Monday, October 31, 2005

Roger Clemens, playoff enigma

My fascination with Roger Clemens' postseason performances started years ago. Watching him be outdueled in the playoffs by Dave Stewart at age 10, I couldn't understand how every Red Sox fan I knew proclaimed Clemens as the best in the American League. During the 2001 playoffs, Fox put a graphic up stating Clemens to be the "greatest competitor of all time" (whatever that meant). By then, I had grown accustomed to him being the 3rd or 4th man in the Yankees' playoff rotation. My father, my friends, even web folks like the Baseball Crank have commented on the same old Clemens after game 1 of the World Series. In this postseason, we have seen both Roger the dominating pitcher (NLDS game 5 relief appearance) and Roger the choke artist (NLDS game 2 or World Series game 1). Is Roger Clemens a playoff choke artist or simply treated unfairly because of his personality and gaudy regular season numbers? Is he a pitcher who gets too pumped for big games and cannot handle his own emotions or is he just a victim of facing the best since he is in the playoffs?

What I did was take every single performance and compile several stats earned runs, hits, walks, Ks, innings pitched, and what game it was. The earned runs, hits, walks, and Ks are obvious because it is easy to compare his perfomance in the regular season to playoffs with WHIP, K/9IP, and ERA for perfomance measures. I chose to look at innings pitched because I think a pitcher's ability to pitch deep into playoff games can mean the difference between a team's victory and defeat (as an Orioles fan, I understand this greatly because of Armando Benitez).

Clemens' postseason & regular season starts.... (Format is as follows IP/start, ERA, K/9IP, WHIP)

Regular Season Career
7.01, 3.12, 8.61, 1.173
Postseason Career
5.86, 3.72, 7.82, 1.22

There is not a lot of difference there. I think the biggest concerns I would have would be with the innings pitched and the ERA. My personal biggest concern would be with the innings pitched. Sure there are instances in the world series or his NL experience where pinch hitting would cause him to leave early, but to lose a whole inning is a burden on the bullpen. This was not a problem when he had the NY Yankees' dream team bullpen to lean back on, but it can be a problem for other teams.

Now why would people think that Clemens is a choke artist or gets too pumped up? It cannot just be in postseason play, it has to be deeper. Could it be in his numbers in bigger postseason games? Those are usually the most watched, and in the case of game 7s, reputations are made. I looked at Clemens' numbers for Game 1s, Game 7s and Game 5s in ALDS/NLDS play. His Quality Starts % was 37.5% for Game 1s and 40% for game 7s/DS Game 5s. The numbers show a poor picture..... (Format is as follows IP/start, ERA, K/9IP, WHIP)

Game 1s
5.63, 5.00, 6.6, 1.6

Game 7s & DS Game 5s
5.33, 4.05, 7.09, 1.2

Obviously, the higher profile playoff games or pressure starts have some mental impact on his performance. Clemens' ERA is almost 2 full runs higher than his career average, which is not what you would expect from your "ace". Regarding Game 7s/DS 5s, to lose 1 2/3 IP off of your average start when you are an "ace" creates a problem for your bullpen, places pressure on the rest of your team, and can leave lasting impressions in the minds of fans. I think these starts are why so many people feel that Clemens is an iffy or poor playoff pitcher.

It has been said that Clemens is an emotional pitcher, sometimes too emotional. Think back to two instances of early game theatrics: the 1990 ALCS ejection after 1 1/3 innings (while wearing black eye guard) and the 2000 World Series bat tossing. The ejection happened in a game where the Red Sox faced elimination, a must win situation, and the bat tossing was a game 2 with a 1-0 series lead to fall back on. I am surprised that he did not go nuts and give up 3 HRs in the bat tossing game, but that was a game 2: less lead...Clemens mowed the Mets down. I think that Joe Torre knew this and used Clemens effectively through the years by having him start game 2s and 3s. That is a luxury you can afford when you have El Duque, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and David Wells in the rotation. In fact, Clemens Quality Starts % is 65% in lower pressure playoff games (non-game 1s, 7s or deciding 5s). When his team is up in a series, he has 50% Quality Starts and his numbers are very similar to the non-game 1s, 7s or deciding 5s (probably due to overlap). Here are his stats for lower stress starts.... (Format is as follows IP/start, ERA, K/9IP, WHIP)

non-game 1s and non-game 7s or ALDS/NLDS game 5s
6.08, 3.18, 8.43, 1.09
when team leads series
6.00, 3.25, 8.38, 1.10

