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Roger Clemens- The Greatest Pitcher Ever?

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  • #46
    Originally posted by BoSox Rule
    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)
    .540-.518 = .22 for Roger
    .498-.470= .28 for Walter.

    So .22 vs. 28.; Walter seems to come out better once we weed out their performance from team performance. At least, we can accurately say that he is pulling his team to victory more often than Roger; that he is having a bigger impact on their place in the standings than Roger. There you have it; Walter was being held back by weak teams more than Roger.

    I can think of two counter-arguments:

    1) A large part of this is no doubt due to era competitiveness. It would be unrealistic to expect a single player to make as much of an impact on a team now as opposed to then. The well-documented decrease in the standard deviation of team winning percentages - the decrease in distance of teams from .500 - should make it more difficult for a single player to have as much of an impact on team WP% now, compared to then. This goes for both position players and pitchers.

    2) But since Bill and some others here mostly ignore or poo-poo era competitiveness, I'll have to give another argument:

    Roger's Teams, total, without Roger: 1481-1376, .518
    Roger personally: 328-164, .667
    Roger's WP% vs. his teams: .667-.518 = .149

    Walter's teams, total, without Walter: 1142-1290, .470
    Walter personally: 417-279, .599
    Walter's WP% vs. his teams: .599-.470= .129

    Roger's WP% was .149 better than that of his teams; Walter's was .129. How to reconcile this with .28 vs. .22, which indicates that Walter had a greater absolute influence on his teams' WP%? The difference is in how pitchers are used. Roger had fewer starts than Walter, so it is to be expected that, with fewer opportunities to pull his team to victory, his influence on his teams' WP% would be smaller; but in actuality, when he pitched, he was outperforming his team to a greater extent than Walter was when he pitched.

    Naturally some will counter by saying that that doesn't matter; the bottom line is that since Walter had more starts, he pulled his team to victory more often, and he was more valuable for that reason. These are the ones who believe that the 5 man rotation is matter of modern coddling, not actual necessity, and that Walter would be able to go on 3 days' rest if he played today. Of course, it's an exercise in futility to try to convince these folks otherwise. Not much sense trying to reason with those who refuse to accept the notion that it is unrealistic to expect a single modern pitcher to have as much impact on his team as a single deadball pitcher. The virtual extinction of 30 game winners after 1920 should be enough to convice them that after the lively ball, the team impact of a single pitcher would never be the same again; but I am not without feelings. It is painful to witness the death of a hero, especially one as geniunely nice as Sir Walter.

    Walter's stat advantage is nowhere near as compelling as I originally thought. It might not even have been necessary for me to get into a discussion of the environmental conditions that manufactured his stat advantage, since that advantage is so transparent to begin with. I'll post more on this later.
    Last edited by Metal Ed; 04-25-2005, 01:28 PM.

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    • #47
      Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules
      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.
      Actually I don't dislike Clemens. I was angry about his performance with the Red Sox in his last few years, but I try not to let my personal feelings about a player cloud my judgement. And while you are correct in your assesment of the difference in media coverage of the two eras and we'll never know for certain about Johnson, it just doesn't look like he ever was dogging it, while it does look like Clemens was. For me, to be the greatest means you can't have as long a period of time as Clemens did of dogging it. Clemens, I will agree, had more ability than Johnson and he pitched in a more difficult era, but to be great you've also got to give 100% and help your team win whether you are happy or not.

      Comment


      • #48
        It should be noted (not sure where I read this- perhaps Cobb made note of it-Bill would know)that Johnson's fastball sometimes had a "hop" on it (as did Sandy Koufax's decades later). Sometimes it did not simply come in straight and at blazing speed; I think this is part of the explanation for why he was able to not only "get by" on it, but do incredibly well for (basically) 15 years. Big Train also had ridiculously good control of his fastball- more so than most other flamethrowers in history.

