January 11, 2013
The Good Old Days: Roger Clemens
In a Hall of Fame class that was chock full of controversy because of chemical enhancements—both proven and suspected—that helped to obfuscate baseball's sacred record book, Roger Clemens stood out as a potentially-tainted hurler in a sea of power bats. His performance record is one of the greatest of all time, with a major-league-record seven Cy Young awards spread over a 24-year career, but the PED cloud that hangs over the Rocket is blocking his ascension to baseball's highest plane. Much like batting doppelganger Barry Bonds, Clemens experienced a tremendous spike in performance at an age when most players are planning their retirement, raising suspicion as to the legitimacy of his numbers.
Clemens was drafted by the Boston Red Sox with the 19th pick of the first round in the 1983 draft, selected out of the University of Texas after having spent some time at the baseball factory of San Jacinto Community College. His minor-league numbers were unfair: an ERA of 1.47 in 208.7 total innings across three levels, with 240 strikeouts against just 38 free passes for a K-to-walk ratio better than six to one, and just five homers allowed. Less than a year after signing with Boston, the right-hander was pitching in the Show.
Clemens’ introduction to the majors was a bumpier ride, though a rookie-season ERA of 4.32 belied his otherwise solid peripherals. His strike-zone stats went backwards in 1985 while his batted-ball numbers saved his stat line, as Clemens suffered from shoulder woes through the first half of the season. The ailment shelved him for the month of July, and after returning for a pair of August starts, he went under the knife, requiring surgery to repair his pitching shoulder.
The Rocket came back with a vengeance in 1986. Clemens not only shook off the shoulder injury, but he was the most dominant pitcher in the American League, compiling a 24-4 record and 2.48 ERA across 254 innings, with a K:BB ratio of 3.5 and a league-low WHIP. The highlight of his season came on April 29, 1986, when Clemens established a new major-league record by striking out 20 Mariners. The display earned Clemens the Cy Young award in addition to the AL MVP award, but he was just getting started, as the right-hander would exceed his '86 total of 4.9 WARP in four of the next five seasons.