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8/03/2007 08:21:00 AM

Wild Card: Low on Rocket Fuel?

Roger Clemens
The Yankees are winning again, but Roger Clemens hasn't been much help.
By Cliff Corcoran

On May 6, when Roger Clemens announced to a sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd that he had just signed a deal to return to the Yankees, the team was 13-15 (.464), five-and-a-half games behind the Red Sox in the American League East and in eighth place in the Wild Card race. By the time Clemens took the mound for his first start of the season, a win at home against the Pirates on June 9, the Yankees were 28-31 (.475), 10.5 games behind the Red Sox in the East and in sixth place in the Wild Card race, 5.5 games behind the Tigers.

This morning, after a 13-9 loss to the White Sox on Thursday, the Yankees are 58-50 (.537), eight games behind the Sox in the AL East, but just three games behind the Indians in third place in the Wild Card race. The Yankees have very nearly salvaged their season, going 30-19 (.612) since Clemens joined the team, but how much has Clemens himself actually had to do with that?

Clemens has made 11 starts for the Yankees this season, six of which have been quality starts. The Yankees have won four of those games. The Yankees lost his second start of the season 2-0 to Oliver Perez and the Mets and, on July 7, they lost a game in which Clemens held the Angels to one run over eight innings. Still, five “non-quality” starts in 11 tries is an awfully low ratio for a guy who is being paid a savior’s ransom. Could it be that the Rocket is finally out of fuel?

Actually, yes. After striking out 22 men in his first 17 2/3 innings, Clemens has had a rather alarming power outage, striking out 21 in his past 48 1/3 innings pitched. For some context, outside of his second season, in 1985, which ended early due to a rotator cuff injury, Clemens has never struck out fewer than 7.51 men per nine innings over a full season and his career average is 8.56 K/9. Thus far this year, his mark is 5.86 K/9 and his rate over those last eight starts has been a Chien-Ming Wang-like 3.91 K/9.0 IP

That difference reflects the fact that Clemens has lost a good 5 mph off his fastball since his first stint as a Yankee. In fact, Clemens has a lost a good 5 mph off all of his pitches. When Clemens was a young stud with the Red Sox, he earned his nickname by blowing away hitters with a rising four-seam fastball that would often burst into the upper 90s. For example, in his 20-strikeout game in 1986, Clemens, according to his autobiography published the following year, “basically threw cross-seamers [rising four-seam fastballs] and with-seamers [tailing two-seam fastballs] all night. I think I threw 20 breaking balls all night, and got 14 of the strikeouts on the two fastballs.” The breaking balls he refers to likely included his since-abandoned curveball and the slider that is now his third-best pitch. By the time Clemens joined the dynastic Yankees around the turn of the millennium, his fastball had settled in around 95-96 and he would just as frequently get swinging third strikes with his 91 mph split-finger fastball as with his high heat. Take for example his one-hit shutout of the Mariners in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS. In that game, Clemens struck out 15 Mariners, seven on fastballs, six on splitters, and two on sliders. All six of the splitter strikeouts (which included two of current teammate Alex Rodriguez) were swinging.

Fast forward to the Roger Clemens who was bounced in the second inning yesterday after allowing eight runs on nine hits (the latter a career high for a single inning) to the scuffling White Sox. It’s an unfair comparison to be sure, comparing two of the best games of one of the best pitchers who ever lived to one of his worst outings, but his repertoire in yesterday’s game was not unlike that which he had shown in his other starts for the Yankees this year. He still throws the fastball, splitter, and slider in that order, but the fastball is now down to 90-91 mph (he did hit 92 three times on the YES Network’s gun yesterday, but the game announcers confirmed my impression that he had not done so very often this year), while his splitter is down in the 86-87 mph. Clemens can no longer blow opposing hitters away; instead he must rely on the still-impressive break on his splitter (which he calls Mr. Splittee), the deception of his slider, and his still-excellent control of his fastball (career walk rate: 2.89 BB/9; 2007 walk rate: 2.45 BB/9). Yesterday he had neither his usual control (his fastball was floating up in the zone), nor much bite on his splitter (only twice in 39 pitches did a batter swing and miss). Lacking those two things, he was unable to get the White Sox out (though a botched double play ball by Robinson Cano with two on and one out in the second didn’t help).

