Saturday, August 21, 2010

Was Dan Duquette Right?

Roger Clemens is back in the news. Federal indictments and the threat of jail time seem to do that. Clemens has been charged with one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of false statements to Congress, and two counts of perjury. There are six counts in all and each count is a felony, which is punishable by five years each for a grand total of up to 30 years in prison. Clemens and his trusty attorney, Rusty Hardin, have their work cut out for them. The question I keep having is: "Where did Roger Clemens go wrong?" Was he always a steroid user? Was his 1984 Rookie of the Year and 1986 Cy Young and MVP Awards tainted as much as his Cy Youngs he won in Toronto (1997-98), the Bronx (2001), and Houston (2004)? His major league total of 354 wins cannot be ignored, nor can his total of more than 4,600 strikeouts. Like Barry Bonds, his career records demand that you talk about him.

Did Clemens go wrong after he left the Red Sox? Boston General Manager Dan Duquette made his infamous quote that Clemens was in the "twilight of his career" when the Sox could not re-sign Clemens. It has been 14 years since the quote and does not look nearly as bad as it was portrayed by the media to be. What's more, Duquette may have been exactly right. 

Clemens's next contract ended up paying Clemens $52.15 million over six years for a per-season average of $8.69 million. Up to Duquette's comment, Clemens had been averaging about $5 million a season over the last few seasons with the Red Sox. One thing is for sure, Duquette only needed to look at the back of Clemens's baseball card to surmise he may have been washed up. Would you offer Clemens 60% more money for the next five years if his last four seasons looked like this?

Down the stretch in his final season in Boston, he tied his own Major League record by striking out 20 Tigers in one game. He led the league in strikeouts in 1996 and strike-shortened 1994 season was solid. But, his 1993 season (4.46 ERA) and his 1995 season (1.436 WHIP) were awful by his standards. Clemens blew up at the Duquette's accusation and looked like it was the main motivating factor to pressing on to his next stop. Toronto, in the same division as Boston, was a perfect place for Clemens to plot his revenge. After two Cy Young seasons in Toronto, he was traded to the Yankees, where he pitched for another five seasons. It was seven seasons of revenge for Clemens within the division against the Red Sox and their fans, who turned against him. Was his career renaissance based on adrenaline and revenge or was it based on something more?

In his 13 seasons with the Red Sox, Clemens had five "great" seasons and three more "good" seasons. Was Clemens a Hall of Famer? At the time, no. He was 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA. Not bad, and his 2,590 strikeouts would garner some votes. At the age of 33, he would have pitched a few more seasons and may have had a slight uptick before the inevitable pre-Steroid Era mid-30s age-induced decline. I am sure you can determine the average decline for a major leaguer and even though Clemens was above-average, how many more wins would he have? 40? 50? Clemens would have stuck around on the ballot for several years, but he would not have made the Hall of Fame.

After Boston, Clemens pitched 11 more seasons following his 33rd birthday. His career numbers with Boston and after Boston show some similarities. The hits he allowed per nine innings stayed about the same, as he allowed 7.6 hits per nine innings in his Boston years and 7.7 hits per nine after he left. His strikeouts per nine went up from 8.4 in Boston to 8.8 in his post-Boston career. Considering the explosion of offensive numbers in the Steroid Era, the fact that Clemens's ERA only went up by 0.15 earned runs per nine innings is suspicious.

All Duquette was saying was Clemens was entering the type of decline that was common for players his age to encounter during the life of that next contract. Adrenaline and revenge are a potent mix, but steroids and HGH have a little more staying power.


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