Designated HitterFebruary 28, 2008
Facing the Facts on Clemens
By Jonathan Mayo

A lot has changed since I started writing my first book, “Facing Clemens.” What was meant to be a fairly cut and dry baseball book about what it’s like for a hitter to try and ply their craft against the Rocket over the course of his career has obviously turned into much, much more. That being said, I still maintain the book has relevance. Regardless of where you stand on the current news surrounding Roger Clemens, the challenge of trying to hit him hasn’t changed. Perhaps his career has been forever tainted, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the toughest pitchers of all-time for a hitter to try to make a living off of.

The numbers, of course, more than back it up. He finished the 2007 season – now certainly his last – eighth on the all-time list in wins. Only one pitcher whose career was after 1940 is ahead of him: Warren Spahn. You’ve seen the other victory numbers. He’s first all-time on the active list and he reached 350 wins with the second fewest losses in the game’s history, behind only the guy who’s name is on the pitching award.

Now, before all the sabermetricians click elsewhere or write me off as an old fogey who knows nothing, I’ll go further. Wins, of course, can be misleading because they are so often not within a pitcher’s control. Clemens is second all-time in strikeouts and his name can be found on career leaderboards in a host of categories from things that show off his longevity, like games started or innings pitched, to his dominance, like shutouts, or to “new-fangled” stats like adjusted ERA+, which measures a pitcher’s ERA against the league average with ballpark effects taken into account (he’s ninth all-time, in case you were curious). Something like that helps bridge the generational divide for a “greatest pitcher of all time debate.” When stacked against his contemporaries, it almost isn’t fair. He leads just about every active career statistical list.

Then, of course, there’s the hardware and honors. With the seven Cy Youngs, the MVP Award, the 11 All-Star appearances, the World Series rings and total appearances, he’s off the charts on the Black Ink and Gray Ink Tests. The scores, 100 (fifth all-time) and 314 (eighth), speak for themselves. So does his Hall of Fame Monitor mark (336, second only behind Walter Johnson) and the Hall of Fame Standards Test score (73, eighth all-time behind Grover Cleveland Alexander). Now these numbers may be a bit meaningless now in terms of Hall of Fame chances, but it does give a more complete picture of just how dominant this guy was for 24 years.

In trying to determine who would be the best subjects for the book, I dug deeply into the numbers behind Clemens’ career (a quick thanks to the folks at is essential at this point). I was quick to find who had faced Clemens the most (Cal Ripken Jr.), who had had some level of prolonged success against the Rocket (Ken Griffey Jr., especially in their AL days) and who really hadn’t had any luck at all (Torii Hunter and his 0-for-28).

Of course, numbers in baseball are like layers of an onion. Once you start peeling, you find more. How many realized that in Roger Clemens’ two 20-strikeout games, 10 years apart, he walked a grand total of zero? That’s right, no walks and 40 strikeouts over 18 innings (As an aside, I also learned Clemens wasn’t supposed to pitch against the Mariners that fateful night in 1986. He was slated to go the game prior, but it had been rained out.).

In researching for the Ripken chapter, I discovered that the Hall of Fame Oriole never once struck out more than 100 times in a season. In fact, the only two times he was over 90 were the first two seasons of his career when he was redefining what a shortstop could and should be. He struck out a grand total of 1305 times in 11,551 at-bats, or once every 8.85 AB. He whiffed 17 times in 109 at-bats against Clemens for a 6.41 per AB average.

A lot of fuss was made about the controversial time, in 1998, about how Clemens was scuffling in the first half, then “miraculously” turned it around in the second. Clemens had a 3.55 ERA in that first half and 120 strikeouts in 119 IP. I’m not saying this exonerates the man, but that first-half figure alone would have put him right near the top 10 for the year in ERA. The league ERA, by the way, was 4.61. Even in 1996, his last with the Red Sox when he was supposedly finished, he was sixth in the league with a 3.63 ERA while topping the league in K/9 and overall strikeouts.

Where does that leave us now in trying to figure out his legacy? It’s an extremely difficult question to answer. I’m not one who usually does everything by numbers – one of the things I appreciated about doing this book is how the stats were backed up by experiences, recollections from actual human beings. But sometimes, numbers can be the most impartial.

