Why Roger Clemens
In 2004, Roger Clemens made his debut in the National League, 20 years into his acclaimed career. And he truly had an amazing season, one that was befitting to his reputation. He went 18-4, and had the best winning percentage among all the pitchers in the league, at the age of 40.
But then, he was the Rocket. He had always been so fabulous, always been so good.
Meh. People weren’t too shocked. (And let’s try not to think about how he was able to achieve that while reading this; this was when we all thought Clemens was a stand-up guy, or a jackass but a helluva pitcher.)
At the age of 40, Clemens came in 5th in ERA with 2.98. 5th in strikeouts, but then, he was in the same league with Randy Johnson, so he was practically ranked 4th among the pitchers who were not born to strike people out (and who are capable of putting up realistic K figures.)
- Ranked 8th in Innings Pitched (214.1)
- Ranked 5th in ERA (2.98)
- Ranked 5th in Strikeouts (218)
- Ranked 7th in K/9 (9.154)
- Ranked 5th in Adjusted ERA (146)
- Ranked 8th in Whip (1.157)
- Ranked 2nd in Wins (18)
- Ranked 1st in Win. Pct (0.818)
While undoubtedly the right-hander had a terrific year, it is very difficult to pin down the argument that he was the best pitcher this year by any standard. Was he the most likely pitcher to get the winning decision in each game? Probably so, with his remarkable winning percentage. But that says nothing about his ability to give his team the chance to win a game. By just comparing simply where he was ranked in comparison to other pitchers in the league (namely Ben Sheets, Roy Oswalt, Jason Schmidt, and Randy Johnson), one can see that he had his place in the top tier, but not at the apex.
Who should have won?
Johnson, coming off an injury-plagued season in 2003, had the record of 16-14, which a lot of people thought was the kind of record that simply “doesn’t cut” for the Cy Young award. I do think “Win” is an important factor despite the recent trend to put progressively less and less weight on the category. It shows how many game the pitcher successfully led the team to win during the season, though it does not show how he did so. I do think that 20 game-winner and 15 game-winner have some differences, but they have to be weighed carefully while factoring the other categories as well. But in this case, Johnson had 16 while Clemens had 18. The gap was only 2 wins, and it wasn’t as if Clemens was the league leader in wins. It was Roy Oswalt who won 20 games and the title.
- Ranked 1st in WHIP (0.900)
- Ranked 1st in ERA (2.60)
- Ranked 1st in Hits/9 (6.484)
- Ranked 1st in Strikeouts (290)
- Ranked 1st in Adjusted ERA (178)
- Ranked 1st in WAR for Pitchers (7.4)
- Ranked 2nd in K/9 (10.624)
- Ranked 2nd in Innings Pitched( 245.7)Ranked 5th in Wins (16)
Not only did Randy Johnson outperform Roger Clemens in virtually every category that matters when determining the Cy Young recipient, he also outperformed almost all the pitchers in the same league. Hmm…I wonder why he didn’t get the Cy Young.
14 Losses Just Don’t Cut It?
Here is how my logic goes.
Since there isn’t a single category in which Clemens proved himself better than the Big Unit except in Wins and Winning percentages, it must be those two things that got him voted over Johnson, by surprisingly and upsettingly large margin (See below). For the maintenance of my own sanity here, I’m going to go ahead and assume that the culprit was the “winning percentage” category, because, honestly, had Clemens’ 18 wins meant THAT much more than Johnson’s 16 (just the wins, not taking the losses into account), then I am going to have to reconsider my perspective towards those with voting rights.
Really? 2 wins? That’s all it takes?
The only inference I can extract out of this logic is that, it must have been Johnson’s 14 losses that really meant so much to the voters, since it really couldn’t have been the whole 18 vs 16 thing. It is much more convincing that way. They just couldn’t hand it to the guy who had the number 14 engraved in the latter half of his shameful win-loss record. The mere notion must have been so repellent to them, since only 8 of them chose Johnson to be superior.