While his IP/start are lower than his career average, his Ks/9IP, ERA, and WHIP are all extremely close (the WHIP is slightly better). In Clemens' defense, I dug deeper into numbers where his team was down in the series and found he had 80% Quality Starts in those games. In the 4 Quality Starts, these were the starters he faced (Jeff Suppan, Brian Anderson, Storm Davis & a 41 year old Don Sutton). This is not a Who's Who of Best Pitchers in Baseball. It's almost like looking across the field he pumps himself up too much to try to matcht he other pitcher on the MLB's biggest stage.

Another thing that is odd with Clemens is that he does not strike fear into the opposing team. Why would he be the number 3 starter for the Astors this postseason when he is the "best right hander of the modern era"? Before the Clemens NLDS game 5 of this year, did anyone really fear him strutting out of the bullpen coming in to vanquish an opponent like Randy Johnson? I was looking forward to his entrance, as I thought he would implode. Just look at how some other "aces" compare between post and regular season; you might see why Clemens is so vexing..... (Format is as follows IP/start, ERA, K/9IP, WHIP)

Curt Schilling (improves significantly)
Postseason 7.28, 2.06, 8.56, .924
Reg. Season 7.63, 3.40, 8.77, 1.126

Randy Johnson (improvement)
Postseason 7.71, 3.08, 10.33, 1.06
Reg. Season 7.01, 3.11, 10.95, 1.16

Pedro Martinez (muddled, blame Grady)
Postseason 7.21, 3.40, 9.08, 1.122
Reg. Season 7.14, 2.72, 10.25, 1.021

Mystery Starter (improvement) *****
Postseason 6.64, 3.16, 9.77, 1.05
Reg. Season 6.80, 3.64, 7.17, 1.18

The stats may vary more with these pitchers because of the smaller sample size. These starters all gave what the teams expected. They have standards as aces and provided as expected. I think Pedro's playoff ERA is a case of Yankee-itis. I think Clemens overall playoff record paints a picture of a decent pitcher who just happened to be touched up a bit more by playoff caliber teams. I think the biggest reason behind the stigma of him being a choke artist or not coming up big in playoff games is because he performs much worse in high profile playoff games (game 1s, 7s or deciding 5s). I think his game 1 problems are really what drive this feeling the most because game 1 is where a tone is set for a whole series.

People who criticize his performance in playoff games often overlook his best postseason series: the 2001 world series. With the Yankees down 0-2, Clemens went 7 innings allowing 1 ER on 3 Hits while striking out 9. He followed that game with his best game 7 start against Curt Schilling. Clemens went 6 1/3 IP, gave up 1 ER and struck out 10. Clemens is a decent postseason pitcher, but not nearly as great as his regular season legacy. Because of his regular season dominance and "ace" standards, I tend to lean towards Clemens being a postseason choker rather than an unfairly treated ace.

*****The mystery pitcher has had a solid career in the MLB. He has bailed out Roger Clemens on occasion. He will most likely not go to the Hall of Fame, despite amassing over 220 wins in the "Juice Era" of the MLB. In one playoff series, he started two games and performed at a near perfect level. He got two no decisions despite throwing a combined 15 innings, allowing 1 ER, striking out 25, walking 4, and allowing 4 hits. I spoke with him once shortly before a start that had been rain delayed at Fenway. Optimistic "College Era Me" said "Whatever you do [this offseason], just don't go to the Yankees". He went. You know his name by now, Mike Mussina.*****

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hopes of a Roger Clemens Game 5 start

I am now cheering for the Astros to win this game so that Roger Clemens has to start game 5. I have spent the last several days looking over some Clemens statistics in the postseason and I have been trying to determine why people think Clemens chokes in the playoffs. The big theme is that it matters when Clemens performs poorly in the playoffs, not that he is a poor postseason performer.