So let's say we completely believe the Mitchell Report and the ensuing testimony and Clemens started taking performance enhancers in 1998. Let's take a look at his career at that point. He had won four Cy Young Awards and gone to seven All-Star Games (I’m counting the 1998 Midsummer Classic because he earned that one pre-injections, according to the report). He’d earned five ERA titles, an MVP Award, gone to a World Series and led the league in those dreaded wins three times. He also took home four strikeout crowns and a pitching Triple Crown in 1997.

He had 213 wins at the end of the 1997 season. He had a 2.97 ERA. There wasn’t a league average ERA during that span under 4.00. Is that enough for a Hall of Fame career? Maybe not quite – though the Sandy Koufax argument could be made – but it’s not far off.

Even the biggest detractors of Clemens wouldn’t argue that he would’ve had to hang ‘em up in 1998 if it weren’t for Brian McNamee. The odds of him pitching another nine years are slim, but an argument could be made that he would’ve been done by, say, 2003, the year he “retired” for the first time in the World Series against the Marlins. Go ahead and take away the Cy Youngs in 1998 and 2001, if you must. Truth be told, his Yankee numbers aren’t all that overwhelming and his ERA, at best, hovered around where that 1998 first-half figure was. You have to figure he falls into about 13 wins per year as a Yankee, rough estimate. That’s another 65 victories to bring him to 278, all the previous hardware and a career ERA probably not too far off from his current mark of 3.12 (Again, league average in his career: 4.46).

What’s my point in all of this? To be honest, I’m still not sure. Like many fans, albeit one with a vested interest, I’m trying to figure all of this out. I’ve been covering the game long enough for nothing to shock me one way or the other. One thing is certain: Clemens’ image is forever tarnished, regardless of what happens in the future. I can’t foresee the Baseball Writers Association of America voting him into the Hall of Fame any time soon, assuming he actually is retired.

What I would ask is for those voters, as well as fans trying to make up their minds as well, to take a closer look at the numbers, even deeper than I’ve delved here. I think you might find, beneath the scandal, the congressional hearings, the “he said, he said” of the past few months, there’s still a pretty damn good pitcher under all of it, warts and all, who made it extremely difficult for hitters for a really long time.

Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for He joined Major League Baseball’s official website in April 1999 and has covered three World Series, seven All-Star Games, the Opening Series in Japan and Puerto Rico, the Caribbean World Series in Mexico, and the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. More recently, Jonathan has focused his efforts on covering minor league baseball, the baseball draft, the Arizona Fall League, and baseball’s winter meetings. You can learn more about him and his first book on his website.


I agree Clemens had enough HofF credentials at the beginning of 1998. I'm not quite sure he has the honorability to belong that place. Anyway, if I was a HoF voter, I'd vote for him 'cos I'm not the right person to judge him and I prefer to look at numbers and playing ability.

The one thing I don't agree with you is the asumption Clemens "When stacked against his contemporaries, it almost isn’t fair. He leads just about every active career statistical list".
I think you're forgeting Greg Maddux.

1. Using same statistics you used for Clemens until 1997 (when he was 34) and the same for Maddux until 2000 (same 34):

CyYoung awards: 4 each
All Star games: 7 Clemens, 8 Maddux
ERA titles: 5 Clemens, 4 Maddux
MVP: 1 Clemens, 0 Maddux
WS played: 1 Clemens, 3 Maddux
Wins titles: 3 each
SO titles: 4 Clemens, 0 Maddux
Triple Crowns: 1 Clemens, 0 Maddux
Wins: 213 Clemens, 240 Maddux
ERA: 2.97 Clemens, I don't have it for Maddux but certainly it was below 2.97
And 3 other important statistics you omited:
WHIP titles: 3 Clemens, 4 Maddux
Innings titles: 2 Clemens, 5 Maddux
COmplete games titles: 3 each.

That's 6 best for Maddux, 4 best for Clemens, and 3 ties.

2. Remember there was not so big diference between AL and NL at the years I'm taking, especially the years both absolutely dominated, 1997 for Clemens (the last "clean" year for him like the Mitchell report says), and 1998 for Maddux.
The wide margin between both leagues is a 21st century thing.

