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Roger Clemens- The Greatest Pitcher Ever?

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  • #31
    I don't know what to say that I haven't already. Proving that Clemens is the greatest pitcher ever basically means proving that Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove AREN'T the greatest pitchers ever, because those are the only two that could realistically stand in his way. Nolan Ryan, Pete Alexandar, and Christy Mathewson don't even come close, for reasons varying from ERA+, IP, and era competitiveness....shoot, after this year Clemens will have Christy beat on all three counts; he'll have Pete beat on all but one (IP, and only because Pete pitched half his career in the dead ball era), and Nolan? Give me a break. How many more times can we dead that dead horse?

    Main arguments for Clemens involve the competitiveness of his era vs. those of Walter and Grove. Clemens' ERA+, K's, and IP, under the proper era adjustments, are enough to put him over Grove.

    Walter presents a tougher case, since his mathematical value was just so gosh darn high. Even taking into account the lilly-white landscape of the era, he still pitched so many innings so effectively, it is difficult to unseat him.

    You wrote:

    Most disquieting, though, is the fact that Johnson was able to dominate for well over 10 years (and be a truly great pitcher for over 15 years) with basically one pitch (and the changeup to offset it). Only in the 20's did he develop a good curve after his arm had lost a bit of its zip). Does this strike anyone else as odd? Even is his fastball was over 100 in his prime (which it very well might have been) it surprises me that he didn't need more variety to be so utterly dominating. Clemens throws a fastball, change, slider, and possibly the best splitter in history.

    On this thread (http://baseball-fever.com/showthread...n+warren+spahn), I latched on to that very same notion, took on the world, and made my case against Walter.


    Transporting Clemens back to an era where he had to finish every game and pitch every 3 days would likely destroy his arm.


    And transporting Walter into a era where 30-50 other guys can throw at the same speed as him, as opposed to him being the only one....?

    Not only that, but he would also be asked to pitch in relief- Johnson finished 129 games in his career and had 34 saves, sometimes coming in for 3-6 innings the day after a complete game). It isn't that Clemens has been babied, but consider that Clemens has only had to throw THREE complete games in his last 194 games pitched (1244 innings pitched over 7 seasons)! What if the greats of the past (particularly those from the 1960's-70's and pre 1930) had been able to so lucky, massively cutting down on arm wear and tear and overall toll taken? I have no reason to believe that pitch counts were lower during the 60's and 70's, given what Hitchedtoaspark has shown.

    Take a look at Walter's IP before and after 1920. You'll see that Walter was NOT the same workhorse after the lively ball was introduced; in fact, nobody was the same. Comparing Walter's IP's to Clemens? Might as well conclude that Walter wasn't THAT much a workhorse compared to, say, Charlie Radbourne. We compare ERA's in the context of the eras that the pitchers played, why not do the same for IP's and CG's?

    Walter never had to throw a large number of elbow-traumatizing sliders or splitters; all he threw was that easy, natural-motion, non-injury-courting fastball. And never had to throw it as hard as possible against every hitter, either; he threw as hard as he needed to, only cranking it up to maximum effort occasionally. Clemens pitches against 6 or 7 home run threats in every line-up; Walter pitched against 6 or 7 legitimate home run threats in his...well, in his entire career. Comparing their IP's, straight up, with no era adjustments, is like asking one guy to jog 20 miles on a flat surface, and asking another guy to sprint 20 miles uphill on broken glass. The jogger completes his task without complaint, says he'll be ready to go again in 3 days. The sprinter collapses, needs someone to finish the run for him, and asks for 4 days of rest. Who's tougher?
    Last edited by Metal Ed; 04-24-2005, 08:13 PM.

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    • #32
      Originally posted by [email protected]
      Adam,

      Sorry for calling you Bobby. I just learned both of your names and I'm getting used to this. I have given Walter credit for pitching a lot of innings. Just because it was common in his day doesn't mean it was a piece of cake! He still had to do the pitching, and it was a lot of work.

      The SO/W ratio is in Roger's favor due to the higher SO levels of Roger's era. The hitters of Walter's era struck out less, due to swinging contact, instead of full-out. But it's not that much of a lead, due to Walter's much better W ratio. Walter is leading Roger in ERA+ and I expect that to increase the deeper Roger goes into his 40's.

