Thursday, June 01, 2006


Forgive the vague title, but that was the only way I could take all of the lunacy surrounding this Roger Clemens signing and put it into one word.

Let's put aside the fact that Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, or that he's nothing but a hired gun (and has been for a long time), or that he has retired and unretired more than Jordan and George Foreman combined. Instead, let's focus on the national sports media's reaction to Houston signing Clemens. There are articles ranging from shockingly derisive (Yahoo columnist Jeff Passan calling Clemens either a "liar" or "delusional") to snarky and dismissive (the normally solid Tom Verducci writing them off) and many of them seem to be focusing on one thing: Clemens said that this choice was all about winning, yet the Astros can't win.

So I ask again ... what?

For starters (pun totally intended), Houston won't be the same team going forward with Clemens that they were without him. Not only did he lead the majors in ERA last year, but his work ethic and leadership were invaluable for the other Houston pitchers. I fully expect Andy Pettitte to pitch better and for Brad Backe to come back from the DL stronger and for the bullpen to make tremendous strides. Bringing Clemens back is like adding a #1 starter and a pitching coach at the same time. I think he's good for an extra five wins just by being on the team, and another five or six by virtue of him pitching instead of somebody crappy. I know they are scuffling along right now, but those 10-12 wins are going to come in handy.

Not only that, but what sane person would count the Astros out with or without Clemens? Everyone is saying that he should have gone to Boston or New York or even Texas if he really wanted to win, and that the fact that he returned to Houston is proof that he only did it for family reasons. Now, I will be the first to admit that Boston and New York are good places to go if you want to win, but since when did Houston turn into a doormat? Isn't this the same team that played in the World Series last year?

But wait, they are only 27-27 right now and since Houston is always defined by what they do in April and May, the season is pretty much over. Wrong. Forgive the sarcastic tone, but isn't this the same team that came out of nowhere to make the playoffs in each of the past two seasons? In 2004 the Astros were dead in the water, sitting on a 52-52 record at the end of July. All they did was bring in manager Phil Garner and outfielder Carlos Beltran and tear off a 40-18 record down the stretch to finish with 92 wins, the wild card, and a trip to the NLCS.

In 2005, Houston - sans Beltran - struggled once again, going an abysmal 15-30 through the first two months of the season. A 29-13 run heading into the All-Star Break (leaving them 44-43 at that point) prompted me to write a column predicting that the "Never Say Die" Astros would go on to win the NL Wild Card again. And they did, again. They went 45-30 in the second half, which gave them an overall record of 74-43 after the terrible start. Oh, and did I mention that they parlayed that wild card spot into the first World Series appearance in franchise history?

Just for argument's sake, here are the Astros records in '04 and '05 at the 54 game mark:
2004: 29-25
2005: 20-34

That means that their record and winning percentage in the remaining 108 games looks like this:
2004: 63-45 (.583)
2005: 69-39 (.639)

For a reasonable idea of how the 'Stros might play their final 108 games this season, I decided to just take the average between 2004 and 2005, which gives us a winning percentage of .611. Playing at a .611 clip for the next 108 games would result in a record of 66-42 over that time. Add that to their current record and you get a 93-69 team.

And Roger Clemens is a "liar" because he wants to play for a winner? He's "delusional"? Just for the record, I should add that with Houston reasonably expecting to finish with a .574 winning percentage, they are looking pretty good. In fact, other than the division leaders, there isn't a single NL team currently playing at that clip. Who is going to beat out Houston for the Wild Card? Atlanta (currently at .528)? Cincinnati? One of the NL West imposters? Give me a break.

I'm not saying that Houston is automatically going to win the World Series with Roger Clemens. I do think he'll help them have a better chance, but that isn't what this is about. The point is that the Astros have come racing from the back of the pack in two consecutive seasons, yet a large contingent of "experts" are writing them off merely because they are 7 games behind the Cardinals. Does this make any sense at all?

If you ask me, Roger Clemens is 100% right when he says this decision was about winning. He knows the Rangers are unlikely to keep playing this well and that the Angels won't stay bad forever. He also knows that with so many solid teams tearing it up in the AL Central, there is a good chance that whoever loses the AL East race between the Sox and the Yanks is staying home this season. If he guesses wrong, no postseason. However, with the Astros, he can feel pretty confident they are going to win the Wild Card. Factoring in the quality of the teams that look to make up the field and the track record of the 'Stros, it was practically a no-brainer. Not only that, but the Astros are the only team in that group that isn't winning right now. If he joins the Rangers and they don't hang on to the AL West, how would that look? How about if he signed on with Boston or New York and the other team won the AL East? Not a real good situation for The Rocket. But in Houston, it is win-win. If the Astros pull off another comeback, this time it is Clemens that serves as the lightening rod (like Gardner/Beltran in '04 and the return of Berkman last year).

I don't like Clemens all that much, but when he says this decision was about winning, I believe him. Because he did the same math I did and he's not an idiot. Which is more than I can see for the guys writing some of these columns.


Josh Stump said...

The thing I don't get about the reaction to the Rocket's return is why are we on this guy for wanting to pitch on his own terms and be near his family? Since when did placing family over money (not really a big issue here) and even (gasp) winning, become a bad thing?

Roger can demand anything he wants. Now maybe that makes him a prima donna, but how many people wouldn't do the same thing? I mean if you knew for a certainty that you could go to your employer and say, "you know what, from now on I'm only working half days for 9 months out of the year and I want you to tripple my salary" and that your employer would not only comply, but thank you over and over for doing so, wouldnt you?

Now, if your an Astro or Astros fan, maybe you wish he would have come back in spring training like any other player and been more of a team player. So, I get the criticism from that perspective. But all the people saying, he's not about winning, it's just about getting to paid huge jack to play the game he loves near his family...well, I have to echo Adam's title...What???

If it doesn't work, criticize the Astros for allowing them to get ruled by a player, but don't criticize the Rocket for not going back to the team he betrayed or that other team with no soul.

Adam Hoff said...

Can't argue with that. I might have gone that route as well except that I wanted to focus my anger on Yahoo's Jeff Passan, who went way out of bounds when he called Clemens a "liar" for wanting to go to Houston in order to win. I agree with you that Clemens should be able to come right out and say that he wanted to have a sweet gig, but I really wanted to make it clear that he can be right on both fronts. With the Astros second half performances of the past two seasons, there is no way to count them out. For Passan to do so - and to do so to the extent that it allows him to chastise Roger Clemens and call him a liar - is just idiotic. Now, if The Rocket had signed with Pittsburgh or Kansas City and said he was doing it to win, I can see the point being made. But not in this case.