In the introductory slide I mentioned how different people will define clutch pitching in different ways. I also hinted that some pitchers might be excluded because they just pitched well all the time.
Yes, that may be unfair and unreasonable, but I had to draw the line somewhere, and in this article I limited the pitchers I chose to those who clearly elevated their game in important situations.
As a result, there are a few glaring omissions of some of the franchise's greatest pitchers, to include Roger Clemens.
Clemens leads (or is close to the top of the list) in a number of all-time Red Sox pitching categories, to include wins, starts, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts, K/9 and a number of the new Sabermetric categories. Tellingly, however, he is not in the top 10 in ERA, WHIP, W-L percentage, HR/9 or BB/9.
As mentioned in the open, there was very little difference in his performance, no matter whether he was dealing with a high-stress or low-stress situation. Granted, since he was so good, there wasn't a lot of room for him to raise his game a notch.
However, there was some room, and unlike Jonathan Papelbon, he did not take advantage of the opportunity to excel in such situations.
Yes, I also admit that my perception of Clemens is tarnished by the way he played out the string in Boston between 1993 and his departure after the 1996 season, after which he quickly regained All-Star/Cy Young form for Toronto and then the Yankees.
In 2001, while Clemens was pitching for the Yankees, ESPN assigned columnist Bill Simmons had to write a story "to explain to the world why Boston fans believe that Roger Clemens might be the Antichrist."
Simmons argued that the biggest problem Red Sox fans had with Clemens was that he only seemed to peak in meaningless games.
"During Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Clemens could have closed out the Mets and emerged as a genuine hero," he wrote. "Everything was sitting right there at his fingertips -- 'legend' status, a statue, the whole shebang."
Instead, he exited after the seventh inning with a blister on the index finger of his throwing hand. OK, he had the lead at the time (3-2), but given what was on the line, could he not have figured out some way to gut through a blister? (Contrast this with the Schilling "Bloody Sock" game.)
Clemens started nine playoff games for the Red Sox between 1986 and 1990. The Red Sox were able to win only one of those starts (Game 7 of the 1986 ALCS).
It is true that Boston's bullpen blew two other potential wins, but his record in those nine starts was an uninspiring 1-2 with an ERA around four.
In Game 4 of the 1990 American League playoffs between the Red Sox and the As, Simmons reminds us that Clemens "flipped out while arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Terry Cooney and got himself tossed in the second inning, even punctuating his exit by throwing a memorable, Whitney Houston-esque tantrum on the field and bumping Cooney more than once."
What's wrong with this picture? Ace pitcher, big game, clutch performance needed. You don't get thrown out in the second inning.
Nevertheless, after the 1992 season, Clemens signed a four-year, $20 million contract.
How did that work out?
According to Simmons, he "took much of the next three-plus years off, almost like a professor who gets tenure and doesn't feel like grading papers anymore."
The next time the Red Sox made the postseason, Clemens lost his only 1995 playoff start to the Indians, fueling those "can't win the big one" doubts.
In 1996, the final season of Clemens' four-year deal, he started the season 0-4 amidst complaints that he was out of shape and upset that Boston had not offered him a new contract. By the beginning of August he was 4-11.
Then a strange thing happened. Clemens went 6-2 over his last 10 starts and struck out 20 Tigers in a mid-Sept. game. As Simmons saw it, "The Rocket turned on the jets once the team fell out of playoff contention. Classic Clemens, through and through. You could always count on him when it mattered least."
The Red Sox let him go as a free agent at the end of that year, and he signed with Toronto.
Simmons describes what happened next:
Clemens embarked on a rigorous conditioning program during the offseason, determined to prove Team Duquette wrong. He arrived for spring training in superb shape for the first time in eons, repeatedly telling reporters that he had never been better prepared to start a season. Of course, that revelation should have prompted questions like, "If you're so motivated this season, why weren't you as motivated from 1993-96 after signing the most lucrative deal in Red Sox history?"
YR W-L ERA G IP SO
93-96 10-10 3.90 26 186.1 204
1997 21-7 2.05 34 264.0 292
1998 20-6 2.65 33 234.2 271
The chart above shows Clemens' average performance for Boston between 1993 and 1996, followed by his two years in Toronto.
All in all, Clemens was a great pitcher for the Red Sox from 1986 to 1992, and an average pitcher from 1993 to 1996. That does not mean he ever was a true clutch pitcher, as the above analysis suggests.