Clemens’ Muddled Defense Fails

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - February 06, 2008
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From our good friends at Hendricks Sports Management, where billable hours is not just an accounting term but a way of life, comes the third installment in the Roger Clemens defense strategy that has so far produced a predictable interview and an uninformative, slime-covered, secretly recorded phone conversation. The latest submission, the 49-page “Analysis of the Career of Roger Clemens,” further shows Clemens’defense team will leave no dollar unturned in its half-assed approached to defending its client.

The report in itself is not bad. Chock full of colorful graphs and tables, the crunch of numbers, categories and comparisons are enough to drain the brain of any amateur sabermatrician. And that is exactly the point. Innocence through confusion. Bury the opposition behind a mountain of data. It worked for O.J., and it worked for Capitalist Records in its suit against Chef over ownership of Stinky Britches.

Hendricks Sports Management has wisely employed the Chewbacca defense. It is asking the members of the supposed jury in the court of public opinion to deliberate and conjugate the Emancipation Proclamation to determine if charges leveled against their client makes any sense. Johnny Cochran would have been proud.

The first real good flood of information appears on Page 10 in the form of a table that breaks Roger’s seasonal ERA margins - a comparison of the Rocket’s ERA to league averages - into six tiers. No explanation is offered as to why the authors chose six categories instead of two, 12 or 24. The text below the table states that Clemens produced nine “average-to-good” years, nine years of “superior” performances and six years “at the highest levels.” Below that is a three-colored line graph to better illustrate the ups and downs of his career. It looks nice, in a high school term paper kind of way.

According to the report, Clemens’best years were over in 1999, and “While Clemens pitched at a high level of quality at different points throughout his career, the quality of his pitching declined as he reached his late 30s and early 40s.”

Not exactly a winning endorsement for a free-agent pitcher, who at the end of the season still had not yet ruled out another return to the game. But if any suitors were to call upon the still-unattached pitcher, it would take no time for the boys at Hendricks to produce another report extolling the virtues of the man who between the ages of 41-43 won 38 games while posting a 2.40 ERA.

The report is correct in saying that Clemens’career was lengthened by his ability to learn new pitches and his adoption of a fitness routine following his shoulder surgery in 1985. No matter what the level of artificial help, if any, a pitcher uses, long-term success depends on continually learning new ways to get a batter out and being in shape.

Nolan Ryan, Clemens’ friend and hero, whose career was examined in the report and who is by far the best litmus test for Clemens, stressed fitness and intelligence his entire career. Ryan survived 27 years of big league punishment not through chemical help, but by changing his pitching style and reducing the burden on his arm and shoulder by developing and maintaining leg strength. The report uses that fact in support of Clemens. It is the strongest argument in a paper that goes from viable to confusing to flat-out wrong.

The confusion comes on the final page where a document titled, Exhibit A, makes the claim that if Clemens pitched for the Rangers instead of Houston in 2005, he would have finished the season with a 24-3 record and an eighth Cy Young. How this has any bearing on the Rocket’s case is a complete mystery, especially with the authors’ disregard for wins as an accurate measure of a pitcher’s individual ability.

Things go from weird to wrong at the end of the analysis of the report, as the authors list 31 Hall of Famers who pitched into their 40s as a way to show how unspectacular Clemens has been.

The problem is that not every pitcher mentioned actually pitched into their 40s. According to and, Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown, Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Walter Johnson and Robin Roberts all finished their careers at the age of 39.

Four more (Chief Bender, Carl Hubbell, Ferguson Jenkins, Herb Pennock) pitched only one year into their 40s. Three others (Dennis Eckersley, Satchel Paige and Hoyt Wilhelm) were relievers and one, Cy Young, pitched

in an era so long past that any comparison is highly suspect. That leaves a total of 26 pitchers to safely judge Clemens against. A nice number, but hardly the landslide of evidence suggested in the report. But how does Clemens compare to his earlier colleagues?

With a minimum number of four years pitched in their 40s, (Clemens toiled for five) the list get narrowed down to Grover Cleveland Alexander, Steve Carlton, Red Faber, Jesse Haines, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Don Sutton, Dazzy Vance and Early Wynn as the only “... noteworthy ... Hall of Fame pitchers (who) pitched into their 40s.”

The verdict? Clemens leads them all in winning percentage, earned run average and WHIP.

Clemens is arguably the best of all time, a first ballot Hall of Famer. But this report does nothing to support his claims of innocence.

It does, however, add to his legal bills.

So at least someone wins.

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