Clemens' struggles are typical of aging pitchers, though they also highlight the reason why, knuckleballers aside, the pitchers with the most longevity tend to be power pitchers. Losing 5 mph off a fastball that topped out in the high 80s or even at 90-91 results in a batting practice fastball. Clemens, however, has lost those 5 mph and still has a low-90s heater while throwing his off-speed pitches in the mid-80s. Mix in an out-pitch breaking ball (his splitter), and you still have an effective major-league pitcher. The same can be said of Curt Schilling and his splitter, Nolan Ryan or Bert Blyleven and their curveballs, or former Yankee Randy Johnson and his slider. The problem Johnson had in New York was that he’d lost the tilt on his slider and the pitch was flattening out in the zone and getting hit (a problem that likely stemmed from the back problems that may have just ended his career). With Clemens, the Yankees are walking a similarly fine line between having a legitimate ace (Clemens with break and location) and a former great who’s past his expiration date.


posted by SI.com | View comments |  


Posted: August 3, 2007 11:37 AM   by Anonymous
I remember very clearly a game in the 80's where the Yankees, down 9-0 early on in the game, came back to tie the score against the Red Sox, and against Roger Clemens.

Lousy game yesterday for Clemens, but we all have them. The guy pitching against him is around 30, an ace himself, and had just as bad a game. The Rocket has provided stability and a chance to win in the Yankee rotation every time he pitches. Yes, it's at a gazillion dollars pro-rated per start, but the performance should speak for itself.
Posted: August 3, 2007 11:47 AM   by Anonymous
Well that's what the Yankees get for being the Yankees, a 20 million dollar bust.
I think sports writers and the people that pay their wages should have to pay the Yankees a luxury tax! Precisely, this is just another example of how a sports writer invents controversy. (and the reason that Jeter was noted voted MVP last year). Most sports writers go about bashing the Yanks consistently, but they know all so well that that "milk that Yankee teat" for all it's worth. They would be lost without them. So while Steinbrenner is paying a luxury tax to several small-market teams that are pocketing the cash, I think it's only fair that every sports writer, since they make so much money on articles about the Yankees, and since most of them are "juvenile jounalism" at best, they should pay a 20% commision to the : New York Yankees.
I think it was Bobby Knight who said that most people learn to read and write by the time they are 5 years old, but then again, there's sports writers.
In a nutshell, this one concludes that Clemens is washed up. Perhaps, but but one horrible outing does not make that an indisputable fact. I guess this writer just had to get the story out first. This article, is at best, an overreaction. At worst, it is what the majority of sports witers do best - embellish an overreaction on a daily basis.

Mark Eversole
Grants, NM
Posted: August 3, 2007 12:10 PM   by Anonymous
you write that whole rant after clemens only bad start, you are an idiot
Posted: August 3, 2007 12:11 PM   by Anonymous
Helloooo... Wang is the Ace
of the staff.
Posted: August 3, 2007 12:19 PM   by Anonymous
Clemens is just horendous. Im so glad the Red Sox did not get him because their is not one pitcher on the yankees staff i would want over anyone in the red sox pitching staff. yanks are done anyway so too bad yanks fans, go to sleep because the yanks do not matter anymore.
Posted: August 3, 2007 12:28 PM   by Anonymous
Stop it with this "quality start" nonsense. Are we going to start using that as a HOF measuring stick, eventually? Wins/losses/strikeouts/ERA/playoffs wins/losses. And championships if they've been fortunate enough to win any.
Posted: August 3, 2007 12:43 PM   by Orrman
Clemens has never "led" a team to a World Series ring and will not do so this year either (if the Yankees win it all, he will not be the main reason/MVP). The fact that he has lost some speed on his pitches is not the real issue. The real issue is that with or without this speed, he has not consistently performed in the playoffs (upon demand). During the course of a long regular season, his talents have provided him great success, but he cannot dominate on demand anymore...and maybe he never really could based on his post-season record (wins and losses).
Posted: August 3, 2007 12:51 PM   by Anonymous
Roger is all washed up. He is average on his best day. The guy is just too old. He was great in his hayday, but that's in the past. Eventually everyone loses their stuff. He is smart though in that he fooled the Yankees into giving a ridiculously exhorbitant salary. Hopefully I'll hit the Lotto one day. We should all be that lucky.
Posted: August 3, 2007 1:06 PM   by Anonymous
Cliff, can you get it through you pea-sized brain that the money Clemens got has LITTLE to do with expected performance? Just because he's getting paid the money, doesn't mean they expected him to be twice as good as Johan Santana. He got the money because the Yankees were desperate for starting pitching and blew THE MARKET (which was going to be 18-22 million prorated) out of the water to get Clemens to sign immediately. This seems like a column you wrote the day Clemens signed and you were waiting for just the right time to dust it off. Congrats... you got a 8 run second inning yesterday.
Posted: August 3, 2007 1:34 PM   by Anonymous
Clemens salary and all of the salaries for professional athletes are out of control. You (fans) continue to pay to see them play...not me.

