Baseball BeatJuly 10, 2005
Roger Clemens: Going, Going. . .And Still Going
By Rich Lederer

You've heard of the seven-year itch before, right? Well, how about the nine-year twilight?

Roger Clemens, in defying Dan Duquette and Father Time, is pitching about as well as ever in what is now his 22nd season in the majors and the ninth since the former Boston Red Sox general manager deemed the then 34-year-old future Hall of Famer "in the twilight of his career." Duquette let Clemens become a free agent after the 1996 season, and the Rocket has gone on to win more Cy Young Awards after his departure than before.

The Red Sox-turned-Blue Jay-Yankee-and-now-Astro great is gunning for his eighth Cy Young Award and the fifth since leaving the franchise that originally signed him as their first-round pick (19th overall) in June 1983. If Clemens were to win another one this year, it would mark the third time that he has been saluted in consecutive seasons.

The soon-to-be-43-year-old had another strong outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday (7 IP, 8 H, 2 R/ER, 1 BB, 4 SO), yet increased his major-league leading ERA from 1.41 to 1.48. Clemens has now thrown 122 innings this year and is on pace for 232, his highest total since his second season north of the border in 1998.

If history is any guide, it is unlikely that Clemens can maintain a sub-1.50 ERA for the remainder of the year. To wit, Bob Gibson (1.12) is the only pitcher to go that low over a full season since 1919, and he did it in 1968 in the so-called Year of the Pitcher when the league ERA was under 3.00. Should Clemens regress to his career norm (3.14) the remainder of the way, he would end the season with an ERA of 2.27. Interestingly, only Pedro Martinez (1997, 1999-2000, 2002-2003), Greg Maddux (1994-95, 1997-98), Kevin Brown (1996), and Clemens (1997) have bettered that mark since the offensive explosion began in 1993.

Chris Carpenter (13-4, 2.51 ERA) and Dontrelle Willis (13-4, 2.39) are Roger's main competition for the Cy Young Award this year although I wouldn't rule out Pedro Martinez (9-3, 2.80), Roy Oswalt (11-7, 2.44) or, based on what the voters look for, Livan Hernandez (12-3, 3.48). Chad Cordero (2-1, 1.17 ERA, 31 saves), in the midst of an Eric Gagne-like 2003 season, might get a lot of support, too, especially if the Washington Nationals win the NL East.

The fact that Clemens has had eight no-decisions thus far works against him even though it should have virtually no bearing when voting for the best pitcher in the league. His 7-3 record projects to 13 or 14 wins and 5 or 6 losses.

No starter has ever won the Cy Young with fewer than 16 victories (Rick Sutcliffe, 1984). Sutcliffe was a special case in that he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago Cubs in the middle of June, and he was perceived as the catalyst for the Cubbies finishing atop the standings for the first time in nearly 40 years. However, his combined record wasn't particularly impressive (109 ERA+), owing to a 5.15 ERA over 94 1/3 IP with the Tribe prior to the trade.

In fact, there have been just two winners with 17 victories over the course of a full season (Pedro Martinez, 1997 and Randy Johnson, 1999) and only four with 18 (Clemens, 2004 and 1991; Martinez, 2000; and Pete Vukovich, 1982). Based on the above, Clemens will have a difficult time convincing voters to give him the nod unless he wins at least 10 more games this year.

One stat the writers might want to take into consideration before filling out their ballots is the home-road splits. Clemens has been nearly flawless away from Minute Maid Park, the eighth-most hitter friendly ballpark in MLB.

       IP   H   R   ER   BB   SO   ERA 
Home   69  50  19   17   18   64   2.22 
Road   46  24   1    1   15   44   0.20

The only run Clemens has allowed on the road this year was in Colorado! He gave up a solo home run to Preston Wilson at Coors Park on June 28.

