Monday, January 28, 2008

Flyspecking the Clemens Manifesto

I was going to attempt to do some sort of word-for-word analysis of An Analysis of the Career of Roger Clemens (actual title), but Rocket's agents must be blogger-phobic because the document they released does not allow copying of text. Speaking as a person whose entire career is based on Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V, I find this offensive. Oh well, we'll do the best we can, with paraphrasing instead of quoting:

Page 1: Clemens was one of 28 players over 40 in 2007.

How many of you would have guessed the number was that high? I sure wouldn't have. Remember that old argument about how many of the old records won't be broken because, what with the high salaries and all, no one has an incentive to stick around for 20+ years to break them? Guess those assumptions are no longer operative.

Page 1: While Clemens pitched at a high level of quality over his career, he declined in his late 30s and early 40s.

I wish Clemens had had an arbitration case in the past few years, because then we'd be able to see the kind of hokum that usually goes into those things. I can assure you that if he had, his agents would have painted his late career performance as otherworldly.

Page 1: Clemens had shoulder surgery in 1985, and because he had it so young, it inspired him to start a workout regime "designed to prevent arm and shoulder injuries."

Boy, you'd think if one of those actually existed a lot more pitchers would be using it. Maybe he was a bit lucky, arm-injury wise?

Page 3: The report defines "significant pitching award" as the Cy Young, being selected for the All-Star team, and the MVP, and notes that Clemens had only three seasons, other than his rookie year, in which he pitched a full season (defined as no DL time or partial seasons due to funny contracts and/or work stoppages) and did not win such an award.

There's a touch of disingenuousness here in that Clemens would not have gotten such awards in 1994 or 1995 if there were no work stoppage, but it's impressive all the same. I assume perspective will one day return, but for now it's important to remind ourselves that, yeah, Roger Clemens was a pretty decent hurler. And I mean "was," because the whole report is written in the past tense, which is the closest we've come to an official announcement that Clemens is done pitching. Not that anyone thought he wasn't, but still.

Page 3: In modern statistical analysis, ERA is considered more important than wins and losses because wins and losses depend on factors which are largely out of a pitchers' control.

Like the bit about his later-years decline, this is true. It's also something Clemens' people never would have admitted in 2001 when he won the Cy Young Award based almost exclusively on his won-loss record as opposed to his relatively pedestrian 3.51 ERA. But they get points all the same for acknowledging run support, just as they get points for talking about park effects on page 4.

Page 5: a nifty little chart which shows "ERA Margin" which is the number of raw runs Clemens' ERA was above league average for each season he played.

I don't want to get anyone in trouble, but Clemens could have saved a lot in legal fees if he had simply copied-and-pasted the ERA+ numbers from his B-R.com page. Oh yeah I forgot, his folks have issued a fatwah on Ctrl-V.

Pages 6-7:

Some charts and stuff that basically establish that Clemens had a pretty erratic-career, relatively speaking, peaking something like three times (in Boston, then Toronto, then again in Houston). This is something that anyone who has paid attention to Clemens' career knows. I like his agents' characterizations, though, crediting his blazing fastball for his early peak, his adoption of the split finger pitch in the early 90s for his second peak (though they implicitly claim he took five years to really master it, which is baloney), and then switching to the NL and getting some home-cooking for his Houston peak.

Which is fine as far as it goes. But even if you assume that Clemens never touched a PED in his life, this explanation of Clemens' peak is ignoring the elephant in the room that is his waistline. Yes, I know Clemens is supposedly this paradigm of physical fitness and everything, but the fact of the matter is that his weight, and I would argue his motivation, yo-yo'd throughout his career. He was a svelte young buck in the mid to late 80s, then he got chubby and, many would argue lazy. This, more than anything, was what Duquette was calling him out for after the 1996 season, though he didn't put that fine a point on it. Clemens obviously got motivated and started to take better care of himself through the late 90s. Towards the end of the Houston era and last season in New York, it was obvious that he was pudging up again. Why no one ever points this out is beyond me.

All that said, his agents do nail the one factor of his late career resurgence that all of the steroid hysterics seem to ignore, and that's that the short season vanity contracts he had in Houston meant that he threw hundreds of fewer pitches over the course of the spring and early summer, which no doubt contributed to his sharpness. Didn't work last year in New York, but (1) he was going to break down eventually; and (2) he was looking fat again in 2007.

Pages 7-11: Comparing Clemens to Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Nolan Ryan to show that, hey, such erraticism in ERA and late-career resurgences aren't all that uncommon.

Well, sure, but if you're trying to say that Clemens is normal, you could do better than to compare him to three guys who themselves have strikingly unique career paths. How about simply saying that Hall of Fame talents are different than you and me and be done with it?

Pages 13: In the course of arguing that run support has an awful lot to do with won-loss records, the agents note that, during Rodrigo Lopez' 2006 arbitration case, the Orioles used run support in order to rebut the notion that his 51-43 record was all that special.

Cot's doesn't list Lopez' agent. Is it Hendricks? If so, don't arbitration hearings have some sort of confidentiality requirement, and has Hendricks violated it by disclosing the arguments used to trash Lopez? These are the sorts of questions that get drilled into your brain after being a lawyer for ten years.

Page 14: Clemens' 2007 performance is characterized as "sub-par, but quite respectable."

Hmmm:

Roger Clemens 2007 compensation:

Per Pitch: $10,748
Per Inning: $175,152
Per Start: $982,801
Per Win: $2,948,402

Somehow I don't think that Yankees' fans would agree with that assessment.

