Why Roger Clemens is going to pitch for the Astros

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I was totally not surprised when it was revealed yesterday that the Astros are going to scout Roger Clemens’ September 7 start for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Heck, I was not surprised when the September 7 date was announced itself, because that set things up for a normal four days rest allowing Clemens to pitch against the Cubs in that mid-September series. Which I identified as the best option a week ago.

But if it’s not a big surprise that Clemens is going to pitch for the Astros, let us take a minute to ask why he’s going to pitch.  In this, I think my opinion differs slightly from most people’s.

The most common answer I’ve heard for this is that pitching now sets his Hall of Fame waiting period back five more years, buying him time.  I agree that this is one consideration for Clemens, but I doubt it’s the main one. Mostly because I don’t think five years will make a big difference for him one way or the other. If he didn’t pitch and was eligible for the vote now, he’d still be eligible five years from now when, according to this theory, the sentiment towards PED users may change. If that sentiment hasn’t changed five years from now, I question if it ever will, rendering those five more years on the back end superfluous.

No, I think the real reason Clemens wants to pitch again is so that the final paragraph of his obituary — and the final image from any documentaries made of the man — ends with triumph as opposed to infamy.

Think about it: if Clemens were to die without having pitched again, the final chapter of his story will be ending the 2007 season injured, not coming back after being named in the Mitchell Report and then fighting prosecution — and winning an acquittal most people scoffed at anyway — for the last several years of his public life.  The last image in that SportsCentury bio or whatever would be him in a suit, with a bad haircut, walking down a Washington D.C. sidewalk with his sleazy lawyer.

But even if he pitches one inning against the Cubs, and even if he doesn’t do terribly well, the last image will be of him walking off the mound in a major league uniform, tipping his cap to adoring fans in his hometown. If he strikes out some September callup all the better.  The image will be one of redemption, even if there is nothing especially redeeming about his story.  The implication will be that, questions about him aside, he was able to compete in the majors at age 50, so how dare anyone question what he was able to do when he was 37.

Images matter. Final chapters matter. By pitching in the majors one more time, even if it’s just to one or two batters, Clemens — and posterity — will get to see him closing out his public life on his terms, not someone else’s. And I can’t help but think that’s incredibly important to a guy who spent so much time in the spotlight.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.