As shown above, Roger has pitched 60% of his innings in Houston despite the fact that the Astros have played an equal number of games at home and away. Last year, Clemens pitched 62% of his innings at Minute Maid. His unbalanced schedule isn't a surprise though. When he signed with the Astros, it was agreed that the father of four wouldn't always travel with the team--allowing him to spend more time with his wife Debbie and their sons Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody.

Speaking of splits, the funny thing is that managers are trying to beat Clemens by stacking their lineups with left-handed hitters. Guess what, guys? The Rocket has been mowing down LHB (.181/.238/.222) at an even better clip than RHB (.181/.249/.293). Home or away. Lefties or righties. Day or night. Early innings or late innings. Ahead of the count or behind the count. It doesn't really matter. Clemens has been dominating hitters all season long.

With Eric Gagne on the disabled list, I believe it is safe to say that Clemens throws the best splitter of any active pitcher in the game. He disguises it like a fastball, running it up there at close to 90 MPH. But, unlike his heater (which sits in the low-90s and can easily get as high as 95 or above), the bottom drops out of the ball just as it approaches home plate. Although the splitter has undoubtedly become his "out" pitch, Clemens can still go up the ladder on hitters with his four-seam fastball, and he can mix in an occasional slider (usually as a backdoor pitch to left-handed batters) and slow curve (which serves as nothing more than an off-speed offering to keep 'em guessing).

As a power pitcher, Clemens uses his strong legs a la Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan. He is a warrior on the mound and his competitive--maybe even arrogant--nature adds an intangible element to his pitching akin to Ryan, Don Drysdale, and Bob Gibson. What separates Clemens from his idol Ryan is the fact that the younger Texan has always had better control. Nolan arguably was more overpowering at times (as evidenced by his all-time best seven no-hitters and 5714 strikeouts), but it's hard to ignore Roger's two 20-strikeout, 0-walk outings in 1986 and 1996 when discussing the best single-game pitching performances ever.

One of the keys to Clemens' success this year has been his ability to keep the ball in the park. The man who began his major-league career in 1984 has only had two seasons in which his home run rate has been lower than 2005--in his fourth Cy Young Award season in 1997 and in his Cy Young Award-snubbing campaign in 1990. Looking at that latter year, can anyone please tell me how Bob Welch won and not Clemens?

          IP     H    R   ER   HR   BB   SO    W    L    ERA    ERA+
Clemens   228.1  193  59  49    7   54   209   21   6    1.93   211
Welch     238.0  214  90  78   26   77   127   27   6    2.95   126

Let's hone in on those metrics which the pitcher has the most control over.

          K/9    BB/9   HR/9
Clemens   8.24   2.13   0.28
Welch     4.80   2.91   0.98

Must have been the park factor, right? Nope. Clemens pitched his home games at cozy Fenway Park and Welch pitched his home games at spacious Oakland Coliseum. Fenway had a park factor of 104 and Oakland a 95. Granted, Clemens may have won an extra Cy Young Award or two along the way, but he was obviously much more deserving than Welch in 1990.

Clemens won his third and final Cy Young Award as a Red Sox the following year. He was allowed to leave Beantown five years later when Duquette made the mistake of thinking that Roger was losing his effectiveness and fast approaching the end of his career. Duquette, a numbers man, should have been able to see past Roger's misleading 10-13 record as the Rocket topped the AL in strikeouts (257) and K/9 (9.53), placed second in H/9 (8.01), fourth in ERA+ (142), and seventh in ERA (3.63) and WHIP (1.33).

Not only did Clemens put up numbers that made him one of the best pitchers in the league in 1996, but he finished the season by going 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA in his final 10 starts. Moreover, in his third-to-last appearance in a Boston uniform, Clemens fanned 20 without walking a single batter while holding the Detroit Tigers to four hits en route to a 4-0 shutout. If that's "twilight," I'd sure like to see what daybreak or sunrise looks like.

Duquette later admitted, "I think I motivated Roger, don't you? I think I did him a service." A free agent, Clemens signed a three-year contract for $24 million with the Blue Jays. He strung together two of his best seasons, winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 1997 and 1998 when he led the AL in ERA, wins, and strikeouts--the Triple Crown of pitching.