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Defending 14 Losses
To oversimplify things, Johnson had tough luck winning games. Often he battled late into the game and had his team in the game, and D-Backs managed to lose eventually. There’s nothing a pitcher can do about that other than keeping the team in the game as long as he could, usually into 7th, 8th and 9th inning as pitchers of Johnson’s caliber are expected to. Johnson did what he was supposed to do, and he accomplished it at high quality. Following is the breakdown of the games in which he pitched well and did not get the win.
(For the lack of better stats, I used “Quality Start” as a filter first. It is very much inadequate, I know, needless to mention its innate controversy. But for now it is enough to demonstrate that Johnson had his reasons for his 14 losses, a lot of which were inadvertent on his part.)
Among 14 losses that Johnson took in 2004, he pitched a QS in 9 of them. Also, out of 5 times he didn’t get any decision (ND), he delivered a quality start 4 times. In other words, he should have been given a fair chance to obtain a win in these 13 games, and he ended up getting the following record.
May 7 vs. PHI, 6.1IP 10K 2R, Game Score 65
(D-Backs lost 4:1)
May 12 vs. NYM, 7IP 7K 1R, Game Score 72.
(D-Backs lost 1:0, Tom Glavine pitched 7.2IP 0ER)
Jun 29 vs. SDP, 8IP 8K 4H 3R 2ER, Game Score 72
(D-Backs lost 3:2, deciding run scored on error by Alex Cintron)
Jul 15 vs. LAD, 7IP 4H 0R, Game Score 77.
(D-Backs lost 4:3, blowing 3:0 lead in the 8th)
Jul 25 vs. COL, 8IP 6H 0R 14K, Game Score 84
(D-Backs lost 3:2, blowing 1:0 lead in the 9th again by Randy Choate)
Aug 20 vs. CIN, 7.2IP 4H 2R 1ER 14K, Game Score 76
(D-Backs lost 2:0, deciding run scored on error by Shea Hillenbrand)
Aug 25 vs. PIT, 8IP 3H 2R 11K, Game Score 79
(D-Backs lost 2:1, Johnson completes the game)
Aug 31 vs. LAD, 8IP 3H 1R 15K, Game Score 86
(D-Backs lost 4:1 in 13th inning)
Sep 22 vs. COL, 7IP 3R 1ER 4K, Game Score 55
(D-Backs lost 4:2, deciding run scored on error by Shea Hillenbrand)
Games ERA Result IP H R ER BB SO 13 2.03 0-9 93 64 26 21 17 116
That’s not to say he should have won 9 more games; it is unreasonable to expect your team to win every time the starting pitcher allows 3 or less runs in 6 or more innings, and it is especially more lunatic notion when your team is D-backs ’04. Plus, the expectations on pitchers like Johnson or Clemens go way beyond the so-called “Quality Start” line. So we raise the bar to High Quality Start “HQS,” 7 or more innings and 2 or fewer runs(earned or unearned!).
Games ERA Result IP H R ER BB SO 6 0.98 0-3 45 2/3 23 6 5 7 70
This is almost ridiculous. ‘Nuff said.
Addendum: Clemens’ Tendency to Avoid Charges
Since every pitcher begins the game with the default score of 50 points, I figured it would be fair to conclude that the games in which Clemens displayed Game Score below 50 point should be graded “below average,” thus disqualifying him from really “earning” the victory on his own.
- Out of 33 games Clemens started, he scored less than 50 on nine different occasions, which was roughly 27% of all the starts he had. In other words, it was a fairly accurate mathematical assumption that Clemens would be sub-par in every 4 game he started. I do not think this fact alone dishonors other 24 games that Clemens pitched well, but I do think such ratio is a little too high a number for a guy recognized as the best pitcher of the year.
- His ERA was 8.14 in these 9 games, averaging 5 1/3 inning per game, and the Astros went 4-5 while Clemens went 3-2. This record was, to say the least, not representative of the performance he showed in those 9 games. The gist is that Clemens posted a winning 3-2 record in the worst 9 games he pitched all year.
- Johnson had seven below-50 games in ‘04, including the one he scored exactly 50 (I felt compelled to include it for unbiased comparison.) That is 7 out of 35 games he started, which would be 20%, not too awesome to my standard, but still far better than the guy who was voted as the Cy Young winner (as in most of other categories). He went 2-4 (I was shocked by the result, because I was expecting something like 0-5), and the team went 2-5. Johnson posted 6.64 and averaged 6 innings per game in 7 worst games of his season.