If Clemens pitches a game 5, here is what I think his line will look like....

5 IP, 3 ER, 4Ks, 5 H, 1BB, 95 pitches

I'm willing to bet he gives up the runs in the first two innings, then settles down but his pitch count is too high to go deep into the game.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Vikings link too good to pass up

The Vikings story hit and caught me off guard. This article/interview is extremely enlightening, and it makes me want to buy the SI issue that has the bigger story of what actually happened. I especially liked this line about Tice.....

But I also know that numerous Vikings were alienated by Tice's behavior late last season, when he walked around proclaiming that he'd be fired by McCombs after the season. Tice also didn't win any fans by coddling Moss -- "a guy who cares more about himself than the team," Birk says -- and other less-committed players, while, to borrow from that noted leader Karl Rove, failing to shore up his base (i.e. the offensive linemen).

Tice coddled Moss, ticked off other players, and walked around saying he would be fired after the season. How did the Vikings go 8-8 and make the playoffs when Randy Moss was injured for nearly half the season? Is it quite possible that Randy Moss was a piece of flypaper that could get all of the negative attention from the press and perform like a superstar? Yes.

This article slants the Moss trade in a shameless hometown way to make it look like Moss is not havign as big of an impact as he really is. Moss has carried that team offensively. On top of that, the Raiders have lost tight games compared to the blow outs the Vikings have suffered. If the fat Polish kicker had hit his FGs, the Raiders could have beaten the Eagles in Philly.

Then there are these conflicting reports of how many guys were involved with their love boat adventure. Tice says few were 'bad boys'. This report discusses how pictures were taken as men engaged in the acts and definitely did not do anything to stop them from happening. I guess a few Vikings were attempting to protect people and apologized for teammates' actions. Who wants to bet that a few are innocent and many are guilty, but the less talented players will be disciplined? I seriously doubt they will sit Culpepper and Smoot who appear on the list of players on the love boat (see this article).

I enjoyed center Birk's candor and his touch of comedy with the interview/conversation with Silver. Birk is a fellow Ivy Leaguer, and I always love seeing an Ivy Leaguer in the NFL. I think the funniest thing he said was that the strippers and prostitutes brought in from other locations were "a slap in the face to all the Minnesota strippers". I have always thought a book written by a 'smart' football player who witnesssed some seriously scandalous NFL behavior or championship seasons would be a great read (challenge North Dallas Forty for coolest insider football book). Birk now has a great scandal for a chapter, and with his 8 seasons with the Vikings, he's seen the highs and lows. I am tired of the Lawrence Taylors and Michael Irvins of the NFl coming out with books. I will read Irvin's book because he said no one is safe except Troy Aikman, as only Aikman stood by Irvin during his coke & hoes scandal. I'd much rather read a book from a guy who participated in great games, technically discusses his position and how the game has changed, and was not a 'playah'.

I want to read the NFL version of The Game by Ken Dryden.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Gambling is bad, Mmm-kay?

You will never hear me say that gambling is bad. I think that like almost everything, gambling done in moderation can be a fun activity. Gambling addictions grow and destroy families just as alcoholism, drug abuse or philandering can. I am of the belief that some people are predisposed to gambling problems. That little rush gives them a high, and fromt here on out, they are always chasing that high.

I bring this up because Michael Jordan is going to be on "60 Minutes" to discuss how he never was addicted to gambling. I have a strong feeling that Micahel's gambling habits crossed the line at some point, and that point may have been his first retirement. It is a conspiracy theory that I have always enjoyed, and this website has a nice little article on MJ's gambling issues. The very end bothers me because I do not believe the league fixed that game. Had the league wanted to fix any game of Jordan's era it would have been when he came back midseason and played with the Bulls but lost to the Magic. Stern did not need to fix the game because he had Penny and Shaq to represent the eastern conference (many people believe several games of the Kobe/Shaq era were "influenced" by the league).

