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A Tale of Two Sox
2003-06-01 01:37
by Mike Carminati

I recently had an interesting email conversation with a reader named Jurgen Maas regarding a comparison of two Red Sox pitchers, one current, Pedro Martinez, and one lapsed, Roger Clemens. It started innocently enough with a few comments about last week's Joe Morgan Chat Day burlesque:

"By the way, Clemens seems to have forgotten that he ever played for the Blue Jays let alone had two of his best years there."

Oh, man. The line of the year.

If nothing else, it's those two years with Toronto that most dissuade me from Clemens' whinny pleas to go to the HOF as a Yankee. If he had gone straight from Boston to New York, and proven his detractors wrong by winning another three Cy Youngs and some World Series rings in pinstripes, I wouldn't have a problem with it.

But it was Toronto, not New York, that took a shot on him after Boston left him for dead, and they're the ones who should deserve the credit for helping his resurrect his career. New York only wanted him after he'd already proven himself in two back-to-back Cy Young seasons, and only got him because Gord Ash gave up his best players (Shawn Green, Roger Clemens) for little more than a handjob. (Was any GM more accommodating to star players wanting to leave the club?)

What do I care? Everyone knows when the time comes he'll be wearing Boston blue.

Keep it up, Mike.


I responded:

Thanks for the email.
I actually like Clemens: I think he's the best pitcher that I have ever seen (and that includes Seaver, Maddux, Carlton, Johnson, Perry, Pedro, Glavine, etc., basically anyone from the mid-Seventies on) and I like his straight-forward, no-nonsense approach. I can see why it irritates people but I have always liked guys like Clemens, Sir Charles Barkley, and the like.
I think it's an inappropriate question, which cap he'll wear. A) He is still playing, B) he has yet to elected, and C) it's not even up to him. I know his enshrinement is a no-brainer, but let him enjoy the rest of his career first and then he can talk about his legacy.
That said, Clemens could have been more diplomatic about it or just plain not answered it. If he is asked he can't really dis his current team even if he feels that his legacy is as a Red Sox. He could have given Toronto a nod however; as you say, they gave him his shot after Dan Duquette helped usher him out of Boston.
The Hall will have to put him in with a Red Sox hat. After retirement, he will have had time to reflect on his career and will be courted by the Sox for appearances and celebrations (they are all set to retire his number since they no longer issue it anyway). He'll be fine with it by them.

It's less of an issue than where Rey Sanchez gets his hair cut.
Take care,

Then Jurgen compared Clemens to Pedro:


It's funny. You mention players who bristle fans, I've always loved and respected Bonds and Rickey Henderson, but Clemens just gets my goat. It really is an attitude difference. Barry and Rickey might swagger around like they're the greatest, but they also play the game as if they believe it. (Watching Bonds decimate anything over the plate during the World Series was one the highlights of my baseball viewing days.)

My memory of Clemens is so tainted by cowardly moments or big failures: getting the Jays to juggle the rotation so he won't have to pitch at Fenway, getting smoked in the 1999 ALCS against Pedro, the Piazza incident, beaning Jays DH Josh Phelps in their next meeting after he hit that upper deck homer, and even this stupid "300 win" patch. He's a great pitcher, but he's a bitch. Believe me, I think it's hilarious that he's going to have to try again for number 300 against the lowly Tigers. It's hard to believe it wasn't something Roger preplanned.

For the record, I think Pedro Martinez is the greatest pitcher I've ever seen with my own eyes. He needs to stay healthy into his late thirties, however, before anyone can make a reasonable argument that he deserves the title of Greatest Postwar Pitcher. I think he's been good enough, however, to warrant a hold on the ceremonies until he retires.

Pedro's 5-year peak (through age 30):

1997 241.1 IP, 221 ERA+
1998 233.2 IP, 160 ERA+
1999 213.1 IP, 245 ERA+
2000 217.0 IP, 285 ERA+
2002 199.1 IP, 196 ERA+

Roger's 5-year peak (through age 30):

1986 254.0 IP, 169 ERA+
1987 281.2 IP, 154 ERA+
1990 228.1 IP, 211 ERA+
1991 271.1 IP, 164 ERA+
1992 246.2 IP, 174 ERA+

Then, at age 36 and 37, Roger had his two best back-to-back seasons:

1997 264.0 IP, 226 ERA+
1998 234.2 IP, 176 ERA+

Even taking into account Roger's two years with the Jays, Pedro's 5-year peak betters Clemens.

(Sandy Koufax's reputation as one the best lefthander is largely based on five seasons at the end of his career. Admittedly although over fewer innings, Pedro was better.)

That said, I'm sure how you'd quantify weighing Pedro's dominance against Roger's durability. (Any suggestions on which metric might do the trick?)