      If Walter could start more frequently, it was due to his easy pitching motion not stressing his arm. He was rubber-armed, and why are you trying to make his relief work a negative, instead of a positive. It's not as if coming in to save a game was an easy thing for him to do. He probably had to start in his regular rotation despite his relief work.

      He was asked to relieve often because he was the best hitter his team had, and was often used as a pinch hitter! And that is how he got to relieve so often! Bet you didn't know that one either!! Ha-ha. But that's what happened, and yeah, he did win some, but most often saved the game and didn't even get the credit for a win. Just padded his innings total. He was a workhorse, and that was incredibly valuable to his team. Same thing with Ed Walsh. Before relief specialists, those kinds of pitchers were gold.

      Bill Burgess
      Actually I did know that Walter was a great hitter. I know he's had some of the best hitting seasons by a pitcher. Since it was quite common for pitcher's in his era to pitch a huge number of innings we cannot say what he did was extraordinary for his time. As I'm sure you know very well the deadball era pitchers "paced" themselves in games not having to throw with 100% effort on every pitch since the threat of a HR was nonexistent. That's the main reason for the huge number of innnings pitches in the deadball era. What if Clemens didn't have to throw with 100% effort on every pitch? He's probably be able to do the same things as Walter. You mentioned Walter's walk rate. Yes, strikeout rates are higher today and that gives Clemens an advantage but walks rates are much higher today also, and that gives Walter an advantage, too. Walter had a lower walk rate because players in his time hitters just didn't walk that much. From 1907 through 1919 the league leader in walks was usually under 100. of course that all changed with Babe Ruth and the power game. So that would seem to be a wash. Clemens is still pitching at a HoF level. It's quite possible that his ERA+ will increase. Walter's edge is not that large anyway, 146 to 141.
      Last edited by Honus Wagner Rules; 04-24-2005, 10:27 PM.
      Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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      • #33
        Clemens also has had stronger bullpens, stronger offense during his career

        and as any pitcher can tell you, it is much easier to pitch with a nice lead, pithcers tend to get into trouble when they overthink

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        • #34
          Walter's strengths are not merely a function of era. Even in his era, he was a well-known workhorse, low-hit leader, low-walk leader, high-strike out artist.

          So even in an era known for huge workloads, the Big Train was an era-leading pitcher. Few in his era worked as heavy as he, surrendered as few hits as he, as few walks as he, relieved as much as he, hit as well as he, or completed as many of their starts as he.

          Walter was also known as a very good-fielding pitcher, one season being error-free. Actually, I just looked it up. Walter committed no errors in 1913, '17, '22, '24, '25, '27. He committed only a single error in the following seasons: 1919, '20, '21, '26. Quite an impressive defensive record, an yet few nominate him for his defensive contributions. That's 4 errors in 10 seasons of high-volume work!

          Regardless of era, the Big Train impresses with his mighty work ethic, and the difficulty of his great pitch to hit. So, although he did work in a time when his virtues were common, his degree of strengths were never common, nor should we dismiss them due to when he worked. HE was never common, and his peers couldn't come close to his level of accomplishments, mostly in service to teams which were way too common.

          I'm saddened that I've lived to see the day when I have to defend his record so vigorously.

          Bill Burgess
          Last edited by Bill Burgess; 04-25-2005, 06:09 AM.

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          • #35
            >>>>Clemens also has had stronger bullpens, stronger offense during his career


            Which is why we look at ERA+, IP, and PR+, and not just WP%.



            >>>>and as any pitcher can tell you, it is much easier to pitch with a nice lead, pithcers tend to get into trouble when they overthink


            That's really weak.

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            • #36
              Originally posted by Metal Ed

              Which is why we look at ERA+, IP, and PR+, and not just WP%.
              Alot of people in this thread WERE talking about how impressive his wins were



              That's really weak.
              True, but many people are really high on Clemens being the best, I am just trying to point out differences between he and everyone elses favorite Walter Johnson. Many people see their own time as the best, so of course Clemens will get more support then this myth of Walter Johnson

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              • #37
                --Actually, I think most people (excepting kids) are biased against calling the players they are watching today the best ever. As great as Clemens is, he does have faults and we have all see and heard negative things about him. Johnson wasn't perfect either, but his flaws (and there weren't many) are largely forgotten. All we have for Johnson and other old time stars are their great stat lines and old stories.
                --For most of them those stories are all positive. The press in the old days was more about hero worship than the dirt digging jouranalism of today. Moreover, once great stars retire people tend to talk of them more fondly than they did when while they were active (kind of like not speaking ill of the dead). For example, Ted Williams had an extremely antagonistic relationship with the press while active. The hero worship started after he retired.