3. You mention 4 total careers meausures for Clemens. I'll compare with Maddux's:

Black Ink: 100 Clemens, 85 Maddux
Gray Ink: 314 Clemens, 330 Maddux
HOF Monitor: 336 Clemens, 252 Maddux
HOF Standards: 73 Clemens, 69 Maddux

Let's not forget Maddux is still active and could still play 2-3 "clean" years. I think Maddux can take the lead in Black Ink and HOF Standards in that 2-3 years.
At the end of Maddux's career I envision him with the lead in 3 of the 4 categories. And, most important, playing "clean".
Yes, I know nobody knows who cheated and who don't but there are players whose careers and habilities (or lack of them) clearly suggest they have been clean troughout their careers. And Maddux certainly is one player most must think should be clean.

4. I think Maddux would already the leader in at least Black Ink, Gray Ink and HOF Standards if Clemens hadn't been a steroids consumer. And I think Clemens's advantage in HOF Monitor would be a lot smaller.

If proven guilty, Clemens (or Bonds, or Palmeiro, or McGwire) doesn't get to ask voters to only consider his career up until 1998, or somehow pro-rate his later statistics. If that were how it worked, Pete Rose would just snip the gambling years off the end of his career and get himself elected on the strength of the remainder. The cheating itself is more important than how it may have affected his numbers- no one can answer that question.

First, I would've said what Mark said up there, but with less facts and analysis and more vitirol, so good work Mark. I'd take prime Maddux, and prime Pedro, 10timesoutof10 over prime Clemens.

Second, if you had written something like this say, oh, 6 years ago, about say, oh, Barry Bonds, than I'd be more inclined to agree with you.

Third, since you didn't - and Nobody Else Has - Clemens can fry on the skittle the media created.

Clemens was a great pitcher, just as Bonds is a great hitter, in a flawed era for which they should Not be blamed for taking advantage of Lazy rule-makers, just as Babe Ruth can't be blamed for never playing against black players.

It just makes me pause when I read this, along with the thirty or so other "Let's go easy on Roger..." articles, and then think about the public/media-abated destruction of Barry Bonds' career/Life lo' these past years. That's right, I said lo'.

There have been those who have opposed the treatment of Bonds for some time now. There is certainly a lot of hypocrisy out there, but I don't know if it applies to the author.

Why aren't the same people that want Clemens and Bonds et al. kept out of the HOF also complaining about Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford and other ball doctorers that are already enshrined? How can we say that PEDs aren't OK but Vaseline and files were? They were all prohibited, yes? Too many double-standards.

BTW, I think Clemens and Bonds are guilty of perjury, Pete Rose is an ass and all 3 should be in the HOF for their numbers - they should also have their transgressions highlighted for all future fans to know.

Hello Jonathan!!!!

i think clemens has been juiced since 1996

The key ingredient that Roger lacks is integrity. He went ahead and threw the integrity of the game away when he decided to cheat. No HoF for you my Clemens.

Clemens by the end of his Boston days was already a hall of famer simply by looking at the awards. no one ever wins 3 Cy without getting in first ballot. do we even need to actually go into deeper data here to disscuss their hall merits? it's like someone looking at Babe Ruth's VORP to justify his hall worthiness. anyone who could even try to reason that Clemens / Bonds doesn't belong in the hall based on ability is completely out of their minds.

I highly doubt Clemens will get in the hall first ballot now. but i'm also skeptical on why you shouldn't put him and Bonds in.

Yes they have integrity issue. but they were dragged out from the pack of guys who juiced (which is in reality. a very very significant portion of major leaguers) and singled out because umm... they're the biggest name. so do they deserve to be completely discredited because they were the few guys singled out in a hoard?

You can't lump this into the same thing as Rose. who was basically the only guy who did it.

The fact is, if your banning Clemens / Bonds, you should essentially close the hall to this entire generation .. including throwing out guys that already got in . because you can't positively say for sure that any particular player didn't do it.

