Monday, June 13, 2005

 

June 13th, 2003

Roger Clemens Wins 300th Game


Here's something many of you will disagree with but which I will argue until I am blue in the face: if you were born in 1967 or later, Roger Clemens in the greatest pitcher you've ever seen. Now, I know there are plenty of candidates to shout up instead of Roger, obvious but poor ones like Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson (both of whom walked too many for too long), close but no cigar choices like Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver, and even let's-not-be-too-hasty ones like Pedro Martinez who may yet prove himself. But for now, Roger Clemens.

Now, I'll admit I fudged the date a little bit there, I had originally intended for it to be 1966 or later, which would have excluded Warren Spahn, but by moving it forward to 1967, I also get rid of Sandy Koufax. I really don't know how to compare Koufax and Clemens. Career wise, you'd obviously take Clemens in a heartbeat; Koufax was only an effective pitcher for six seasons. But Koufax's six seasons are amazing, especially the last four: ERAs sixty percent lower than league average (even factoring in Dodger Stadium) while averaging nearly three hundred innings each year. That might be the best four year stretch in pitching history, so how you compare it with Clemens' extended excellence I have no idea.

That being said, Clemens has simply been masterful and has been doing it forever. Leaving aside this year, although its worth noting that he isn't exactly embarrassing himself, Clemens is the active leader in wins, shutouts, complete games, and of course, strikeouts. Just speaking of pitchers from 1967 or better, Clemens is also second in wins (he's actually first, having passed Steve Carlton this year) and second in Ks, behind Ryan, obviously. Clemens' real accomplishment is in his ERA. While his career ERA seems nothing amazing, 3.15 to this date, in the context of his era, it is outstanding. ERA+, the measure of a pitcher's ERA relatively to his league and home ballpark puts Clemens twelfth on the all-time list. Even that is deceptive however; if you leave off 19th century ballplayers and relievers Clemens jumps to seventh. If we take the list down to my earlier statement, those pitchers active only in the year of Sgt. Pepper or later, he's behind only Randy Johnson (who may yet get passed if he keeps pitching the way he has so far in 2005) and Pedro Martinez.

Martinez is an interesting case. His ERA+ prior to 2005 is 167, an amazing number that is nearly twenty percent ahead of the next list. I rank him behind Clemens for two reasons, however. The first is his age. Martinez is just thirty-two, meaning he has however much of his decline phase he chooses to pitch ahead of him. The second is the matter of innings. Clemens' ERA+ may be twenty six percent worse than Pedro's, but he has thrown fifty percent more innings. This isn't an illusion of age either, through his age thirty-two season; Clemens had thrown two hundred thirty three more innings than Pedro, basically a season's worth. And let's face it, as great as Pedro is, he's unlikely to pitch the more than the two thousand innings Clemens has pitched since he was thirty two.

Frankly, if you thought Tom Seaver or Pedro Martinez or even Nolan Ryan was the greatest pitcher since The Graduate, I've probably not convinced you and if you thought Roger was it, I've just been preaching to the choir. But even if you don't think he's the best, he's one of them. One never knows when Roger's last year will really be--the way he's pitching he might pitch past the Jesse Orosco age in which case he’d probably go down as the greatest pitcher of all-time--so if you have a chance to go see him pitch, do it. Especially if you're thirty-eight or younger, because you've never seen a better one.




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