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                • #38
                  Bill:

                  Here's my main thing with Walter:

                  The single most entertaining thing in sports, for me, is the battle between pitcher and hitter. Pitching is such an expression of individuality. I'm not satisfied with the stat line on a pitcher. It's not enough for me to know the success he had in getting hitters out; I like to know how he went about getting hitters out, for it is such an individual thing, unique to every pitcher. I get a bigger kick out of seeing how a great pitcher performs his job than out of anything else in sports.

                  Here's how Robert Adair put it in The Physics of Baseball:

                  The pitcher must not only throw the ball so that it passes through the strike zone, he must throw it so that the batter does not hit the ball squarely. He does this by throwing the ball so that it passes through specific places at or near the strike zone that the batter finds difficult to reach, by throwing the ball at different velocities to upset the batter's timing, and by applying spin to the ball in such a manner that the ball passes the batter with different trajectories, confusing and befuddling him. Thus, the pitcher varies the placement, the velocity, and the movement of the ball.

                  This is a description of the art of pitching that anyone familiar with baseball can easily accept. It strikes me that whatever Walter Johnson was doing, it wasn't pitching in the above sense. He threw one pitch, at two speeds - fast and faster. Same movement. Different locations, sure, but is that really pitching in the modern sense? No. It's far too primitive, far too infantile in its development, to be seen as modern pitching.

                  I have no dispute with the notion that Walter dominated the game that he played. But it's obvious that the game he played was baseball in name only. It simply wasn't the same game. The word "pitcher" clearly did not mean the same thing then that it does now.

                  You simply cannot get by in today's game with nothing but a fastball. You cannot. Bill, your assertion that no human can hit a ball over 96 mph is simply wrong. I'm putting my foot down, and I rarely do this. You know by now that I generally expect people to take my posts with a grain of salt; I have often reversed my stance in debates, conceded points, acknowledged things that I believe to be true, but which are speculative and I cannot prove. We are in the business of mixing stats with stories, mixing the objective with the subjective, playing impossible hypothetical time machine scenarios that will never be. I generally don't ask people to take my player rankings as anything more than educated guesses.

                  So now you should take special note when I do put my foot down on a subject. And I am now. No one, not Nolan Ryan, not Randy Johnson, no one, gets by, as starter, at the major league level anymore with just a fastball, not even a bonafide 100 mph thrower. It simply is not true to say that hitters can't catch up to a ball at that speed, per se. It is true that a hitter can't catch up to it when it is thrown as part of an arsenal of pitches that make it impossible for the hitter to "sit on" on or get comfortable with a pitcher's fastball.

                  So the dilemma is that either Walter was just that much faster than 100 mph - allowing him to do what no man since has done; or, alternatively, the hitters of his time just weren't that familiar with seeing 100 mph fastballs and hadn't had the opportunity yet to develop the ability to hit it solidly with consistency - allowing him to do what no man has done since.



                  I'm saddened that I've lived to see the day when I have to defend his record so vigorously.


                  I can assure you that I am far more saddened to that I have to defend the greatest pitcher of the last 50 years against 7 (!!!) guys who you think were better than him.

                  And I am not disputing Walter's record. What I am disputing are the conditions under which his records were accumulated. Okay, maybe that's semantics; if the conditions are suspect then the record is also suspect.

                  Put it this way: I am willing to be convinced that no one else - not Roger, not Randy, not Pedro - could have done what Walter did under Walter's conditions. Perhaps. But Walter could never have done what Rocket and Pedro have done in our time, either.
                  Last edited by Metal Ed; 04-25-2005, 07:47 AM.

