Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Rocket Re-Entry

In a way the only surprise was the timing of the announcement that Roger Clemens, arguably one of the top-three starting pitchers in Boston Red Sox history, was joining the New York Yankees this season at the ripe old age of 45 for the princely sum of a pro-rated $28 million for the season. The sum is really about $26 million owed by the Yankees once the luxury tax is included. Someone should go tell the Florida Marlins owners and David Glass out in Kansas City to stop doing cartwheels as the small-market teams get quite a substantial boost in cold hard cash now that the Yankees have started their annual spending spree early.

Of course, this will also end all that nonsense about the lean, mean, cash-conscious Yankees hoohah that has been spreading through the media since last winter when the Yankees unloaded an unhappy Big Unit and a surly Gary Sheffield. As I said at the time, the Unit was a colossal failure, and the Sheffield deal was a salary dump to any team not named the Red Sox because the prospects received back from Detroit were hardly top quality. Now, it is clear that the Yankees were clearing out anyone who could fall into an anti-Roger camp, that is, anyone with some veteran cache and the canastas to speak up against the way the front-office and Regular Joe Torre would give the Rocket preferential treatment.

So Roger Clemens goes to New York, cementing himself as a villain in Boston after a three-year thaw that saw him opening the door for future love, praise, and adoration heaped upon him. In other words, Larry Lucchino is telling the marketing interns to scrap the preliminary planning for the 2008 Roger Clemens day at Fenway. All the goodwill the new ownership team had for the Rocket, all the warm fuzzies he could have generated, now disappear as he rumbles out as the next David Cone: a gun for hire.

And what really is the significance of the Rocket to the Yankees rotation? How many oft-injured senior citizens can you cram into a rotation? What is the value of the $46 million dollar panic move of signing Kei Igawa after missing out on Matsuzaka if Brian Cashman then has to send him to the minor leagues in May?

As usual, Joe Sheehan over at Baseball Prospectus fights through the opinion to give some common sense and solid statistical analysis of the Clemens signing (I will highlight some key points he made below):

What can’t be debated is this: the impact of any starting pitcher, over two-thirds of a season, is limited by opportunity. The Yankees haven’t signed vintage Roger Clemens, or even the version that won a Cy Young Award in 2001 while pitching them to the World Series. This version will only make 21-23 starts. It will most likely average six innings a start, perhaps less. It relies more on command and keeping the ball in the park—Clemens’ translated walk and home-run rates as as Astro were his lowest since his Blue Jay years—than on whiffing batters, as his translated strikeout rates while in Houston were career lows…

the impact of Clemens is smaller than is perceived, because of three factors:
The limited number of innings he will pitch.
Clemens, while still effective, is nonetheless a 44-year-old with declining power moving into a tough division.
Igawa likely not being as bad as the first month of his career would indicate…
Here’s the best argument for the Yankees spending $26 million on Clemens: he was probably going to the Red Sox if they didn’t. So if you’re the Yankees, you haven’t just made a two-win, maybe three-win, improvement; you’ve prevented the Red Sox from doing about the same, given Clemens’ edge over Julian Tavarez or a rehabbing Jon Lester.
Taking that into consideration, and the signing is worth four to six wins, which makes it both economically sensible and gives it a greater potential to impact what should be a very good race in the AL East.
So I have to agree with the analysis. Signing Clemens is better for the Yankees than letting him go to Boston; but at the same time, unless they continue bringing in a future hall-of-famer every month to add to the bullpen or rotation, this seriously flawed $200+ million team is not going to be able to overtake the Red Sox.

If Clemens insists on playing the villain in Boston, what better way to have his career end by watching the Red Sox hold-off his favored Yankees all season long.

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