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Roger Clemens Place in History Part One

By reader request, today's article will focus on Roger Clemens.

Clemens in my mind has entered the discussion for the greatest pitcher of all-time. First I want to focus on his accomplishments the past two years after coming out of retirement; I will get to his place in history afterwards.

Clemens 2004
IP: 214.3
ERA: 2.98
DERA: 3.02
RA: 3.19
K: 218
BB. 79
WARP1: 8.2
VORP: 61.3

Not bad for a 41 year old eh? PECOTA doesn't know what to do with Clemens just like it doesn't know what to do with Bonds. There just are not enough comparable players in history at this age and performance level to make an accurate projection. Witness Clemens 2005 weighted mean projection:

IP: 191.3
ERA: 3.79
K: 174
BB: 63
VORP: 36.6
WARP: 5.9

Makes sense as a weighted mean projection, but look at his 90th percentile projection:

IP: 202.3
ERA: 3.31
K 189
BB: 65
VORP: 49.3
WARP: 7.3

Seems to slight Clemens just a tad, especially when you look at his 2005 numbers so far:

Clemens 2005 Houston
IP: 68.0
ERA: 1.19
DERA: 1.34
RA: 1.32
K: 69
BB: 19
K/9: 9.13
BB/9: 2.51
VORP: 32.8
WARP1: 3.8

Obviously the innings pitched are down since its the end of May, but the ERA is phenomenal (and accurate considering his Run Average and his DERA are very close to his actual ERA). His K rate is still more than 1 per inning pitched, and his walk rate is acceptable considering his H/9 is 5.4 and his HR/9 is 0.3. One thing that worries me slightly: His BABIP stands at .224, which is extremely low. His BABIP for the past few seasons:

  1. .224
  2. .283
  3. .296
  4. .322
It is improving year by year, although 2005 is a huge jump. My guess for the improvement going from New York to Houston has alot to do with the defensive differences between the teams.
  1. .6915 Defensive Efficiency
  2. .6871
  3. .6815
  4. .6895
Clemens appears to have the insignificant control over BABIP that Voros McCracken deemed some pitchers to have. Even this year the defense behind him is not anything amazing, so the .224 is either A) fluky or B) Partially Clemen's doing. He's been a great pitcher long enough that it makes me think he has some control over it. That is a discussion for another day though.

Similar Pitchers through Age 41

  1.  Tom Seaver (865) *
  2.  Steve Carlton (829) *
  3.  Warren Spahn (814) *
  4.  Don Sutton (804) *
  5.  Lefty Grove (789) *
  6.  Gaylord Perry (771) *
  7.  Eddie Plank (769) *
  8.  Bert Blyleven (767)
  9.  Early Wynn (745) *
  10. Tommy John (719)
The asterisk denotes Hall of Famer, and Blyleven should be in the Hall, so let's say on this list of 10, there are 9 members of Cooperstown. This list does not do Clemens justice in my mind though, but it is a starting point to see just where he is in history. The only pitcher I can even think of that pitched as long as Clemens is getting into and was as successful was Nolan Ryan. Ryan posted ERA's in the 3.00's and even one in the high 2.00's from age 40 until 45. In his age 46 season he finally had an ERA over 4.00 and called it quits. Of course, ERA is deceiving, because his ERA+ was never that impressive during that time span. For example, his 3.52 ERA from 1988 in his age 41 season had an ERA+ of 94 compared to the league average of 3.32, so he is out of the discussion in my mind. Let's take a look at the Age 41 leaders for ERA+, shall we?
  1. Cy Young        194  
  2. Hoyt Wilhelm    173  
  3. Ted Lyons       171  
  4. Eddie Plank     146  
  5. Roger Clemens   145  
  6. Warren Spahn    124  
  7. Connie Marrero  124  
  8. Pete Alexander  118  
  9. Rip Sewell      117  
  10. Curt Davis     116
The good news here is that Baseball-Reference does not have an Age 42 list, which makes me think (and I could be very wrong, if someone would be kind enough to say so with evidence I'd appreciate it) that there are not enough Age 42 seasons of ERA+ to bother making a chart yet. That would put Clemens in some pretty elite company. Here's the age 42 seasons for those same 10 pitchers:

Cy Young: 113 (-81)
Hoyt Wilhelm: 176 (+3)
Ted Lyons: 146 (-25) (Lyons was in his age 45 season the next year, not 42.)
Eddie Plank: Retired
Warren Spahn: 124 (0)
Connie Marrero: 129 (+5)
Pete Alexander: 120 (+2)
Rip Sewell: 108 (-9)
Curt Sewell: 25 (-91)

It is safe to say Clemens ERA is well below league average; for comparison's sake, Greg Maddux's 2.22 ERA in 1998 had an ERA+ of 191. Offense is down slightly from 1998, but Clemens ERA is also a full point lower at the moment.  Pedro Martinez's 1.74 ERA in 2000 gave him an ERA+ of 285, and his 2003 2.22 gave him a 211 ERA+, which may be closer ERA+ to what Clemens should achieve if he can keep it up. Clemens is most definitely going to come away with the top ERA+ for his age if he can keep this up.

Part 2 of this discussion, involving Clemens' all-time rank as a pitcher, will come tomorrow.