Unless your going to deny the entire era as unfair (in which case, you might as well throw out the entire segregated era HOFer.. you know, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and bunch. which i'm sure if anyone actually suggested this, they'd be shot on the spot)i can't see how you could single out particular players that may or maynot have juiced while admiting others ... who may or may not have juiced when all of them faced and played with guys that may or may not have juiced

I was going to stay out of the comments fray, but I figured I'd weigh in a little. I'm not going to answer every point (the Maddux one is well taken -- and I wasn't forgetting about him. Perhaps I was leaving him out b/c he'll be the next in my series).

The two things I wanted to say react to was 1. In no way was this meant to be a "Go easy on Roger" piece. I invite everyone to form their own opinion of him. This was meant mostly to stir debate (which it did) and to make sure people tried to look at everything. I do have some issues with how all of this was handled -- guilt or not -- just like I had some issues with how the Bonds stuff was handled. In general, I don't think it's fair for one person, no matter who it is, to have to take the mistakes of an entire sport on by himself. Being tried in the court of public opinion isn't fair, even if you are guiltier than sin (of course, lying under oath is another issue altogether).

Finally, the whole integrity thing and the Hall of Fame is one of the most absurd arguments I've ever heard. And I'm not even talking about the Gaylord Perry's of the world. If you were really going to toss players out of the Hall based on behavior that lacked integrity or put baseball in a bad light, you'd lose a whole lot of members. Ty Cobb, for instance, was one of the meanest SOBs ever to play the game. He was a vicious racist and anti-semite and went into the stands to assault fans. Is that the kind of image you want baseball's history to portray?

Ty Cobb also fixed games with Tris Speaker.

I'm a little confused by one thing in this article and it pertains to his 1997 season. The article says:

"A lot of fuss was made about the controversial time, in 1997, about how Clemens was scuffling in the first half, then “miraculously” turned it around in the second. Clemens had a 3.55 ERA in that first half and 120 strikeouts in 119 IP. I’m not saying this exonerates the man, but that first-half figure alone would have put him right near the top 10 for the year in ERA. The league ERA, by the way, was 4.61."

In reality baseball reference shows him at 13-3 with a 1.69 ERA and 140Ks in 138.3 innings (his WHIP was just below 1.00 as well). Was this a misprint?

One thing mentioned I believe that Cy Young actually lost over 300 games, so the 2d fewest losses behind the man the award was named after doesn't match up in the early part of his analysis

The notion that the athletic accomplishments of these individuals are "tainted" by the alleged use of PEDs is a crock. We have to stop viewing the business of PROFESSIONAL sport through the lens of Little League. Bonds and Clemens are the greatest players of their time, period. If that doesn't qualify them for the HOF then the HOF is pointless. It may be already, but that is another issue. The futile War on Drugs perpetrated on Americans by a succession of presidents has found its safe media niche in the "Steroid Scandal." Seems like everyone has some moral posturing to do about integrity and Saving The Children. You know what? Spare me. It's crap, people. It's all crap. Baseball is a business, the professionals who entertain us don't need to be told how to do their jobs. The medicines and technologies available to them are available to everyone else. They ought to be allowed to chose the things that affect their health and professional longevity just like anyone else. By demonizing PEDs, Congress, the media, hysterically-outraged fans, and MLB have only succeeded in eliminating intelligent discourse and driving use further underground. In a world of fantastic and rapid technological change, that is foolishness. Ballplayers, like anyone else, ought to have access to safe, doctor-supervised, scientifically studied chemicals and medical procedures that can assist them to perform for as long as they can. Making those choices criminal is, itself, criminal. In twenty years, when steroids or their analogs are sold to weekend warriors in pharmacies, will we re-think the so-called "Steroid Era?" I hope so.

"A lot of fuss was made about the controversial time, in 1997, about how Clemens was scuffling in the first half, then “miraculously” turned it around in the second. Clemens had a 3.55 ERA in that first half and 120 strikeouts in 119 IP. I’m not saying this exonerates the man, but that first-half figure alone would have put him right near the top 10 for the year in ERA. The league ERA, by the way, was 4.61."

In reality baseball reference shows him at 13-3 with a 1.69 ERA and 140Ks in 138.3 innings (his WHIP was just below 1.00 as well). Was this a misprint?

Yes, that was a misprint and it has since been changed. Thank you.