Monday, May 07, 2007

Faithless: The Final Chapter in the Saga of Roger Clemens

The news came in yesterday: Clemens heads back to the Toilet. I was a little surprised, but only in that I thought it would be a few weeks until he made his decision. One thing I can say with certainty: I knew he would not be pitching for the Boston Red Sox in 2007.

It was always between the Yankees and Houston, and what they could offer the game's greatest (or most mercenary) arm-for-hire. And when I say offer, do not cloud the issue with things like "history" or "Championships" or "fans" - this was a retail decision. The Yankees would outbid everyone, that was a mortal lock. But Houston is in Clemens' back yard, and there was a convenience factor there. Unfortunately, they could not pony up the cash, and they suck. In the end, Roger went for the cash, as always.

The Sox were never really in the bidding - we didn't need him enough to mortgage the farm like New York did, we are inconveniently located, Dan Shaughnessy works in Boston, and Clemens hates Boston like Bush hates education. Sure, Clemens' uttered a few trite sentimental phrases, but at this point one can almost believe that was just to get the more gullible fans' hopes up so he could shatter them. Is it possible he was still exacting revenge on the Hub, after so much time?

The question I would ask is: why wouldn't he? The key tenet in understanding the mind of a top-level professional athlete is this - they are the center of the universe. Some people, especially in Boston, seem to feel that since they buy the tickets, memorabilia, and overpriced vittles that pay the athlete, this engenders a synchronous relationship between the player and the fans. And sometimes, like in the case of a Trot Nixon or Tim Wakefield, the player has enough moral fiber to make this true.

In the case of a Roger Clemens, this is not true. The fan perspective, rather finely put by Bill Simmons on numerous occasions, just doesn't seem to resonate with Roger. To Red Sox Nation, Clemens essentially tanked his last few years in Boston, boozing and whoring (according to many anecdotal references) his way through the season before moving on to Toronto and suddenly working his ass off to win Cy Youngs, and then committing the ultimate betrayal by going to New York. It was inexcusable, a shockingly vengeant "fuck you" to the fans who brought him into this world as a young rookie in 1984 at the tender age of 21, and lavished love and support on the pitcher through his 13 years in the organization.

To be fair to Clemens, there is a third person in the equation - our beloved, departed Dan Duquette, who after badly misjudging Clemens in the negotiations that allowed him to move to Toronto said that he would not give out long contracts to players in "the twilight" of their career. The bad blood between Duquette and Clemens probably eased the latter's transition to the Evil Empire. After his move to Toronto Clemens said of Duquette "He wanted his team and he wanted some other guys he brought in for Mo [Vaughn] and everybody. It was an easy decision. It wasn't a hard decision at all for me."

We all know the Duke could be a dick, and in the best of times came across as a robot invented to destroy the earth. But Clemens' sentiment points out to the average fan that in Clemens' mind there were only two factors involved in his decision - money, and Duquette. The fans were not at all an issue - they are not even mentioned here. Even if he thought the fans were a distant, distant third in the equation, he could have said "in spite of the way the negotiations panned out, I do have some regret for the fans of Boston" or something. But no - nothing. This is what galls us, years later. And having been called on it, many times in fact, a competitive, me-first guy like Clemens would be sure to take an aggressive stance against Boston as a whole. Which he appears to have done.

Make no mistake, if Theo and John Henry had opened the purse wide enough, ol' Roger would have come back, and in his cagier old age would be saying all the right things. But it would have been a stunning outlay of money; one that the current pitching staff simply does not warrant. In any case, you can be certain of this: even if Clemens were to have come back and pitched his final game as a member of the Boston Red Sox, you and I, the trusting fan, would not have factored into the decision.

Ellsbury Quickens

Jacoby Ellsbury was promoted to Pawtucker last week, after just destroying AA ball. He hit .452, with a .518 OBP, and .644 SLG in 17 games. In 3 games in AAA he is hitting .333 with a .467 OBP due to collecting 3 walks in 15 PAs. This probably spells r-e-l-e-a-s-e for Alex Ochoa, and a move to a corner OF position for Murphy. Also, Coco Crisp may see a sign posted in his locker shortly that reads "Objects in rear view mirror are closer than they appear".

Moss Rolls

Nearly forgotten man Brandon Moss has apparently made the decision to stand up. Through just over 100 ABs Moss's bat has shone. His 1.034 OPS leads the team by more than 100 pts. His 7 HRs are 4 more than the next highest total. Better yet, his 19/25 BB/K rate is balanced and reflective of the organization's principles of approach. A hundred-twenty plate appearances is not a buttload of data, but it's significant enough to surmise that Moss might be maturing into a real asset. He turns 24 in September, and could see the bigs late next year if this continues. The question is: will it be with the Sox?

Buchholz Who?

When Clay Buchholz was promoted to Portland, his rotation partner Michael Bowden was left to move to a hitter's dream park as a Lancaster Jethawk. The average ERA of the Jethawks' pitchers, not including that of Michael Bowden, is 5.57. Michael Bowden's ERA is 1.62 (4th best in the league), with a WHIP of 1.05 (5th best). His 9.1 K/9 is tied for third among the league's starters.

But Bowden is at a serious disadvantage.

The term "park factor" is used to indicate how a particular ballpark affects certain activities, with a 1.0 being average. Lancaster's run factor is 1.25, it's HR factor is 1.56, and the K factor is .81. It jacks up runs scored and HRs (obviously this is causal to the Runs factor), while depressing Ks. To put this in perspective, the Jethawks have 5 players with an OPS above 1.000, and 7 with an OPS above .950.

I probably would not argue that Buchholz has a higher ceiling than Bowden, based on his build and athleticism, but I might argue that Bowden has been more impressive this year given his situation in Lancaster. He really seems to understand how to pitch. I think we'll be seeing him in Portland shortly, and probably in Bostong ere long.