Is Clemens Really the Answer?

added 5/11/2006 by Scott Barzilla

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Standing 0-6 on any road trip is enough to take the steam out of your stride. Who would have thought that Wandy Rodriguez would be the stopper this time two months ago? Brandon Backe could be out for the season and Andy Pettitte seemingly can't put back to back solid outings together. It seems like a perfect time for a return of the Rocket right?

The first thing we all must do is try not to overreact. This time last year we were all ready to write this team off. Now, the club has reached the 20 win plateau and stands only a few games out of the division lead. All of us could be wrong, but I would imagine that most of us know the Reds will fade at some point. The Cardinals have always been the ticket and they remain so in the early going.

When you haven't quite reached the quarter pole, it is still very easy to get caught up in single events. Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, and Taylor Buccholz had back to back to back bad outings. Oswalt and Buccholz hadn't pitched that badly all season. An unseasoned owner would immediately rush to the bargaining table and offer four million a month for Roger's services. An unseasoned owner would be reading way too much into three games.

Look at the whole picture

After Wandy's performance on Thursday, the Astros are still among the top teams in the league in starter ERA. Wandy Rodriguez, Taylor Buccholz, and Fernando Nieve have stepped up. Roy Oswalt has pitched like his normal self (for the most part). Pettitte has been shaky, but he is typically a better second half pitcher. Certainly, a 2004-2005 Roger Clemens would be a boon for any club, but the Astros aren't 20-15 because of shaky starting pitching.

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Player            ERA      INN
Dave Borowski     1.93     9.1
Russ Springer     3.38    10.2
Chad Qualls       4.82    18.2
Dan Wheeler       5.52    14.2
Brad Lidge        6.19    16.0
Mike Gallo        7.56     8.1
Ezequiel Astacio 11.12     5.2
Trever Miller    12.27     3.2

These numbers don't include Thursday's game, but if we throw in that game we see that Lidge is only 11 for 15 in save opportunities. In fact, Wheeler has been brought in twice to clean up his mess. We should remember the lesson about overreacting, but the fact that all of these blown saves have come recently doesn't bode well. Wheeler hasn't looked like closer material himself this season.

Out of this group we can heap praise on Borowski and Springer for performing at or above career levels. Chad Qualls has been pitching better of late, but a three man bullpen isn't enough. This is especially true when none of those three is your closer. If the test of what your team needs comes at which phase struggles consistently, then the bullpen is the ticket. Even when the club was 19-9, the bullpen ERA was among the highest in the league. What's the harm?

This isn't the NFL, there is no salary cap, but Larry Dierker recently said something interesting in this regard. He said it's easy for those of us that aren't millionaires and billionaires to spend their money for them. It's easy for us to say, "go ahead, meet his price." The problem with this line of thinking is that the payroll is already at 93 million. Give Clemens 16 million dollars (4 million a month from June 1st on) and that payroll becomes 109 million dollars. I'm sure Drayton is willing to foot the bill, but would he also rubber stamp a deal that would bring in an additional reliever or two in July?

Like many Houstonians, I am tired of the Roger Clemens story. Yet, it would be foolish to dismiss what he can do for the team. Clemens has tons of post-season experience and that experience can't help but benefit the likes of Rodriguez, Buccholz, and Nieve. Nieve might move to the bullpen and become our fourth effective relief pitcher. As a guy that tends to lean heavily on the stats side of things, even I have to acknowledge the affects of blown saves on a team. It demoralizes the starting pitcher and offense. It demoralizes the fans as well.

Fan Excitement

I've always loved the argument that players like Clemens make up their money. Let's assume that he draws an additional 5000 fans for games he pitchs. At an average of 30 dollars a fan (counting concessions) that calculates to 150,000 for every game he pitches. If he pitches in twelve games at home, that totals to 1.8 million in additional revenue. That hardly makes up for his 16 million dollar salary (or more).

At this point, many of you are screaming at your computer screen about the extra revenue Clemens brings simply because of the extra buzz surrounding the team. True, you can't put a price tag on buzz, but that point ignores the obvious counterpoint. Is Roger Clemens the only player that brings buzz to Astros fans? More importantly, do players create buzz or does winning create buzz? Clemens would certainly help us win games, but a quality relief pitcher of two might be more effective (and cheaper).

Monkey in the Wrench

Of course, closers and good relief pitchers don't grow on trees. The Astros would have to trade some of their prime prospects and still pay the salary of the player. Unfortunately, closers are in such high demand that it is impossible to say now who will be available. However, there are some players that could become available as we come closer to the trade deadline. Keith Foulke-Foulke has been replaced as the closer in Boston. Boston has traded expensive pieces before and Epstein often thinks two or three deals ahead. He may not use Chris Burke or a pitching prospect to win the pennant, but he has shown that he can spin prospects in exchange for something else he needs. Eddie Guardado-The Mariners appear ready for another season in the second division. The could be enticed to dump some dead weight closer to the deadline. Chad Cordero-There aren't a whole lot of saves to go around in the nation's capital these days. The new ownership group wants to build this team the right way. Firing Bowden would be a start, but trading commodities when they are at their peak value is another good start. Salomon Torres-He may not be a closer, but he has been a top-notch set up guy the last few years in Pittsburgh. Like Washington, they need an infusion of young talent. Steve Kline-If Garner has to have a lefty specialist you might as well give him one that can actually get hitters out.

Two months is an eternity in baseball. This list may change completely between now and July. Who knows, Lidge may convert fifteen consecutive saves in that amount of time. Still, this team could use some insurance in the bullpen. If they can afford Clemens and another relief pitcher I would welcome Clemens with open arms. Unfortunately, I don't see how that is possible.