Saturday, March 18, 2006

Rockets Red Glare

We may very well have seen the last pitching performance of Roger Clemens on Thursday in the loss to Mexico. If so, I will be very happy to tell people in the future that I saw one of, if not the greatest right handed pitcher of all time. Roger's resume is absolutely filled with accomplishments. Seven Cy Young awards (although the 7th should have gone to Randy Johnson, but since he should have gotten the award last year, I'll call that one a push), Seven league ERA titles, led the league in strikeouts five times, 2 pitching triple crowns (leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts), one MVP award (although I would have voted for Don Mattingly, but I digress), 2nd all time in strikeouts, 9th all time in wins, the list goes on and on.

I've always been a big fan of Tom Seaver. I've always thought that if anyone could stake a claim to being the greatest right hander since Walter Johnson, he was the man. Winning three Cy Young awards (and coming close to winning a fourth in '81 when he went 14-2 during a strike shortened campaign), winning over 300 games, and recording over 3,500 strikeouts was enough for him to claim that title. His career ERA is actually lower than Clemens', but Roger played the majority of his career during the steroids era and in the American League so his numbers are going to be slightly inflated. And Roger's career ERA (ERA+ 143) is actually lower in comparison to the rest of the league than Tom's (ERA+ 127). Tom Seaver is an all-time great, but I think even he would have to agree that Clemens has had the better career.

The battle for greatest right handed pitcher of all time really comes down to Roger and Walter Johnson. Walter Johnson's record is impeccable. He won the AL triple crown three times, won the MVP twice, led the league in shutouts seven times, led the league in strikeouts 12 times, he is that all time leader in shoutouts, he's second all time in wins, he led the league in ERA five times, his career ERA is almost a full run lower than Roger's and is lower in comparison to the rest of the league (ERA+ 146), and he was the career strikeout leader for about twenty years longer than Babe Ruth was the all-time home run king. Walter's career actually spans the dead ball and live ball eras. He was successful in both.

So what's the answer? Who is the greatest right handed pitcher of all time? On the surface at least, Walter Johnson's career is more impressive than Roger's. However, Roger played in the more difficult era. There is obviously a much larger pool of talent to draw on, night games and travel make the game much more draining, and the players are stronger (through natural and unnatural methods) and better conditioned. It really is a hard call and I don't think that it's one that necessarily needs to be made.

I'm fairly confident in the fact that Roger is one of the two best right handers of all time. And I'm just happy to be able to say that I saw him pitch. We've seen the supposed end of Rocket's pitching days before and he has come back to not only pitch but to dominate. I personally hope he comes back for at least one more year. If he does he'll provide a lot of youngsters with the chance to say that they saw one of the greatest pitchers of all time in person.



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