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FEBRUARY 12, 2004
Clemens N.L. Debut To Mirror A.L. Entrance
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

Starting pitcher Roger “The Rocket” Clemens will make his National League debut in 2004 as a member of the Houston Astros’ pitching rotation.  The Rocket is currently 41 years old.  (He will turn 42 on August 4, 2004.)

If Clemens is able to make 30 or more starts in 2004, he will become only the 3rd non-knuckleball pitcher since 1973, age 41 or older, to make 30 or more starts exclusively in a National League season - joining Jerry Koosman (1984) and Nolan Ryan (1988).  Steve Carlton, at age 41, had 30-plus starts in 1986 – however, while he started that year in the National League, he finished that season in the American League. 

On the flip side, since 1973, a non-knuckle ball pitcher, age 41 or older, has made 30 or more starts exclusively in an American League season nine times – with Gaylord Perry (3 times), Nolan Ryan (2 times), Don Sutton (2 times), and Tommy John (2 times) doing the trick.

Therefore, for every one time that a non-knuckleball pitcher since 1973, age 41 or older, has made 30 or more starts exclusively in a National League season, it has happened in the American League 4 and 1/2 times.  Why?

The claim can be made that “older” starting pitchers are more likely to have “an easier go at it” in the American League – as, thanks to the Designated Hitter Rule (which began in 1973), they do not have to deal with the extra physical taxation (outside pitching) of batting and running the bases.  The theory here is that the less you do on the field, the less likely you are to get hurt doing it.  But, is that true?

There have been six times where a non-knuckleball pitcher, since 1973, age 41 or older, made 15 or more starts exclusively in a National League season.  Of those six, there are two that went on to make more than 30 starts – Ryan and Koosman.

There have been seventeen times where a non-knuckleball pitcher, since 1973, age 41 or older, made 15 or more starts exclusively in an American League season.  (If the White Sox had not traded Danny Darwin to the Giants in 1997, it would have been eighteen.)  Of those seventeen, there are nine that went on to make more than 30 starts.

Therefore, two-thirds of the time in the National League the “older” starting pitcher failed to make it to the 30-start mark; and, less than half the time in the American League, the “older” starting pitcher fell short.  The odds do illustrate that “something” adverse happens in the National League more often than in the American League.

What does this all mean for Clemens, the Astros, and their fans this year?  Well, if I were Pete Rose, I would say that there is a chance that Clemens will not make 30 starts in 2004.  If I had to place odds on it – I would say that, ballpark, there is a 47 to 67 percent chance that it will not happen.

Roger Clemens’ 2004 season may end up looking just like his first season in the majors (1984):  20 games started, a record of 9 wins and 4 losses, 133 innings pitched, and an ERA just about the league average.  At least, that is the scrawling on this scorecard.  It will be interesting to see what happens in reality.  Will it be an “older pitcher rarity” or something closer to a “dust-to-dust closing bookend”? 

Commence the rocket countdown!


Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com.  Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season.  Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com

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