        Some people just have natural movement on their fastball, no matter how hard it is thrown- playing center field for years (and hence seeing the pitches come in on guys on my teams) proved this for me- the best starter in our city was clocked at 93 by a scout from the AC-Yankees- I got to watch him pitch for two years, and basically every fastball he threw had movement- just the idiosyncratic way he released it, I guess (never saw anyone else that had that much movement in all my years playing).

        In any case, after reading a bit more from his bio, I don't think Big Train was as uni-faceted as people are making him out to be here. In fact, I seriously doubt he could have been one of the greatest ever on ONE pitch thrown pretty much the same way every time. That seems a bit over the top apropos to the "overall quality of athleticism" argument.
        Last edited by csh19792001; 04-25-2005, 02:44 PM.

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        • #49
          If I may, I'd like to offer my less detailed, less intellectual view on Clemens vs. Walter and for that matter, comparisons of pitchers from totally different eras. I haven't read everything above in detail yet, and right now I'm at work, so I can't consider everything that has been said so far.

          I've expressed my view on cross-era comparisons in other threads, specifically with Babe Ruth and players, and I think that same thought process applies with my view on pitchers and Clemens vs. Walter. When comparing pitchers from totally different eras, I like to imagine the two players in question, Clemens and Walter, were born in the other's era. For instance, imagine Clemens was born in 1887 and Walter was born in 1962. Each grew up learning the other's game - Clemens would've grown up learning the deadball style of game, Walter would've grown up learning a game fully adjusted to the liveball. Clemens would have less need to learn a wider variety of pitches, while Walter would be forced to learn more and develop more pitches besides a fastball in his arsenal.

          When considering what I've said above, we must then examine how each pitcher performed in their respective era. I don't have all stats available to me right now, but I know it is very close, and Clemens is still going strong well into his 40's. Johnson's numbers were no doubt ruined by the liveball, and if he had more time to adjust, he would've been better, though probably not as dominant as he was with the deadball. How would Clemens have pitched with the deadball? How would Johnson have pitched with a full career with the liveball? We really don't know, but we can imagine, and I think using this way of comparing cross-era players is fair to both parties.

          I do also consider that it is harder to dominate in today's game due to the much bigger and deeper league. The other great pitchers in today's game and during Clemens' career were Martinez, R Johnson, and Maddux, and currently there are many other up-and-coming stars. However, Walter's league certainly wasn't lacking in great pitchers - Mathewson, Alexander, Young, Brown, Walsh, Joss, etc. I'd have to say Walter was clearly the best out of this pack. Is Roger clearly the best out of the other big 3 of his era - Pedro, RJ and Maddux? Dunno.

          Just some food for thought.
          Red, it took me 16 years to get here. Play me, and you'll get the best I got.

          Comment


          • #50
            Originally posted by CyNotSoYoung
            Actually I don't dislike Clemens. I was angry about his performance with the Red Sox in his last few years, but I try not to let my personal feelings about a player cloud my judgement. And while you are correct in your assesment of the difference in media coverage of the two eras and we'll never know for certain about Johnson, it just doesn't look like he ever was dogging it, while it does look like Clemens was. For me, to be the greatest means you can't have as long a period of time as Clemens did of dogging it. Clemens, I will agree, had more ability than Johnson and he pitched in a more difficult era, but to be great you've also got to give 100% and help your team win whether you are happy or not.
            One question...how so you know that Johnson never dogged it? We don't have that much information about him. No one today really knows that much about Johnson. He wasn't as colorful as Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, Babe Ruth, or Christy Matthewson. All we have are mosty old grainy photos and his stats and his stats ar pretty dominating of course. In all my years I have seen one film clip of his delievery.