Discouraged by the fact that Toronto finished more than 20 games back both seasons, Clemens forced a trade to the New York Yankees in February 1999. He helped the Bronx Bombers win the World Series in each of the next two seasons, then won his sixth Cy Young in 2001 on the back of his stellar 20-3 record.

Clemens, who announced his intention to retire following the 2003 season, filed for free agency in November that year, giving himself the option to negotiate with other teams if he changed his mind. After former teammate and close friend Andy Pettitte signed with the Astros, Clemens was persuaded to ink a deal with his hometown club, too. He accepted a below-market contract that guaranteed him $5 million, of which $3.5 million was deferred without interest until July 1, 2006. He earned an additional $1,825,000 in bonuses based on his selection to the NL All-Star team and Houston's home attendance.

On the heels of winning his seventh Cy Young last year (and the fourth during the "twilight" of his career), the 6-foot-4, 235-pound right-hander signed an $18 million contract with Houston for 2005. The transaction made him the highest-paid pitcher in the history of baseball.

Will Clemens return for a 23rd season in 2006? Given the fact that Houston just drafted Koby, a third baseman from Memorial High School in Houston, in the eighth round, is it possible that Roger and his oldest son could spend February and part of March together in Kissimmee, Florida? Stay tuned. In the meantime, the elder Clemens has some business he needs to take care of prior to worrying about what he's going to do in the twilight of his career.


Rich: 27 wins. That's the most ever in the AL in the DH era. I don't care if your ERA is 4.50; if you get 27 wins, and no one else is close, I'm giving you the Cy Young, and I'm not looking at any other stats. Not that Clemens wasn't a better pitcher (Welch wasn't even the best starting pitcher on his team that year--Dave Stewart was), but 27 wins in this era is a unique achievement worthy of an award.

Clemens is the best right handed pitcher in the history of Baseball. Period. Welch can keep his Cy Young.

Ken - Winning more games than any other pitcher in the DH era is, by definition, a unique achievement. However, what Clemens did that year was pretty unusual, too.

Here is a list of AL pitchers during the DH era who have won 20 games and posted a sub-2.00 ERA:

                              YEAR     ERA       W     
1    Ron Guidry               1978     1.74     25   
2    Roger Clemens            1990     1.93     21

Guidry won the Cy Young Award by a unanimous vote in 1978. Clemens finished second to Bob Welch.

If you include the NL, too, then we learn that Doc Gooden and John Tudor both posted that rare double in 1985. Doc also won the Cy Young by a unanimous vote.

Heck, forget the wins...if you just look at a list of pitchers who have put together seasons with ERAs below 2.00, this is what you find:

                              YEAR     ERA    
1    Dwight Gooden            1985     1.53   
2    Greg Maddux              1994     1.56   
3    Greg Maddux              1995     1.63   
4    Pedro Martinez           2000     1.74   
5    Ron Guidry               1978     1.74   
6    Kevin Brown              1996     1.89   
7    Pedro Martinez           1997     1.90   
8    John Tudor               1985     1.93   
9    Roger Clemens            1990     1.93

Every pitcher on that list won the CYA except Brown (lost to John Smoltz), Tudor (see above), and Clemens.

I think Clemens was clearly the best pitcher that year and his season was one of the top five or six in the AL during the DH era.

The actual quote:

"The Red Sox and our fans were fortunate to see Roger Clemens play in his prime and we had hoped to keep him in Boston during the twilight of his career..."

I don't interpret that as Duquette making any judgment with respect to when that twilight would come.

There is no question as far as I can tell from my research that Dan Duquette thought Clemens was overweight, out of shape, and that his best days were behind him back in 1996. The former Red Sox GM made a half-hearted attempt at signing Clemens, offering him a contract well below market.

When Clemens departed Boston, Duquette said the team did not give long-term contracts to players "in the twilight of their career."

