Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

GREAT (AND UNREALISTIC) EXPECTATIONS

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me
- "The Weight", by the Band

You can bet the burden will weigh heavily on Roger Clemens when he makes his celebrated return to the Yankees' rotation for the first time in four years. The Bombers appear to be in a free fall at the moment, little more than a month into the 2007 season, and Clemens is being viewed as their savior. Saving any team, especially the Yankees, is one lofty expectation and a mighty heavy burden for any one player.

But when that player is three months shy of his 45th birthday, those expectations appear outsize and unrealistic.

As a Red Sox fan, sure I'd like to see Clemens finish his career in Boston this year. It'd be a story book ending to a storied career, and the Sox look like genuine World Series contenders at this point. But I'd be weary of hanging all my hopes on him, or his ability to pitch like he used to. As this stage of his career, Clemens is a six-inning pitcher. In his last 200 starts, dating back to 2000, Clemens has exactly one complete game. That came in a Yankee uniform in 2003.

Backed by the rejuvenated Red Sox bullpen, a six-inning Clemens outing would be sufficient and likely result in some wins. In New York, it could be the source of much grieving. The New York bullpen is a mess, and it needs help -- lots of it.

Take, for example, future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.

The Yankee closer already has three losses this year, after having just five in 2006. And Rivera has also blown two saves already this spring, but had just three all of last season. At present, Rivera is sporting a bloated 8.44 ERA and opponents are batting .318 against him. Last year those numbers were 1.80 and .223, respectively.

The numbers, apparently heralding Rivera's rather sudden decline, go on and on. Last year he gave up a total of just three home runs; this year he's already given up two. In just 10 2/3 innings this season, Rivera has allowed 14 hits, resulting in 10 earned runs. Last year he allowed just 15 earned runs over the entire season.

Sure, if the Yankees get the best possible production from each of their starters they should, in combination with their formidable lineup, win plenty of games -- perhaps even 90-95 -- and possibly earn yet another playoff berth. But consider this; Mike Mussina is 38, and Andy Petite will be 35 next month. Both have already been injured this year, as have Chien-Ming Wang and rookie Phil Hughes, who, by the way, has made exactly two major league starts and has a 1-1 record.

And in case you didn't know, Mussina and Petite both averaged just six innings per start last season, and Petite was in the pitcher-friendly N.L. And guess what? Clemens averaged just six innings a game last year as well, the lowest of his career.

Having things go perfectly over the course of a baseball season is unrealistic and almost never happens, as the Yankees should have learned already. To expect the best possible production from their staff, now anchored by a soon-to-be 45-year-old pitcher, is a fool's game.

So far this year, Yankees starters -- all 10 of them -- have averaged just five innings per start, a major league worst. That won't get it done in October. By then, an already worn out bullpen will be on life support and resemble a MASH unit. Oh sure, they'll be in the market for bullpen help like almost everyone else -- except the Red Sox.

Assuming that Clemens makes five starts per month from June through September, the Yankees will pay him $900K for each of them. All things considered -- his age, his six-inning endurance, his bullpen, the dangerous A.L. hitters he'll regularly face -- that doesn't seem like a wise investment. It's yet to be determined if he'll actually earn it.

One way or another, it'll be interesting to watch the story unfold. But Clemens has become a villain in Boston once again -- once and for all.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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