Baseball BeatJuly 23, 2005
A National Treasure
By Rich Lederer

Do we realize just what is taking place here, folks?

Roger Clemens vs. the Washington Nationals, July 22, 2005, at RFK Stadium.

                    IP   H   R  ER  BB   SO  HR    PC-ST    ERA 
Clemens (W, 8-4)   6.0   3   0   0   3   10   0   102-70   1.40

Season and Career Statistics:

          IP     H     R    ER   HR    BB    SO    W   L    ERA
2005     135    90    25    21    5    39   123    8   4   1.40
Career  4628  3936  1773  1609  341  1497  4440  336 168   3.13
I mean, these results are incredible for anyone--much less a pitcher who will turn 43 in two weeks. Bob Gibson's ERA, in the Year of the Pitcher, was only 0.28 runs per nine innings better. In fact, other than Gibson, no pitcher in the live-ball era finished the season with a lower ERA than what Clemens has fashioned thus far.

Oh, Clemens' ERA in nine road starts this year? 0.31.

Here's a deconstruction of Roger's latest outing, batter by batter and inning by inning.

Washington - Bottom of 1st:

J Carroll lined out to second.
J Vidro lined out to second.
J Guillen singled to right.
R Church struck out swinging.

The Nats get a runner on base and Clemens buckles down and strikes out their clean-up hitter.

Washington - Bottom of 2nd:

P Wilson struck out looking.
B Wilkerson struck out looking.
B Schneider grounded out to second.

Sit down. Sit down. (Brad Wilkerson didn't take his bat off his shoulder. I'm sure glad I took him this year for my fantasy team.) Ground out.

Washington - Bottom of 3rd:

C Guzman walked.
R Drese sacrificed to first, C Guzman to second.
J Carroll struck out swinging.
J Vidro walked.
J Guillen struck out swinging.

How could Clemens walk Cristian Guzman to open the inning? The Washington shortstop is on pace to post the fourth-lowest OPS (.500) since 1920. Is he really making $4.2 million this year? O Barry, O Barry! Wherefore art thou, Barry?

Quite simply, Guzman has been as bad this year as Clemens has been good. Take a look at Guzman's stats vs. those allowed by Clemens:

          AVG    OBP    SLG
Guzman   .188   .227   .273
Clemens  .197   .261   .269

In other words, Guzman makes all pitchers look like Clemens, and Clemens reduces all hitters into nothing more than a bunch of Guzmans. As far as I am concerned, that says it all.

Back to the action. Great at-bat by Jose Vidro in the third inning: strike one looking, strike two looking, foul, ball one, ball two, foul, foul, ball three, ball four. Vidro draws a walk. Down 0-2, Vidro worked Clemens for seven more pitches to earn a base on balls, allowing the Nationals' best hitter, Jose Guillen, to get a shot at hitting a home run to tie the score at three. Power vs. power. Clemens reaches back and strikes out Guillen to end the inning.

Washington - Bottom of 4th:

R Church singled to right.
P Wilson struck out looking, R Church stole second.
B Wilkerson struck out swinging.
B Schneider struck out swinging.

Another runner makes it as far as second base and how does Clemens respond? He blows down Wilkerson (hey, he swung at all three strikes this time) and Brian Schneider.

Washington - Bottom of 5th:

C Guzman struck out swinging.
R Drese fouled out to shortstop.
J Carroll walked.
J Vidro lined out to right.

Not sure how Clemens could walk Jamey Carroll on five pitches in that situation (nobody on and two outs). Carroll has no power whatsoever. As my high school baseball coach, John Herbold, would yell, "Throw it down the middle and see how far he can hit it." Oh well, I guess Roger's human after all.

Washington - Bottom of 6th:

J Guillen doubled to deep left.
R Church hit by pitch.
P Wilson struck out swinging.
B Wilkerson flied out to left.
B Schneider flied out to left.

Clemens made a mistake to Guillen with no balls and two strikes. Clemens then hit Ryan Church on an 0-2 pitch. First and second, nobody out. Having thrown 94 pitches to this point, Roger realizes the sixth inning is going to be his last one way or the other. Herbold was also fond of saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner rises to the occasion and gets the fifth, sixth, and seventh hitters on eight pitches, leaving both runners stranded. The Astros score four more in the top of the seventh, giving Clemens an 8-0 cushion. Chad Qualls enters the game as the first of four relievers asked to get the final nine outs.

Houston adds four in the eighth and two more runs in the ninth to put up a 14-spot on the scoreboard, the team's highest output of the season. The Astros beat the Nationals, 14-1.

On a night when Jon Garland picked up his 15th win of the season, it is hard to believe that Clemens has only won eight games. How could that be? Well, the White Sox are averaging 6.24 runs per game for Garland (13th best in the majors), while the Astros are backing Clemens with just 3.53 runs per game (12th lowest in the majors). Chicago scored six or more runs in each of Garland's first half dozen starts. Houston didn't even score five runs in any game started by Clemens until his 12th. The Astros were shutout four times during this period and have been whitewashed a total of five times with Roger on the mound.

As well as Clemens has pitched this year, would you believe that his OPS allowed was even lower back in 1986 (the year of his first Cy Young Award)?

        AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
1986   .195   .252   .264   .515
2005   .197   .261   .269   .526

Although Clemens led the A.L. in ERA in 1986, his 2.48 mark was more than a full run higher than this year. The Rocket gave up more home runs 19 years ago (21 or 0.74 HR/9) vs. 2005 (5 or 0.33 HR/9), but the two slugging averages are almost identical so that's not it. No, the real difference between the two years is the fact that Clemens has only allowed one HR with a runner on base in 2005 (vs. eight in 1986) and has been lights out with runners in scoring position.

Clemens w/ RISP:

        AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
1986   .188   .238   .253   .491
2005   .108   .198   .151   .349

Clemens proved just how tough he has been with runners in scoring position vs. the Nats Friday night. Washington batters were 0-7 in such situations with a walk and a hit by pitch. He didn't allow any base runners to reach third. But pitching success is not about how many get to third. Instead, it's all about how many--or how few--get to home.

In the case of Roger Clemens vs. Major League Baseball, let the facts show that he has allowed only 25 runners to score all year long or about half as many as Garland in almost the identical number of innings. If you like Jon Garland, you loved Bob Welch in 1990. Me? I'll take my chances of winning with Roger Clemens, thank you.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]


Yes, but Jon Garland went to my high school, so I would back him for the Cy Young for entirely illogical reasons.

Nice article. I like the comparison to Guzman.

In the 1986 AL, the OPS was .737. The NL this year, so far, is .747. So adjusting for league average, his OPS allowed is just about the same.

In 1986 his AVG-OBP-SLG with RISP (according to Retrosheet) was

.188 .238 .253

Not a bad OPS with RISP, but alot higher than this year. That is probably why the ERAs are different.

You mentioned Gibson 1968. He also did well with RISP (see my comment on Bill Deane's article).

Well, the good news, Bob, is that Garland and Clemens both have a shot at winning the Cy Young Award this year, seeing that they play in different leagues.

The race for the Cy Young should be interesting. Based on how the writers have voted in the past, Garland stands a better chance of winning the award than Clemens. With Roy Halladay on the DL and Kenny Rogers about to serve a two or three week suspension, Garland's teammate Mark Buehrle is his only real competition at this point. If Mariano Rivera leads the league in saves and keeps his ERA at or near 1.00, then I guess he could have a shot at it, too.

Over in the N.L., Clemens is competing with Chris Carpenter, Roy Oswalt, Pedro Martinez, Dontrelle Willis, and John Smoltz, as well as Chad Cordero. Carpenter probably has the best combination of wins, winning percentage, and ERA that the voters like. However, Clemens has the name and his ERA is the most glaring stat of 'em all.

If the past is prologue, Roger will need to win at least 17 games this year to get the full attention of the voters. Maybe the writers will cut Clemens some slack if he maintains an ERA well below 2.00. We shall see.

Thanks, Cyril.

Clemens' situational pitching this year has been phenomenal and undoubtedly the key reason why his ERA is more than one-half of a run better than his previous best seasons (1.93 in 2000 and 2.05 in 1997); more than a full run below his Cy Young years in 1986, 1991, and 1998; one-and-a-half runs better than his CYA campaigns in 1987 and 2004; and a full two runs below 2001 when he won his sixth Cy Young.

i am a yankee fan, but i would hate to see roger go back to new york, because every pitcher that goes to new york is assured a 4.00+ era and several trips to the DL. He needs to stay where he is and just give his home town fans some time to enjoy his final years in style, even if his win total is not that great.

Good article, Rich. Funny you mention Garland, as I went to see win 15 at the Cell last night. I have been watching Garland mature for years, and while I've been on the skeptic side the whole season, I'm beginning to warm to Garland. He will never be a bona fide ace, IMO, but he's learning the value of throwing strikes.

Not until Manny Ramirez in the fourth inning -- who walked -- did Garland fall down 2-1 in the count. Furthermore, it only happened one other time during the game, to Trot Nixon (who singled) in the sixth. Garland's key was getting ahead of hitters, and putting the pressure on them.

One of his two earned runs came in the seventh, when Ozzie left him in too long, allowing Johnny Damon to hit a home run. Garland had escaped jams in both the fifth and sixth -- both of which brought the Cell to its feet (doesn't happen often) -- and was near the 100 count. With the score 7-1, it was time for Garland to get out, and the mop up crew to get in. Of the three relievers that followed Garland, I was surprised that only one (Bobby Jenks) was a back-end guy.

Jenks did come into the game for two batters, striking out them both. He was fantastic, setting hitters up with his 96-99 mph fastball, before putting them away with a very nice slider. For all those people that think Dustin Hermanson is the '05 Danny Kolb -- and I'm one of them -- you'll be relieved to know the Sox are already grooming their future closer.

hi rich!!!!

as an astros fan and blogger, i LUUUVVVV this great column. I keep running out of ways to talk about how great Roger is and trying not to sound like a total fangrrrrl.

so i have linked to your column in my blog - just to show everyone that someone else thinks roger is incredible, too, and that someone is NOT as Astros fan


Very insightful article.

For what it's worth, I happen to think that Clemens is the greatest pitcher of the WWII era (maybe ever) even if he is a bit of a village yokel and prima donna.

And the best thing of all is, unlike Barry or Sammy or Mark, what he's doing is REAL (e.g: he's only having wheaties for breakfast).

Great article Rich!

From the research I've done so far trying to find where Clemens' fits exactly all-time, I'm seeing that we might not have to say Best Post WWII pitcher much longer. He looks ready to overtake Walter Johnson if he could stick around for one more year maybe. Now that is an accomplishment.