            Also, I can't imagine that Clemens dogged it too much. He has won 329 games in his career. I don't see how one can "dog it" and still win those many games...
            Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

            Comment


            • #51
              Originally posted by Metal Ed
              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.
              Ed-
              I actually ran this exact study a few years ago for most of the alltime greats. I'm still on the fence here, and to be fair I want to present all the information. I examined this when I started really supporting Clemens a few years ago, finally soaking in his truly legendary accomplishments. I wanted to see where he ranked in terms of team support.

              http://www.baseball-fever.com/showpo...7&postcount=12

              http://www.baseball-fever.com/showpo...4&postcount=20

              According to my calculations, Walter Johnson's teams without him on the mound a WPCT of .461 for his career (by FAR the worst of anyone I looked at, incidentally) versus his career WPCT of .599.

              Clemens, through August 2003 (when I did this) had a WPCT of .659 versus his teams' WPCT of .519. In other words, their differential was nearly identical- Clemens is surely ahead at this point by a bit more, even- it could be figured out relatively quickly, (but unfortunately I have to get back to cramming fo this test).

              It should be noted that the winning % differential is yet another measure where Clemens seperates himself from Pedro, Maddux, and Unit.

              Interesting to note is that Pete Alexander had the greatest differential of anyone I looked at- this includes Big Train, Grove, Ryan, Young, Clemens, Maddux, Mathewson, Seaver, Spahn, and Kid Nichols (tried to get the best from each respective era). Alexander might have the greatest differential in history, among anyone with 250 wins, but Clemens is certainly somewhat close.

              El Halo and a few others raised some objections regarding the degree of seperation that a pitcher on great teams could possibly accomplish would invariably be smaller than the possiblity for a pitcher on poor teams throughout his career. This might be a valid objection; then again, he might have simply been trying to defend Whitey Ford and Christy Mathewson. He campiagned for both ardently.

              There are probably other legitimate criticisms, possibly regarding pitchers in the old days carrying much more of their teams' burden (inning wise, wins wise, and rotation wise)- but I haven't thought those through. It might be a highly biased measure frought with confounding variables; perhaps a more direct (and parsimonious) measure is "Run Support" from the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia.

              Roger Clemens, through 2004- had a career run support of 98 (100 is average). His run support was atrocious in 93' and 94' (64 and 71, respectively).

              Walter Johnson- 96 overall- particularly laughable was 1909, where he pitched 300 innings, had an ERA+ of 139, and lost 25 games- run support of 52 (the worst I've found for any great pitcher in a season).

              Incidentally, Randy Johnson's run support was 71 last year, Roger's 100 on the button. In case you are interested, here are the respective run supports of some other historical titans- RMB posted these awhile back:

              http://www.baseball-fever.com/showth...upport+nichols

              Hope all this adds another piece to the puzzle (and answers your question).

              (note- I just read your successive post- I should read through the entire thread before posting...!!
              Last edited by csh19792001; 04-25-2005, 02:39 PM.

              Comment


              • #52
                Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules
                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".
                Actually, we absolutley DO know these things, Honus (at least those of us who have been privy to it and/or have sought out the information).

                http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...books&n=507846

                Still the best baseball biopic I've read.

                Comment


                • #53
                  Originally posted by csh19792001
                  Actually, we absolutley DO know these things, Honus (at least those of us who have been privy to it and/or have sought out the information).

                  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...books&n=507846

                  Still the best baseball biopic I've read.
                  Though I have not read this book I disagree that we do have an intimate knowledge of Walter's personality. We have thorough knowledge of Walter's accomplishments but that is different. Since he played so long ago we don't have any TV or radio interviews. Try thinking about it this way. When you think of a current player, like say A-Rod, Bonds, Pujols, Sammy, etc. you immediately get probably literally dozens of images of them, You've seen them give interviews, play games, participate in HR hitting contests, in TV commercials, etc. This does not apply to Johnson. We have no mental images of him as a player. A biography written several decades later cannot possibly make up for this. Also, all writers are biased to some extent. The main source for the book was Johnson's grandson, so he was probably apt to portray his grandfather in the best light possible.