The year 1999 is a significant year for MVP re-doers because Pedro Martinez came ever so close to winning the MVP for the first time since Dennis Eckersley in 1992, or for more mouth-gaping effect, for the first time since Roger Clemens in 1986 as a starting pitcher. He was so close to the honour, raking 8 first-place votes (which was more than the actual recipient Pudge Rodriguez), and tallying total of 239 points, only 13 points behind the Rangers catcher. This year’s MVP ballot raised a lot of eyebrows:
First, is this a a fair way to determine an MVP award, a system in which one can get more first-place votes and still lose to those with just more second-place votes? Second, related to the first query, is the MVP ballot more about “how widely you are perceived as a ‘top 2 performer’ than it is about ‘how widely are you perceived as ‘the performer?” And third, what the hell does a pitcher have to do in order to become the most valuable player in modern times? (Well, Verlander just answered that question, I think.)
Still as interesting as this highly-profiled case may be, today’s post is about the 1999 NL MVP award, another MVP ballot with some potential to intrigue people and lure them into meaningless should-a-would-a-could-a debates, but eventually shadowed by the heated post-ballot discussion regarding the AL MVP.
1999 NL MVP Voting
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2. Why Chipper Jones?
The Braves third-baseman had put up a very respectable number and led his team to a remarkable season with 103 wins. His main appeal for the award was…
1) His second-half surge that helped his team clinch the title (24 HR in 70 games, slugging 0.693)
2) Nearly Pujols-like performace against the Mets, and other division rivals (15 HR in 47 games)
3) League leader in Offensive Wins Above Replacement (8.2), Runs Created (165).
4) 3rd in OPS (1.074), 3rd in Home Runs (45), 4th in TB (359).
The another significant reason why Chipper Jones won the award was, aside from his magnificent numbers, his performance against the Mets during the 3-game series on September 21, 1999, at Turner Field, Atlanta. The 27-year-old delivered 4 home runs and drove in 7 during the three-game series, knocking the Mets out of the race and also making sure that they get hammered too hard to get up and run again. His splendid performance spurred the Braves into the division title, and made his case towards the MVP ballot under the banner “Chipper Jones, the clutch hitter.” (probably this is one of the few cases in which a batter’s single-game performance actually had serious impact on the MVP ballot). In short, it was his ‘clutchness’ that got him the first and the last MVP trophy in his career.
3. Why not Chipper Jones?
I want to make a case for Jeff Bagwell, who, I think, was more deserving of the award than Jones, though not by a large margin. Bagwell makes his case by,
- Surprise, surprise, his defensive contribution to the team
- Even more surprise, his stole 30 bags, unheard of from first basemen in the league
- League leader in WAR, Offensive WAR, Walks, Runs, Times on Base.
- 4th in OPS(1.045), 6th in RBI (126), 5th in HR (42).
In late and close situations, Jones batted whopping 0.417 while driving 15 runs in 84 AB. Bagwell batted 0.316, almost 100 points lower, yet drove in 20 runs in just 76 AB. Bagwell walked much more (39) than Jones (18) in late and close situations, which enables him to have even higher On-Base-Percentage (0.547) than Jones’ despite his batting average much lower than Jones’s (0.520). He grounded into a double play only once in those 84 AB. To sum these data up, he was more patient and cautious at the plate under pressure, whereas Jones aggressively tried to take advantage of the situation and actually came through.
This is not to say Jones was not a clutch hitter. He certainly had one of the best clutch seasons in 1999, but I just want to point out that Bagwell was also a clutch hitter in his own way throughout the season. His only fault was that he did not have anything close to 0.417 batting AVG to flaunt, which seems to be the recurring pattern throughout his career. Plus, remember that Jones is a switch-hitter, which means that he can always put pitchers at discomfort by batting the opposite side of the pitcher’s hand. This is actually one reason that Jones could afford to be aggressive at the plate, an advantage that Bagwell did not get to enjoy.