Its all a "get rich game" within a game.
Posted: August 3, 2007 2:02 PM   by Anonymous
You don't pay a guy a million dollars a start to be a "serviceable" third starter...unless you're the NY Yankees. What a joke...
Posted: August 3, 2007 2:34 PM   by Robb
I can't believe I'm stooping to bloging with the people that have left these horrible comments. Anyway, Mark Eversole doesn't know what he's talking about -- put him in the same category as the Anonymous who said "after one bad start." Whatever. He's not had one good start - servicable, but not good.

Also, the MoMo who said to stop the "quality start nonsense" must be about ninety years old. Let it go, old timer, along with your wins/loses.

Clemens sucks these days. He was fine for half a season in the NL Central, but he's got no business in the AL East - probably in the whole AL for that matter.
Posted: August 3, 2007 2:43 PM   by Anonymous
Something to consider is the influence that Clemens will have on the young pitchers the Yankees are developing. When he was in Tampa getting ready to join the team, he brought all of the young pitchers together to speak to them about the proper way to use your legs to drive through the pitch. When he had trouble explaining some of the nuisances, he got Nolan Ryan on speakerphone to finish the lesson. That type of influence will only bode well for the young pitchers the Yankees are developing.
Posted: August 3, 2007 2:43 PM   by Michael
an anonymous poster wrote: "you write that whole rant after clemens only bad start, you are an idiot"

Excuse me? "Only" bad start? How many wins does Clemens have in his 11 starts? He has been ordinary, occasionally very good but more often not so good. If I were paying him what works out to $1 million a start, I'd expect more than that. Even Kason Gabbard was better for the Red Sox before they traded him, and one heck of a lot cheaper. Face it: the Rocket is not what he once was, and if the Yankees rally to make the postseason it will be in spite of him, not because of him.
To "anonymous" above - the money Clemens is being paid has EVERY BIT to do with expected performance, at least according to the Yankees and their fans - and this article hits it right on every point. A "savior's salary" is exactly what it is - they're paying him to come in and save their season. To intimidate. To inspire his teammates. To be the Roger Clemens he was.


It's part of the Curse of the Giambino. The 21st Century Yankees buy a player past his prime, pay him money commensurate to past performance, and then watch him stink up the joint. And yet their fans continue to be shocked - SHOCKED - when it happens. The Yanks continue to make bad bets on aging players past their prime (hello, Johnny Damon), and therefore will go nowhere.

Heed my words - The Curse of the Giambino is very, very real.
Posted: August 3, 2007 3:53 PM   by Anonymous
so this is how you earn your pay, by writing how a 45 year old pitcher struggled against a potentially good team. yes, he is over paid, yes, he is not the same pitcher. we all know that. try and write something we don't know
Posted: August 3, 2007 4:00 PM   by Anonymous
This guy was good in his times. To me he's a over paid player who should have never gotten the contract he got. Yankees are not going anywhere. What made them think that by bringing Clemens things were going to change, Give me a brake. I love New York too, it's the Yankees that I hate. Go Bosox!!!
Posted: August 3, 2007 4:06 PM   by Anonymous
The Yankess signing Clemens was a act of desperation. A hope that he could still, at his age, bring something, anything to the table. They weren't getting it from any of their other pitchers.