                  I'll use an analogy. Much has been written about Abraham Lincoln. You can read biographies, first person accounts, and even Lincoln's writings and you might get a decent account of his personality. But that is not the same as seeing and speaking to Lincoln in person. By speaking in person you would see things that can almost never be captured in words, his voice, how he walks, mannerisms, etc. Even reading first person accounts can distort the image becasue first person accounts were from people who lived in the 19th century, not the 21 century. Their perspectives would be totaling different.
                  Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                  Comment


                  • #54
                    Originally posted by csh19792001
                    Actually, we absolutley DO know these things, Honus (at least those of us who have been privy to it and/or have sought out the information).

                    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...books&n=507846

                    Still the best baseball biopic I've read.
                    Oh..and I definitely getting the Walter Johnson book. It's looks awesome!
                    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                    Comment


                    • #55
                      Originally posted by csh19792001

                      In any case, after reading a bit more from his bio, I don't think Big Train was as uni-faceted as people are making him out to be here. In fact, I seriously doubt he could have been one of the greatest ever on ONE pitch thrown pretty much the same way every time. That seems a bit over the top apropos to the "overall quality of athleticism" argument.

                      Expand on this. Give me a description of how he went about the business of getting hitters out apart from speed and location. Seriously.... I am truly interested to know. I know he developed a curve later in his career, but I discussed that over on the other thread.

                      Comment


                      • #56
                        This is by far the most thought-provoking and intelligently backed thread I have seen since becoming a member here last year.

                        Keep up the great work, guys! I wish I had something more to add, but honestly I'm learning more than I had ever anticipated about all kinds of things...better to read than to post nonsense!
                        -David
                        Please read the Baseball Fever Policy and FAQ Section before posting.
                        "Some mistakes I guess we never stop paying for." -Roy Hobbs, The Natural

                        Ever wonder about the fastest pitch ever thrown? Click this link.

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                        • #57
                          I've read the Johnson book, and I'd like to add my own review of it.

                          It's the best sports bio ever written. Or the best I've seen. It has everything. Many b/w photos, acknowlegements, introduction, forward by Shirley Povich, 3 appendix, notes, bibliography, index.

                          It's written by Walter's grandson. Walter's daughter's son. I correspond with him and he's a great guy. He worked from his families 30 oversized scrapbook volumes containing thousands of articles, letters, telegrams and other materials collected and meticulously assembled by Hazel Johnson, Walter's wife.

                          It was a true labor of love and took him many, many years to finish the project. Here is a quote from the introduction.

                          "At times it seemed that these efforts would never bear fruit, but my dream of a comprehensive and entertaining biography of Walter Johson never disappeared. It's been a real joy and privilege to spend so much time with him, and I hope I have done his story justice--it deserves no less." Henry W. Thomas.

                          I can assure you that this book is wonderful, warm, and is chock-full of colorful period flavor. And I feel as if I do know him. He was so loaded with integrity it hurt.

                          One time, the ump looked at Walter to ask if the Washington runner had touched the base, and Walter had to say no. When Clyde Milan muffed an easy fly, and lost a game for Walter, all he said was, "Clyde doesn't do that very often". Which was true.

                          You are mistaken about this, Adam. Because of this book, we now do know quite a lot about Walter. And how he thought of some of the guys he faced. We also have articles from the 20's in Baseball Magazine on who he felt were the greatest ballplayers, and who he felt were the best batters. His thoughts on Cobb and Ruth were golden. He felt Cobb was the best player ever, but that Lajoie was the best pure hitter, with Jackson second. Frank Baker was his particular hard out.

                          Bill Burgess
                          Last edited by Bill Burgess; 04-26-2005, 05:24 PM.

                          Comment


                          • #58
                            Metal Ed,

                            You lay out a good, strong argument. You make deft era adjustments. You are compelling, persuasive and don't miss too may angles. I feel as if I'm losing the debate to the school's master debater.

                            But I still have my reservations. Roger has failed to exploit his skills in his era as well as Walter was able to do in his. Roger has 6 20 game season under his belt and 4 more of 18 games won.