When it came to clutchness of a hitter, Bagwell’ 1999 had a lot to offer, most of which seem to have been overlooked by the MVP voters.
Jeff Bagwell’s Men-on stat, 1999
Chipper Jones’ Men-on Stats, 1999
1. Bagwell exhibited .331/.516/730 in RISP, which is better than Jones’ .313/.470/.612 just about in every way.
2. 73.3% of Jones’ unusual 45 home runs were solo shots (33/45) whereas only 20 out of Bagwell’s usual 42 homers were solo, slightly below 50% mark.
3. Bagwell’s season batting average was just about 0.304, not-too-fancy. But he batted 0.331 in 148 AB when RISP, which is what a lot of people would describe as so-called ‘clutch.’ Jones’ RISP batting average, however, was only .313 in 134 AB, which was even lower than his .319 season batting average, ranked 10th in the league. Hmm…
4. When you compare Men-on stats, Chipper Jones stayed at mediocre .280/.429/.508, which isn’t too far from the numbers that Colorado Rockies team average posted that year (.288/.348/.472, though OBP gap is a bit stretchy, you get my point.) In the same situational split, Bagwell hit .303/.460/.605, which seems like MVP caliber number in any given year.
The following is an article from San Francisco Chronicle on September 28, 1999, by Henry Schulman, written a few days after Jones’ terrific performance.
……Unlike last year, when it was a two-horse race between Sosa and McGwire, the National League MVP balloting in 1999 promised to be a scramble.
That is, until one of the candidates stepped up in a monster pressure situation and came through with a Herculean performance.
When Jones, the Atlanta Braves’ switch-hitting slugger, hit four home runs in three games in a showdown series against the New York Mets last week, he secured the trophy, which he might have won anyway. In the first game of that series, he homered from both sides of the plate to give New York its only runs in a 2-1 victory.
Now that’s clutch….
….Furthermore, he is hitting .415 in what Stats Inc. describes as “late and close” at-bats, generally those from the seventh inning on, when your team is either behind or ahead by one run. In comparison, Bagwell’s late-and- close is .324, Williams is at .289 and Sosa .307.
Beyond the numbers, Jones picked his team up in a year of significant injuries to teammates Brian Jordan and Javy Lopez, not to mention the cancer that cost Andres Galarraga the entire season.
Let me confess now that this article was what drove me to write this long analysis of an MVP balloting that took place 12 years ago, which probably no one remembers, not even Bagwell fans. I am in agreement with all the things that he wrote in the article above except the part that reads “he secured the trophy, which he might have won anyway.”
4. Why Bagwell then?
Bagwell was more reliable first baseman in 1999 than Jones was at third. He played every single game in 1999, committing 8 errors in over 1400 innings. True that Jones’ position by nature is more challenging, but given Bagwell’s defensive reliability and Jones’ relative mediocrity at the hot corner, it is hard to argue that Bagwell didn’t get to win the award because Jones had the positional challenge that Bagwell did not have to overcome. Perhaps it is a different story if Bagwell was a DH or incompetent LF while Jones had something close to Gold Glove caliber at 3B or a shortstop (provided that other numbers stayed equal). Then I probably wouldn’t be writing this.
The Braves lineup behind Jones was actually quite strong even with the absence of Andres Galarraga. Brian Jordan drove in 115, Andruw Jones’ WAR marked 7.0 which was the same as Chipper’s, Ryan Klesko and Bret Boone combined 41 home runs. More importantly, the team had Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz-Millwood anchored in the rotation. This is a team that would have done quite alright without Jones.
Lastyly, Bagwell played 81 games in Astrodome, the architectural marvel designed to kill hitters. The dome’s ambiance had the reputation for not carrying the ball well (lowest HR factor from 96-98), not to mention the poor visibility that frequently made the batter complain about (Why do you think Jose Lima suddenly won 21 games and struck out 187 batters in a single season?) Following is Bagwell’s home and away split in 1999, which just about wraps up my argument.
Jones beat other MVP candidates by quite sizable margin, which I do not think should have been the case (Refer to the ballot result at the top.) He swept 29 first place votes, while Bagwell only got 1. I think Bagwell deserved better result, if not the award itself, and that’s really all I have to say.