Pedro doesn't need to get better. He already is. He just needs to stay healthy to rack up at least another 1600+ IP, and not succumb to a Dave Stieb-like collapse.


Interesting points about Pedro. Here's my response:

Hi Jurgen,
I take it from your response that you are a Red Sox fan. Being a Phillies fan who has lived extensively in both the Boston and New York areas and followed both clubs closely, I feel that I can be impartial on the matter.
You are certainly entitled to your opinion re. a player's personality. So I won't speak to that. He certainly has had a number of incidents that were blown out of proportion in his career, just like the 300-win patch and the Hall-of-Fame cap incidents. He's been a big star for years and has a fiery personality--I guess it comes with the territory.
I'm not certain what happened in the Piazza bat incident, but I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt--why would he be throwing a bat at Piazza anyway? To paraphrase Austin Powers, "Who throws a bat? I mean, really?" As far as head-hunting Piazza, who knows, he has had his fair share of hit batsmen over the years? But in some pitchers like Bob Gibson, that trait was revered. It goes with the territory when you're a power pitcher. Pedro has hit 14 and 15 batters in a season; Clemens' high is 12. This is generally the caliber of these incidents--they seem to be open to interpretation. I'm not interested in them frankly.
As far as Pedro being the better of the two pitchers, I think that using adjusted ERA (ERA+) puts Clemens at a distinct disadvantage and displays the limitations of adjusted ERA. First, ERA is a statistic that has a lower limit (0.00) and is unbounded at the upper end. That is you can have an infinite ERA, but cannot have an ERA lower than 0.00. ERA+ represents the ratio of the pitcher's ERA to the park-adjusted league average (actually the other way around). Therefore, in a pitchers' era league ERAs, adjusted or otherwise, will be low. If a hitters' era, they will be high. Let's say a pitcher has a 2.50 ERA in an era in which the park-adjusted league average is 2.75. His ERA+ is 110. Compare that to a pitcher with a 5.00 ERA in a 5.50 ERA league. His ERA+ is also 110. Which pitcher would you rather have? This is an inherent problem in ERA+: since the lower limit is difficult to impossible to reach, as the park-adjusted league average slides lower and lower, the worse better-than-average ERAs look.
Martinez started pitching during the offensive explosion of the last 10 years. Clemens had many of his better years in the late '80s and early '90s. That's why Pedro's 1998 season (2.89 ERA; 160 ERA+) looks much more impressive than Clemens' 1988 (2.93; 141) when you use ERA+. Pedro's may be the better season, but ERA+ is not the way to represent that.
So I would rather use some era-independent tool like Win Shares to compare their seasons. I will check into that and let you know what I find. That said, comparing the two pitchers stats before the age of 30 is fine, but I don't think that Pedro's entire career can be said to be even comparable to Clemens until he has another 5 years under his belt. There are a number of very good pitchers that have burnt out before 30 [Actually Martinez is already past 30 but you get the point]. Stieb is a great example: he was arguably the best pitcher in his league for 5 seasons and then he got injured and became ineffective. Pedro has been great and perhaps his peak was better than Clemens'. Once he has another 5 years under his belt, we can talk about comparing his career to all-time greats like Clemens.
Take care,

And then I checked out the Win Shares:

Hi Jurgen,
Here is a comparison of Win Shares for both Clemens and Pedro:

Thru 303023012040.680.68


Note that Clemens has more WS as of 30 than Martinez and a higher WS-per-game ratio. Martinez relieved one season, so in fairness I compared WS per game started, which Pedro won. Clemens' total win shares are almost double Pedro's and he has sustained a higher WS/G ratio for almost twice as long.

As far as peak, Clemens best 5 seasons by WS: 32, 29, 28 (twice), 26 (2); Martinez: 29, 27, 26, 21 (2). And only the 32-WS was after age 30. Best 5 by WS/G, Clemens: .94, .90, .88, .81, .78; Pedro: 1.00, .87, .84, .70, .64.

My conclusion is it's still too early to compare and these small differences may not mean much at all. However, not only has Clemens had a better career overall, he has registered a higher peak. That may change if Pedro continues as he has but given his injury history that is in no way a foregone conclusion.

They're both great pitchers, but that's just my opinion given the facts.

Take care,


And I think I may have convinced him:

Wow, that's great info, Mike. Thanks especially for those Win Share totals. That's exactly the sort of thing I was looking for...

I completely agree that it's insane to say Pedro's a better pitcher ... until he notches another thousand innings at the very least. I just think he's good enough that it's probably worth waiting to settle this question until he's finished...

For the record, I'm actually a Jays fan, with a soft spot for the Expos--it's the Expos side that makes me protective of Martinez, and the Jays side that leaves me bitter over Clemens.

Yeah, it's a shame about Stieb.


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