Here are a couple of quotes from Clemens on this very subject (the second one is excerpted from an article dated 7/8/97):

"Why is Dan so hung up on me? He got what he wanted--he got rid of me because I was in the twilight of my career."

"Yeah, I'm in the twilight of my career. I appreciate that jab."

but 27 wins in this era is a unique achievement worthy of an award.

Yes, but not the Cy Young award. That achievement is worthy of a team award, like winning the division or World Series.

Oh I don't question that Clemens interpreted it as a jab. He did. What is absolutely true, however, is that Dan Duquette never said that Clemens had entered or was about to enter the "twilight of his career".

That he did not consider Clemens worthy of a long-term, big money commitment may suggest that he did in fact believe Clemens was in his twilight, but he never explicitly said that as so many believe.

And FWIW, I did't blame Duquette at the time and still don't blame Duquette for deciding not to re-up Roger.

If there was a stat that captured how effective a pitcher is in meaningless games and that stat was the criteria for measuring how good a pitcher is, then no question, Roger takes the prize - BEST. PITCHER. EVER.

The fact that his best two seasons came with the BLUE JAYS tells you everything you need to know.

Bill Simmons gets it right:

But Simmons's piece was written in May 2001, and Clemens's record in pressure games has only gotten worse. If it were the last day of the season, the Astros are out of the race, and Clemens is pitching against the Rockies at home, and my fantasy team is gunning for the title - sure, I'd want the Rocket on the mound. But if it's Game 7 of the World Series or the last day of the season and a must-win game for my team, I'd take ummm.... Brandon Backe ... any day.

Don't give me that "team award" nonsense. There is only one award for pitchers, and that's the Cy Young. So that's the award I'm giving Welch.

Both Boston and the A's were good teams in 1990. With a little luck, Clemens (or Stewart) might have won 27 instead of Welch. But he didn't have that luck, did he? At some point, you gotta reward what people *actually* do (win *actual* games), instead of what they might have done with better luck in some Monte Carlo simulation.

Clemens matched up against Dave Stewart *five times* in 1990 (twice in the playoffs), and lost all five, including the final game where he showed up wearing that stupid eyeblack and got himself thrown out of the game.

I saw all five of those games. If you want to impress me enough to give you a Cy Young with 21 wins when I have pitchers with 27 and 22 wins, you have to beat me every once in a while, and not go all psycho on me when it counts the most. My 1990 ballot goes: Welch, Stewart, Clemens, in that order.

Even if we give Clemens that 1990 Cy Young, shouldn't we take away his 2001 Cy Young? Granted, he went 20-3, but with a 3.51 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.
Mulder went 21-8 with a 3.45 and a slightly lower WHIP (1.16 to 1.26).
Garcia went 18-6 with a 3.05 in 239 IP.
Mussina, even, went 17-11, but with a 3.15 and a 1.07 WHIP. Moyer and Hudson won 20 and 18 games, respectively, with lower WHIPs.
Every pitcher here except Moyer also pitched more innings, and all of them had a lower WHIP and ERA.

As far as Welch goes, if we're going to start saying wins aren't important, then we're really getting away from what the final verdict of a sport is: who wins, who loses.

I'm saying pitchers contribute towards trying to win. Welch didn't "win" 27 games. He contributed somewhat towards those 27. Clemens contributed somewhat more towards those 21.

I posted my comments here:

Ive never read this website before and seeing how this is a year old I dont know if anyone will read this but

1) A pitchers win loss record is a joke of a stat (the only stat worse is the save)
2)To the idiot who said:
But if it's Game 7 of the World Series or the last day of the season and a must-win game for my team, I'd take ummm.... Brandon Backe ... any day.

How Clemens do game 7 against Arizona in 2001 ( and game 3 to get them back into that series for that matter down 2-0)

The same idiot who think clemens is overrated are the same clowns who think Nolan Ryan is the best pitcher ever because of his 7 no hitters when hes not in the top 25.