                            Walter has 12 20 games seasons. 2 more at 17. Johnson, Matty and Spahnie were 20 game machines, like clockwork. They too were subject to arm problems, but were able to avoid them.

                            I am a big proponent of era adjustments, but the big reason why I have failed on Fever to win the Babe/Ty debate, is that no one will allow me to theorize Ty over Babe in an abstract hypothetical.

                            I can never overcome my burden that in real life, Babe outproduced Ty, advantages or not. Fever will not allow me to show what might have been.

                            I have never said that Walter could have succeeded in today's environment. Maybe if he had been born in modern time, he'd have seen the need to develop other pitches, just as he did in the 20's when he came up with a "curve". It's a hypothetical possibility, but one I can't prove.

                            Just as you can't prove what Roger might have done in Walter's time, with a 4 man rotation, the need to finish your games, etc. I suspect that Roger would have done just fine and been a dominant pitcher, but I can't prove it. Just speculate.

                            But just as I've often suggested, life in the 1910's was brutal compared to today's culture. I strongly feel that Walter would love adjusting to today's game, much as Roger would have hated the 1910's culture of lack of convenience. Walter would have had many things to ease him into today, while Roger would have needed Novocaine to ease the stripping away of all things he loved. TV, radio, training films, nutrition, computers, comfortable travel, etc. Roger would be groveling/whimpering to come back to the future, while we'd have to drag Walter back to the past, biting, kicking, clawing, spitting.

                            Bill Burgess
                            Last edited by Bill Burgess; 12-28-2006, 03:56 PM.

                            Comment


                            • #59
                              Originally posted by [email protected]
                              Metal Ed,
                              But just as I've often suggested, life in the 1910's was brutal compared to today's culture. I strongly feel that Walter would love adjusting to today's game, much as Roger would have hated the 1910's culture of lack of convenience. Walter would have had many things to ease him into today, while Roger would have needed novacaine to ease the stripping away of all things he loved. TV, radio, training films, nutrition, computers, comfortable travel, etc. Roger would be groveling/whimpering to come back to the future, while we'd have to drag Walter back to the past, biting, kicking, clawing, spitting.

                              Bill Burgess
                              Come on Bill, you can't give Roger any love at all?!!! Why is 1910's culture more "brutal" than todays? How do you know that Roger would have hated playing in 1910? Didn't he "pitch" to Ty Cobb in the movie "Cobb"?! Ha! So there!

                              Roger is hardcore competitor. He would have drilled Cobb in the ribs for sure, "Get off the plate, punk!". And Cobb would have loved it. Didn't Cobb crowd the plate on Walter because he knew Walter wouldn't come inside. I'm surpised you're not a big Clemens fan, Bill. He has the same intense desire to win as Cobb did. We have no idea how Walter would have reacted to playing today. How would he have reacted to having to play with non-whites, the crushing media, the fans, etc. We don't really know.
                              Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                              Comment


                              • #60
                                Originally posted by [email protected]
                                You are mistaken about this, Adam. Because of this book, we now do know quite a lot about Walter. And how he thought of some of the guys he faced. We also have articles from the 20's in Baseball Magazine on who he felt were the greatest ballplayers, and who he felt were the best batters. His thoughts on Cobb and Ruth were golden. He felt Cobb was the best player ever, but that Lajoie was the best pure hitter, with Jackson second. Frank Baker was his particular hard out.

                                Bill Burgess
                                Bill,

                                I think you may have missed my point. We have what others thought of Walter but no direct interviews or TV appearances, etc. One gets a different perspective on a person when seeing them live in person or live on TV as opposed to what someone said about a person 50 years ago. We lose so much through time. A person that actually say Walter pitcher can tell you so much more than reading someone's recollections 50 years after the fact. The person who say him pitch can tell you abo ut his pitching motions, how hewalks off the mound, the look of his game face, his emotions, how he laughs, etc. Unfortunately that all has been lost to time. Watching Johnson in person must have been amazing. Perhaps one day a time machine will be invented...
                                Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

                                Comment

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