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                  • #39
                    --Some six months ago we started a series of polls on the greatest pitchers of all time. Walter Johnson won first in a landslide, with over 2/3 of the vote. With Clemens drawing down over 40% of the vote here (he was 5th in those polls) that clearly wouldn't happen again. Unless all the "no others were greater still" voters back Walter then Clemens would be the favorite for the top spot.
                    --Those polls ran out of steam at #60, but I think it would be interesting to run them again and see what has changed with the addition of new blood to our membership and some revaluation by some older members. I'll have to think about whether I'd rather start out with one at a time polls again or do MVP style voting, but look for a new "Greatest Pitchers" series in the near future. Meanwhile, I'd be interested to hear who the no voters here support. That is, is it anyone other than Walter Johnson who contends with Rocket for #1?

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                    • #40
                      On durability and stamina:

                      While this might strike some as counterintuitive, a great deal of Walter's stamina was no doubt due to the fact that he pitched nothing other than the fastball for so long.

                      Quick: name every pitcher you can think of who pitched for 20 years in the majors. Notice anything? Right. They're almost all power pitchers. Very few junkballers.

                      Second: what's the only two pitches they teach in little league? Right: fastball and changeup. Because, while a fastball involves maximum arm speed (and a change-up, too, if it is to be successfull), there is no unnatural twisting of the wrist or elbow. It is a natural motion, the only stress being the sheer effort of accelerating the arm.

                      Breaking balls, particularly sliders, are stressful for both their arm accelaration (which in the case of the slider, is just as great as the arm speed of the fastball - if the pitch is to be successful, the hitter must not be tipped off by a difference in arm speed between the fastball and slider) - AND for the severe torque that the unnatural grip and wrist action places on the elbow.

                      Third, every pitching coach that I am aware of believes that more injuries occur on the slider than on any other pitch.

                      Hitchedtoaspark and others will point out that I have no data, no studies measuring the torque on the elbow during various pitches, so why assume that one is more stressful than the other? Well, for one thing, I have common sense; the assumption that not all pitches are equally stressful seems a lot more reasonable than the alternative assumption that all pitches ARE equally stressful.

                      Now take a guy like Walter Johnson, who for years never had to throw anything but fastballs. Even most of his peers threw their share of breaking balls, though it was mostly curves, not the more dangerous slider. Still, a fastball-exclusive guy will be at a decided advantage relative to his arm-and-elbow-twisting peers. To say nothing of the advantage he'll be at when compared to pitchers in today's slider-and-splitter-mania environment.

                      Added to that, consider that he didn't have to throw every fastball at maximum effort, either. His self-described pitching philosophy? "I just throw as hard as I can when I feel I need to throw as hard as I can." Chances are he'd be needing to throw "as hard as he can" a heck of a lot more often if he played today.

                      It's unbelievable to me that Imapotato accused Clemens of being "predictable in the late innings." What outrageousness from a Walter Johnson supporter. Clemens has a game plan and a strategy for each hitter, each time through the line up, the likes of which Walter couldn't dream of. Compared to Clemens and Pedro, Walter just looks like a dinosaur.

                      Bill said it about Cobb when he compared him to Ruth, and I'll say it about Clemens vs. Johnson: Johnson compiled the more impressive stat record because he played in an environment that maximized the value of his skill set, not because he had the greater skill set.

                      Actually, it may not even be true that Johnson compiled the more impressive stat line. Era adjustments might show otherwise, or at least show them as extremely close. More on that later.
                      Last edited by Metal Ed; 04-25-2005, 08:38 AM.

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                      • #41
                        This is a good question and I think Clemens has certainly made a fair claim to best ever by being so dominant for so long in this era of inflated offense, high ERAs, 5-man rotations, and coddled pitchers who seemingly all have some kind of major arm surgery at some point.

                        For some reason, I don't believe I'm quite ready to annoit Clemens as the best ever, but he certainly is someplace in my top 3 with Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove.

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                        • #42
                          Originally posted by [email protected]
                          Adam,

                          .

                          The Big Train has better W-L records with worse teams, and fewer pitches to work with. This required his one great pitch to be more dominant per his era, which he managed to pull off. So how can a pitcher with better teams but worse records be called the better pitcher. I don't understand how such contradictions can exist.

                          Bill Burgess
                          It is factually incorrect to say that Walter has the better W-L record. His WP% is .599, Clemens is .667.

                          I would like to see a comparison between WJ's teams W-L records and RC's team's W-L records, with and without WJ and RC pitching. I suspect that the numbers will be quite close. I may have some of this data at home.