Gambling addiction is a serious problem because a byproduct is not just money wasted on a drug or booze and not just broken homes. Because of the bookies/mobsters involved with sports or games of chance gambling, many people go into debt to gamble more: chase money down the drain with more money. This leads to debts with people who you can not file bankruptcy to hide from or avoid. I recommend that if anyone knows someone suffering from an addiction to gambling to contact Gamblers Annonymous.

Two good blogs

While they are on and are well known, I do not think a lot of people know that John Clayton and Buster Olney are maintaining blogs for espn insider subscribers. I think that Clayton sometimes focuses too much on offense, and Olney sometimes focuses too much on the NY Yankees. Those are small issues as they are excellent writers and find decent articles to read. Maybe Olney focuses on the Yankees because they are so important and he was the NY Times writer fcused on the Yanks? Jeez, maybe.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

USC-Notre Dame, a Game to Remember

I should preface this with the statement that I am a huge USC fan; one of the few living east of the Mississippi. I first remember cheering for the USC Trojans because my high school team was the Trojans, and as a little kid I cheered on Rodney Peete, Junior Seau and Mark Carrier. It has been marvelous watching Pete Caroll turn the ship around and bring the Trojans back to the top of the college football ranks. Yesterday, the Trojans competed and won one of the best football games I have ever watched. It was a match-up of the no. 1 USC Trojans and the no. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. With all of the hype, it would be impossible to live up to, but both teams delivered even more than all the pre-game shows could promise.

I should first link to some articles. This from ESPN really shares the emotion felt by the players and the effort they gave. This article is a little bit slanted in Irish favor, but since it is from the NY Times, I am not surprised. The writer notes the little flubs that ND made that would have sealed the game for him but he fails to mention the odd interception that bounced off of the head/shoulders of a ND defensive back fortuitously into the arms of another DB or the punt return with at least 2 blocks in the back. This article will tell you a little bit about that 4th and 8 play where Leinart went 60 yards to Jarrett. This article I think holds the key: pete Carroll never considered kicking the field goal.

I watched the first 3 quarters of the game and felt like I was watching the New England Patriots of 2001-2002 play against a superior opponent on paper and manage to play the game and define it on their terms. I also felt like I was watching the Patriots-Rams and NY Giants-Bills Super Bowls. Coincidentally, the Parcells/Belicheck dynasty of coaching was involved with both of those Super Bowls. Notre Dame was going to try ball control; everyone in America knew that. The problem with that approach is that USC can score on any given play. The first quarter showed that. USC had the ball 3 minutes and scored 14 points. That is why explosive players are coveted by NFL teams.

After watching the first half, a friend called me and asked how I felt about the game. My thoughts were that everything that could go wrong for USC had gone wrong and there was no way that would happen in back to back halves. USC had a red zone turnover on a freak bounce, gave up a special teams touchdown, and had 8 penalties. Take a look at the box score. Notice the penalties for the whole game. They only had 1 in the second half. While they did have another turnover in Notre Dame's territory, they did not allow ND to capitalize on that mistake. The deep ball was taken away, and USC started to double cover to help defensive back/child actor, no. 18 Walker. Notre Dame was catching every single break a team could catch but were still up only 7 points. For all that time of possession, they still had fewer yards than USC and their QB had poor numbers.

The last few sentences go to a strength of the Trojans; second half coaching adjustments. Pete Carroll does not allow the Trojans to get beat and continue to get beat throughout the game. He understands that if your system is not working in the first half, you have to change it. It might be a tough lesson he learned in the NFL. Some college coaches **cough cough Steve Spurrier cough cough Bobby Bowden** beat their system into a pulp and when they meet a defense or offense that is picking it apart, do not change to give their team a chance to win. They believe that the talent of their team will persevere in all games. What does that make them: coaches or recruiters?

