Monday, December 16, 2013

The Keltner List: Roger Clemens 1984-1997

Just as with Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens is one of the poster children for the steroid era that appear on the ballot for the Hall of Fame this year. For Bonds, I dropped every season from his career after he was suspected of being on the juice and sent him through the list developed by Bill James.

I will now do this for Clemens, going on the assumption that Brian McNamee's statements are correct. Regardless of Clemens being found not guilty of obstruction of justice in 2012, the assumption of steroid use clouds Clemens after 1998. The big issue for many people is that these players cheated to enhance their already gaudy numbers and a good number of baseball records were broken because of it; because of this, they are not hall of famers and should not be elected. This is misguided. In the absence of any solid statistical formula to determine to what effect the PEDs enhanced performance one cannot throw out the whole career of the player in question. We as a community know something happened, but what effect that had on the raw statistical measurements of the players in question leaves us to measure a player's candidacy based on those seasons wherein people can reasonably assume he was clean. Following McNamee's turgid testimony, I will consider Clemens candidacy using the seasons before 1998. 

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?

It can be argued that Clemens was considered one of, if not the, top pitchers in baseball.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

In the late 1980s, it was either he or Wade Boggs. If you picked a player to build a team around from those two, it would have been Clemens without doubt. From 1986-1990, Clemens looked like the second coming of Nolan Ryan, but with more wins.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Between 1986 and 1992, Clemens was the best pitcher in the American League year in and year out. He led the league in wins twice, ERA four times, strikeouts twice and SO/BB ratio four times. Clemens posted an ERA over the league average in 1984, and then never did so again. I would go as far as to say that Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball during that period. Orel Hershiser may have been better in 1988, and Eckersley got a lot of attention, but Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball before Greg Maddux took the mantle. 

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

The Red Sox made the playoffs in 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1995. For lesser pitchers, Clemens performance in 9 post season games (1-2, 3.88 ERA, 1.221 WHIP) was average to above average. In 1988, Clemens pitched six solid innings against the A's, then gave up a 3 run homer in the 7th for a no-decision.
In 1986, Clemens went 4-0 in September and October. In 1988, Clemens was 15-5 at the end of July. He then lost five straight decisions (with an ERA of 7.33) but came back to pitch pretty well in September as the Sox held on. In 1990, the Sox finished 2 games ahead of the Blue Jays, and Clemens won all six starts he made in August, including a 1-0 shutout of the Jays on August 25th. Going into a three games series beginning September 28th, the Sox won two of three against the Jays with Clemens winning his first start in three weeks.....the real reason was Tom Brunansky's four HR in two games, including a game winner in the 12th inning on the 28th. 

5. Was he good enough to contribute past his prime?

Clemens won his 4th Cy Young Award at age 34 in his first year with the Blue Jays. I would answer yes to this question.

6. Is he the best player in history not in the hall of fame?

No, but he and Maddux are the best pitchers not in the hall of fame. 

7. Are most players with similar statistics in the Hall of Fame?

After his age 34 season in 1997, Clemens had 10 pitchers with a similarity score over 870. Five are in the Hall, 3 (Pedro Martinez, Maddux, Tom Glavine) will be, one was a good professional pitcher (Bob Welch) and the last had his career destroyed by drugs (Dwight Gooden). That is damn good company for any pitcher. Clemens' closest comps, all with a score over 900 are Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Gooden.

8. Do the players number meet hall of fame standards? 

Here are Clemens' stats from 1984-1997:

For BBRef's hall of fame standards, Clemens scores 56.85, rounded up to 57. This places him even with Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal and ahead of pitchers such as Jim Palmer, Whitey Ford and Fergie Jenkins. The only pitchers in history over that 57 mark that are not in the Hall of Fame are Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, but nether of them are yet eligible for election.

On the hall of fame monitor he scores a 162, with 100 being an average hall of famer and over 130 being a likely hall of famer.

9. Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?

The one thing I would point out about Clemens is his walk rates. For someone who piled up K's, Clemens had excellent SO/BB rates. In 1988, Clemens struck out 291 hitters but walked only 62. This allowed the younger Clemens to go very deep in games quite often, leading the league in shutouts five times between 1984 and 1997 and complete games three times. Clemens did not give up a lot of hits and you could not wait for him to get wild; he just wouldn't. 

Along those lines, it is interesting that Clemens' rate of BB/9 was substantially higher after 1996:

Pre 1996: 750 BB in 2533+ IP =2.66 BB
Post 1996: 830 BB in 2383+ IP = 3.13 BB

What this means, I do not know. 

10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted

I would still pick Bonds here, and I would also pick Maddux over the 1984-97 Clemens.

11. How many Cy Young type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an Cy Young Award? If not, how often did he come close?

Clemens won CYAs in 1986,1987, 1991 and 1997. He was second to Bob Welch's fluke 27 wins in 1990 but was a demonstrably better pitcher and should have won the award. Clemens finished third in the vote in 1992 as Eckersley saved 51 games. Eck, Clemens and Mike Mussina would have been excellent choices that year. In other words, if Welch doesn't have a career year for a very good team in 1990, Clemens wins four CYA in six years. That is Maddux and Koufax territory. 

Clemens was the AL MVP in 1986 and finished in the top 10 in the voting three times. 

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

Clemens made six all star appearances between 1984 and 1997 and started the 1986 game. He did not make the team in 1987 but won the CYA. He was 12-3 after the all star break. He was the MVP of the 1986 ASG.

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could his team win the pennant?

If he is the ace of the staff and the best player on the team, I should think so. 

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Clemens struck out 20 hitters in a game twice and remains the only pitcher to accomplish this feat. In 1986, he won his first 14 decisions and no one has done that since. 

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

On Oct 10, 1990 Clemens was ejected from game four of the ALCS after walking Willie Randolph in the second inning. On the mound, Clemens was always feisty and exhibited poor judgment at times, even before the Piazza incidents. His off field problems are not limited to suspected PED use, as there is evidence of quite a few extra-marital affairs, including a sleazy attachment of some sort to an underage country singer.

I would be hard pressed to not vote for Clemens for the Hall of Fame, based on his performance pre-1998. Post 1998, I would be hesitant to vote for him not because of the suspected PEDs but for the constant bending over by the Astros and Yankees to appease Clemens' ego and his off the field activities with multiple women. I'm prudish like that; Clemens just oozes sleaze. In any case, discount post-1998 stuff and he is still a hall of famer. Doesn't mean you have to like the guy. Bonds and Clemens are quite instructive in what makes the great players great. They have ability, vast ego and a lot of drive. This makes them successful, disliked and willing to push themselves through whatever means available. Again, unless there is some statistical analysis that quantifies the effects of PEDs on baseball coupled with a concrete list of those who used the stuff, baseball is in a black hole of craziness of its own making.

To me, what separates Clemens and Bonds as hall of fame players is dominance. Did their egos or whatever or just crummy decision making drive them to do PEDs? Did the idea of having a lot of fringe players hit home runs piss them off? Who knows? They were dominant players before the PED use (if there was, in the case of Clemens); judge them on that. Was Sammy Sosa in 1992 or 1994 one tenth the player that Bonds was? Absolutely not. Was Clemens the best pitcher in baseball for a period of almost six years? Absolutely. Vote for them based on what was clean, or develop some way to normalize the numbers.


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