The Yankees got what they paid for...an aging, over the hill pitcher who's best years and games are behind him.
Posted: August 3, 2007 4:09 PM   by Anonymous
The "Yanks don't matter anymore". Well, time will tell. We'll probably still beat out Boston. If we get to within 5 games, the Red Sox will start to panic. If not we'll win the wild card and beat them anyway.

This Red Sox Nation stuff is a collosal joke. To jump on the band-wagon behind an entirely inept organization that has won 1 WS in what?... almost 100 years. What a bunch of weenies!
Posted: August 3, 2007 4:17 PM   by Mark Eversole
Hey Robb, pay attention! I said it was a "horrible outing" not as you misquoted me - "a bad start". Next time try READING.
Posted: August 3, 2007 4:47 PM   by Anonymous
roger forgot his walker in the club house so he was tired by the time he got to the mound
Posted: August 3, 2007 5:20 PM   by Anonymous
Clemens is 44 years old, but if he can go out and give up 2 or 3 runs every 6 IP, I think that is gppd enough to win. In Clemens 4 losses, the Yankees have not hit for him. Clemens is there for the playoffs when the Yankees get there. The real concern of the Yankees is the bullpen and getting to Mariano.
Posted: August 3, 2007 5:27 PM   by Pat
I see that people are calling it a lousy start for Clemens but please remember that he only gave up 3 ER. If it was not for the Cano error the Yankees would have been up 8-3 and would have probaly went on to win that game. The other issue is Kyle Farnsworth. I can not believe that he is still a Yankee after the trade deadline. I was so upset to see Farnsworth go instead of Scot Proctor being traded away for a back-up infielder.
Posted: August 3, 2007 5:59 PM   by Anonymous
The curse of the Giambino is interesting , but actually its "The batboy curse". Recall the fact that the last time the yanks won the series was 2000 which saw Clemens come completly unglued when he fielded Piazza's bathead and threw it at him out of a full windup. After the game Torre backed up Clemens assertion that he was simply handing the shard to the batboy. This is the legacy of Roger Clemens
Posted: August 3, 2007 6:26 PM   by BMcNeil
This is a fair analysis, it sticks to the facts, which are that Clemens can't throw as hard anymore and has really been losing the ability to strike people out.

I'm one of the people who enjoys seeing Clemens fail. A lot of it is his greed. Curt Schilling asked for an extension from Boston at a comparatively reasonable $13 million. Clemens is about the same pitcher as Schilling right now but he somehow managed to extort an outrageous $ 28 million pro-rated from the Yankees. That is pure greed and ego, the kind that makes people love seeing you fall on your face.
Posted: August 3, 2007 7:05 PM   by Anonymous
For all the woes the Astros have this season at least we don't have to suffer thru Roger Clemens overpriced salary as well. He's more like a wet firework than a rocket. The Yankees can have him and Andy Pettite with pleasure.
Posted: August 3, 2007 7:08 PM   by Anonymous
Yankees paid too much for him including his perks. Yet again, I don't blame him and agent for the money asked and the Yankees gave in. We'll see if he makes a big difference down the playoff run. One thing for sure, he should RETIRE after this season (i'm tired of all the media reporting during midseason which team he will sign with).
Clemens played the yankees.Good on him.
Posted: August 3, 2007 10:07 PM   by Tristan Quigley
"I think sports writers and the people that pay their wages should have to pay the Yankees a luxury tax! Precisely, this is just another example of how a sports writer invents controversy. (and the reason that Jeter was noted voted MVP last year)."
That's ridiculous. Jeter didn't win it because he didn't deserve it. The only reason that idiot was even mentioned was because of a certain SI writer's article written around mid-season. I also believe Jeter has the sportswriters to thank for forever tarnishing the AL SS Gold Glove. Those last two GGs were the equivalent of awarding Kyle Farnsworth with a Cy Young.
Posted: August 3, 2007 10:26 PM   by Phil Haines, De Pere, WI
Oh my word, Mr. Eversole. The Yankees have had more MVPs and Gold Glove winners who didn't deserve it (because of favorable press) than any team in the majors. The press caters to the Yankees in shameless fashion as it is. Clemens has had a stellar career, but he's not the pitcher he used to be. And no shame in that at his age. If he played for any other team you wouldn't be complaining about this assessment of him. This is what makes Yankee fans so intolerable. Nearly 30 championships and all you can do is snivel through the down times. Give us a break.
Clemens failing to live up to expectations? Hell, the Yankee-Hating press predicted Clemes would bomb!- including this hack - so Clemens 'met' expectations....get it right for once chump!
Posted: August 4, 2007 1:35 AM   by Anonymous
i agree with anonimous: red socks nation is a joke and not even a good one. yes, teh rocket is out of fuel, but the season is not over and in the postseason the yankees will crush the socks. no question about it.
and wang is a very good pitcher, those of you who haven't noticed, probably live in a different planet
Posted: August 6, 2007 11:02 AM   by Anonymous
This is a typical spur of the moment reactionary blog.