Page 15-30: An extended analysis of Clemens' "peaks and valleys."

I'll turn it over to David Pinto at Baseball Musings, who has the most astute take of all of this:

The most interesting graphs to me, however, were the ones showing the yearly fluctuations in Rogers ERA margin compared to Johnson and Schilling. Roger's bounces up and down throughout his career. Both Johnson and Schilling start off below their career averages, have a long steady period above their averages, then fall and don't recover. The fact that Clemens bounces around a lot means he suffers years of unexpected poor performance that Schilling and Johnson don't. Those might be the times Clemens is tempted to use steroids.

To use another hackneyed legal expression: have Roger Clemens' agents proved too much?

Pages 30-35: analysis of Clemens' declining innings pitched over the course of his career.

Certainly nothing controversial. At least not until his agents say, on the bottom of 35, "As shown in the chart above, [Randy] Johnson maintained his innings-per-game started at high levels for longer than Clemens, posting several of his best seasons after age 35." Surely Clemens' agents realize that such an assertion -- however true -- more or less surpasses the standards of proof needed in this day and age to make a steroids rap stick to someone. Randy Johnson: sue Clemens, or else the world will assume you're a juicer!

Page 42: Conclusion:

The agents once again note that Clemens' career numbers are the result of adjustments -- mostly his adoption of the split finger fastball -- and not steroids.

Wait, they don't actually say "not steroids," because a reading of this magnum opus reveals not a single mention or allusion to performance enhancing drugs or the accusations that clearly fomented this report. Which, by the way, leads me to the biggest question I have about this thing. Why?

Clearly this report wouldn't have been generated if not for the lawsuit against McNamee. But if this is supposed to be evidence in the lawsuit, why put it out there now instead of using it more effectively, albeit more quietly, in their case-in-chief? Now that it's in the public realm, McNamee's lawyers are going to be able to chew on it, analyze it, and give it to their own experts to deconstruct. Heck, they may not even have to do that inasmuch as there will no doubt be dozens of amateur sabermetricians dissecting the thing over the next few days free-of-charge. Assuming that one of Clemens' primary litigation strategies is to beat McNamee into insolvency -- which would be a good strategy, by the way -- why give him the chance to get free expert analysis with months and months of lead time?

I think the answer to that question lies with the idea I had the day the lawsuit was filed, and that's that this whole exercise is about Hall of Fame PR, not litigation. Indeed, I don't think Clemens had any plans at all to sue McNamee until McNamee's lawyers said that they would sue if Clemens went on 60 Minutes. Fearing a suit, Clemens' folks had to file first out of sheer defense, ensuring that, if a battle was to be fought, it would be fought in Texas. But then a funny thing happened: McNamme's lawyers seemed to back down on the eve of the 60 Minutes broadcast. Only Clemens didn't get the message until his folks filed that Sunday night, and now Rocket is left in the awkward position of having filed a lawsuit that he didn't want in the first place.

But though the reality of the situation has changed from PR to litigation, the strategy has not, and this report can only be seen as an exercise in the former, not the latter. Prudent litigation counsel does not choose to fight their cases in the media, however, they fight them through their pleadings and with their legal arguments. This is something Clemens' people aren't doing right now, and for Clemens' sake, they'd be well-advised to cut it out.

8 comments:

Jake said...

I believe a non-free PDF viewer, like Acrobat PRO allows copy-and-paste of that PDF...

Shyster said...

A very helpful reader -- who is way more savvy than I (faint praise, I know) -- forwarded me a copy of a Word version courtesy of some nifty software.

I would have gone back and put up the actual quotes, but I just haven't had the time. By the time I do, I probably won't have the inclination, but that's blogging for you.

Pete Toms said...

I'm not going to drill down into the arcania of this, but the AP ( or the version of it I saw on a Cdn web site ) reports that the Hendricks' say:

"Clemens' longevity was due to his ability to adjust his style of pitching as he got older, incorporating his very effective split-finger fastball to offset the decrease in the speed of his regular fastball caused by aging,"

I've thought for years - and I'm hardly alone - that Clemens started scuffing / cutting / doctoring the ball, whatever you want to call it, post Boston. I have no problem with that either, and I've disliked Clemens for many years.

Oh, and he was also dirty, but get in line.

Christ is this guy consumed with his legacy or what?

Anonymous said...

If so, don't arbitration hearings have some sort of confidentiality requirement, and has Hendricks violated it by disclosing the arguments used to trash Lopez? These are the sorts of questions that get drilled into your brain after being a lawyer for ten years.

Nah. Every year there will be a few post-arbitration stories in the news that talk broadly about what was said in the hearings. The arbitrators can't talk about the hearings or their awards, but the parties can. There was a teeny SABR-ripple when a team used a metric kinda like Hardball Times Wins Added in a hearing a couple years ago or talk about what was said in the Todd Walker hearing last year when the Pads canned him immediately after he won his case.

Keith Law said...

I can confirm that arb hearings aren't confidential. I received copies of briefs from past TBJ arb hearings that weren't marked "confidential" and saw briefs from other clubs' hearings that, if they were confidential, I should never have received.

Shyster said...

Keith and Anon -- thanks for the info!

tangotiger said...

Craig, my posts 17, 23 and 24 gives you ways in getting a cut/pastable version. (If not for this one, at least for a future one.)

I agree with you: they were obnoxious about blocking cut/paste.

Shyster said...

Thanks, Tango!