year after saying goodbye to Matt Chapman.

Blue Jays tragically watching infielder turn into this year’s Santiago Espinal

After beginning the season hitting sixth in many of his starts, Clement has gradually dropped to the nine-hole in most of his starts since the beginning of May. The 28-year-old is obviously struggling to adapt to the adjustments big league pitchers have made against him.

Last season, he was a hitting machine, slashing .380/.385/.500 in 52 plate appearances. That's not much to go on, but his performance with Triple-A Buffalo made us think that perhaps the front office had lucked into a hidden gem. With the Bisons, Clement slashed .348/.401/.544 with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 320 plate appearances.

Fast forward to 2024, and Clement hit .264 through the end of April. He even popped a couple of home runs. He wasn't setting the world on fire, but did we expect him to contend for the batting title? As an auxiliary piece to the big boys in the lineup, a .260 average would be a nice addition.

Things took a turn in May. Heading into Sunday's game he was hitting .216 with a .507 OPS in 16 games this month. He's only striking out 7.3 percent of the time, but he's barely drawing walks and isn't contributing anything on offense, with a 44 percent wRC+ in May and a 79 mark on the season.

After going 1-for-5 in Sunday's 14-11 loss, Clement is slashing .242/.263/.368 on the season. It's not working out right now.

To be fair to the fan-favorite Espinal, his high was higher than Clement has achieved in Toronto blue. The former Jay and now Cincinnati Red, had an All-Star first half in 2022 before his bat faded in the second half and pulled a disappearing act in 2023. But like Clement, Espinal wasn't the bat the Jays should have had to rely on.

Clement isn't getting it done in the field, either

To make things worse, his glove isn't even pulling its weight. He has already committed five errors at third, the position he has played the most this year. But even getting the benefit of MLB's loosening of what's considered a hit and an error these days, he's not making plays he should be.

The most recent example of this came on the first Tigers batter on Sunday afternoon when Matt Vierling's bouncing liner deflected off Clement's mitt into left field. It was scored a hit, but as Joe Siddall pointed out on the Sportsnet broadcast, it's a play Clement has to make.

"We've seen Ernie struggling defensively right now. That would have been a nice play, but it's a play that Ernie has to make," Siddall lamented during the replay. "Hit hard to his glove side, and you can see his reaction, he's in a defensive funk right now ..."

Coming to Toronto last year, Clement had 7 OAA (outs above average) through his sporadic playing time at second, third and shortstop with the Guardians and Athletics since 2021. During his time with the Jays, he has 0 OAA, and with the eye test, things look to be getting worse.

Santiago faced a more drastic decline with the glove. After posting 10 OAA between second, third and short in 2022, he dropped off to -3 in 2023.

What's the solution? Who knows. They're letting Clement play to see if he can sort through his funk at the plate and on defense. Out of options, he can't simply head to Triple-A to find his swing again. The front office will have to think long and hard before making any roster moves.

Whatever the outcome of his season, it's up to Clement to turn his season around.