1. The Yankees didn't bring Clemens to be the ace of the staff. They already have an ace in Wang. They didn;t even bring him in to be the #2
starter. They brought him in to be the 4th starter. And for my money as a fourth starter he is better than 3 quarters of the 4th starters in the league.

2. The Yankees gave up no prospects to get him. They did not have to do any costly trades like the Red Sox did to obtain the highly overrated and Gagne.

3. Clemens is not blocking anyone from starting. Phil Hughes is starting at #5.

4. The Yankees are only paying him for this year. Not next year or the year before that. They are using money that would only have gone to sign him this year. The yankees are not being prohibited from signing anybody.

5. The Yankees need him! Who else was going to start. Clippard? DeSalvo, Igawa? Chase Wright.

If people are going to be pro-Red Sox and biased in their blogs they should just go ahead and say it rather than disguising propagandist material as intelligent baseball discourse.
Posted: August 6, 2007 11:13 AM   by Anonymous
Sick and tired of all the Yankee bashing
Roger Clemens 2007
11 starts
6 games he allowed 3 or fewer runs
2 games he allowed 4 runs
With all the runs the Yankees score his record should be much better
Posted: August 6, 2007 4:34 PM   by Anonymous
Hey Phil Haines, it's obvious you've got on sone rose-colored glasses. You're an idiot.
Posted: August 6, 2007 4:42 PM   by Anonymous
Oh Philly Boy Haines, Who said it was the "bad times" for the Yanks? I didn't. You did. You are hopelessly delusional. Apparently you don't watch Sports Center. When the Blosox beat the yanks it's the big story, baby. When the Yanks beat the Blosox, it's maybe the 5th or 6th story. You're such a whiner that you can't even see what's going on.
Posted: August 6, 2007 4:56 PM   by Anonymous
Your'e out of your mind, Tristan Quigley. Jeter an idiot? Why is Jeter an idiot? I could see Pedroia, or Lugo. You're an idiot!
Jeter just wins and you're sooo jealous becaus he has 4 World Championship rings. Get it right next time, weenie!
Dear Red Sox Nation, You are now nearing a new stage in your season. Soon you be feeling feel that familiar uncontrollable urge to 'lash out', insult, and spew curse words at the Yankees and their fans in an effort to ease your growing frustration and desperation.

That's the stage before you hit bottom and completely surrender. Meaning your season is over. But that hasn't happened yet.

You must now avert the 'extreme anger' stage, which may be coupled with the 'hopeless self-pitying' stage and resign yourselves to finishing behind those damn Yankees again. We are approaching a point that you really wouldn't want your team in the playoffs anyway, just to see them swept in the first round (as in 2005). Wasn't 2006 actually better for you after the 5 game Yankee 'butt-whooping' sweep of your team - when they experienced a slow but humane death? Then, you were able latch onto a new team by September! You rooted for the Tigers and it made you feel better.

Well, it's almost time to become Tigers, Indians, Angels, or Mariners fans again! That should take your minds off the Red Sox' continuing miserable choking collapse, just like last year! And you can hope for the minor relief you'll get if the Yankees lose to one of those teams. Easy, right?....Of course, you've been through this routine so many times, it's in your DNA by now.

So, take it easy. Stay away from bridges and high rooftops. Don't drink to excess and maybe even pull out that 2004 DVD and watch it all over again. Best wishes and good health to Red Sox Nation. You have our sincerest sympathies......from the Yankee family.
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