This game will be talked about for a long time. Is it the best game I have ever watched, yes. Is it the best game of all time, no. I would want to watch tapes of the other games or ESPN Classic telecasts of games before I made a decision on that. As good as this game was, each year a bowl game is outstanding. Rarely though, do two top teams meet and it comes down to the final ticks of the clock. It is also rare that storied schools who have returned to the top clash and battle with completely different styles. Maybe if Penn St. had remained unbeaten and could challenge one of these teams in a bowl game would the Beano Cooks and Lee Corsos of the sporting world go nuts once again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

K-Rod, the new Mo Rivera

Francisco Rodriguez was a late season call up who smoked batters and helped the Angels win the World Series in 2002. He is a whopping 23 years old and already has 3 postseason years under his belt. Despite last year's losses to the Boston Red Sox during their miracle run to end the curse, K-Rod has a postseaosn record of 5-3 with a 2.31 ERA. This postseason he has good stats marred by 1 HR he gave up in game 2 against the Yankees. He just finished off the White Sox in game 1 of the ALCS with 11 pitches in one inning of work. While Scot Sheilds did an amazing job tonight to get the Angels out of trouble and bridge the game to get to K-Rod, K-Rod filled the role of Mariano Rivera. K-Rod is the premier shutdown reliever of the future.

I am not saying K-Rod will be as good as Rivera has been. K-Rod is still developing, but he is already among the best in the MLB. I think their developments are similar. Rivera was the set up man for an established closer, and K-Rod was the set up man for Troy Percival. Both have closed down the best hitters in the game on the game's biggest stage. Rivera's K/BB ratio is slightly better 3.38 to 3.15 in the regular season but the gap grows in the postseason (excluding 2005). Rivera's is 6.07 vs. K-Rod's 4.125 but if you look at Rivera's stats through his first 2 postseason's he had a K/BB ratio of 3.0. Of course, Rivera's ERA was microscopic (sub .75) and K-Rod has given up more HRs. Do I think K-Rod is as good as Rivera, no. River has stayed on top for a long time compared to the average reliever. I do not think we'll see a reliever like Rivera for a long time unless K-Rod maintains his current abilities for a 5+ year span. Not now, but in 3 years when the Angels have a WS or two more in the bank, the real comparisons will begin and the Stat Nerds can jump in and start formally debating.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bush and the GOP congress spending like a Democrat

This makes me pretty sick to see the party of fiscal conservatism become the party of "Hey big spender!" Who will balance the Democrats and their spending ways? No one. Here are some links on Bush's spending ways and some nice op-eds about them.....

The Cato Institue shows how Bush has now increased spending more than even LBJ. The father of the Great Society still did not increase spending as much as Bush.

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan calls Bush out for the big spending and how this really is not helping. I thought the 2004 election showed if you pleased your base you won elections. I guess Bush and Co forgot who put them in power.

This CNN article from back in 04 talks of the spending problem Bush had in his first term.

Why does Bush try to win moderate votes with increasing spending. Black voters and single moms still will not vote for him or the GOP. It isn't going to change with a few bills.

This article points out more big spending. As I like to quote from the past, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely....or something like that.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Lots to update

First and foremost, my friend Alex is getting married next weekend. I am pumped for it and the bachelor party was lots of fun. Foxwoods was a good time. Plenty of gambling and lots of guy talk. It was great to share stories, learn little secrets and act like a degenerate for 2 days. I learned how to play craps like a beginner. I look forward to my next trip to Foxwoods, as I plan on playing craps. Who would not want to play a game called craps?

Our trip to NY's wine country and my old college stomping grounds was awesome. We did the Cayuga Wine Trail again, and we drank plenty and had fun really tasting the wine this time. There were no accidental purchases this time. I spent an evening with wifey in Ithaca, and it was fun and kind of sad to return to Cornell's campus. I always feel this sadness when I step onto campus. It is a beautiful place which was fun and challenging at times. It was also a place where I lost friends due to bad grades and 'semester leaves' which became permanent. I learned many valuable lessons about life and about myself which should be the goal of any college education.

I will update about wine in the future. I had a cigar today and now the nicotine is rushing to my brain and playing games with me. I need to lie down.