                          Comment


                          • #43
                            Roger Clemens
                            Boston with Roger Clemens: 1062-978 (.521)
                            Boston without Roger Clemens: 870-867 (.501)
                            Toronto with Roger Clemens: 164-160 (.506)
                            Toronto without Roger Clemens: 123-147 (.456)
                            New York with Roger Clemens: 484-322 (.600)
                            New York without Roger Clemens: 407-286 (.587)
                            Houston with Roger Clemens: 100-80 (.556)
                            Houston without Roger Clemens: 81-76 (.516)
                            Teams with Roger Clemens: 1810-1540 (.540)
                            Teams without Roger Clemens: 1481-1376 (.518)

                            Walter Johnson
                            Washington with Walter Johnson: 1559-1569 (.498)
                            Washington without Walter Johnson: 1142-1290 (.470)

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                            • #44
                              This is a great discussion and I love reading the analysis especially of Bill and Metal Ed - but, like many others I'm not ready to annoint Clemens yet. The one big question mark in my mind about Clemens is, for lack of a better term, attitude. It seemed that in his last few years with the Red Sox, he just didn't give a damn. He wanted out of Boston and, IMO he pitched below his ability because of this.

                              Of course it's only speculation, and there are other reasons, such as injuries, why his performance went downhill toward the end of his stay in Boston. But it certainly looked like he was just cruising and then, when he went to Toronto and New York, he turned it back up to what he was capable of and had great success - as he does to this day.

                              Now, I understand that disputes between players and management have always been a part of the game. I understand that nagging injuries and fatigue and other factors can interrupt the flow of even a great player's career. But professional ballplayers are paid a lot of money to perform. Not doing so cheats the fans who pay to watch the game. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, I will always hold it against Clemens that he did not play at the level he was capable during his last years in a Red Sox uniform and for that reason alone, I cannot calll him the greatest.

                              It seems to me that Walter Johnson would have had as much or more of a reason to have a lousy atitude because he pitched for some pretty mediocre teams - but to my knowledge Walter didn't complain and went out and did his job regardless of how well supported he was by either his teammates or management. That's got to count for something.

                              Comment


                              • #45
                                Originally posted by CyNotSoYoung
                                This is a great discussion and I love reading the analysis especially of Bill and Metal Ed - but, like many others I'm not ready to annoint Clemens yet. The one big question mark in my mind about Clemens is, for lack of a better term, attitude. It seemed that in his last few years with the Red Sox, he just didn't give a damn. He wanted out of Boston and, IMO he pitched below his ability because of this.

                                Of course it's only speculation, and there are other reasons, such as injuries, why his performance went downhill toward the end of his stay in Boston. But it certainly looked like he was just cruising and then, when he went to Toronto and New York, he turned it back up to what he was capable of and had great success - as he does to this day.

                                Now, I understand that disputes between players and management have always been a part of the game. I understand that nagging injuries and fatigue and other factors can interrupt the flow of even a great player's career. But professional ballplayers are paid a lot of money to perform. Not doing so cheats the fans who pay to watch the game. Unless someone can convince me otherwise, I will always hold it against Clemens that he did not play at the level he was capable during his last years in a Red Sox uniform and for that reason alone, I cannot calll him the greatest.

                                It seems to me that Walter Johnson would have had as much or more of a reason to have a lousy atitude because he pitched for some pretty mediocre teams - but to my knowledge Walter didn't complain and went out and did his job regardless of how well supported he was by either his teammates or management. That's got to count for something.
                                This is where being a modern player has a major disadvantage. We know next to nothing about Walter Johnson's attitude and personality. He's been dead since 1946. We don't know if he was surly or a "happy camper". He didn't have to deal with the type of media coverage that Clemens does. Clemens plays in the ESPN/Internet/blog era. Every little thing about him , good and bad is broadcast almost instantly around the world. Even if Clemens' attidude soured at the end of his Red Sox, I say so what? He immediately went to a medicore Toronto team ahd won two Cy Youngs. It seems you are allowing personal dislike instead of objective analysis to determine who is greater which is fine if you are choosing your favorite players. But the topic of this thread is whether Clemens is the greatest pitcher not who is your favorite pitcher.
                                Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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