The Clemens news will — as it should — dominate the local headlines for a while. For the most part, I feel a sense of relief. As I’ve said before, I think there’s been a quasi-irresponsible lack of coverage concerning the various ‘roid rumors (and circumstantial evidence) that’ve been swirling around the Rocket for years. And my interest in the steroid issue has less to do with the sanctity of baseball or any of that crap than with the effect all of this idolatry has on kids, a subject I wrote about at some length in yesterday’s Globe Magazine. (The Times‘s Selena Roberts does focus on the issue in her column on the front of today’s Sports section: “The threat to the Yankees has nothing to do with Clemensâ€šÃ„Ã´s age, but how he hasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t aged at all on the approach to 45 when he once seemed kaput at age 35. Maybe Clemens has developed a natural youth potion, an organic Botox for his old bones. Certainly, Clemens deserves credit for his greatness â€šÃ„Ã® with a talent that is an understandable sirenâ€šÃ„Ã´s song for the Yankees â€šÃ„Ã® but he has also witnessed his aura undermined by a steroid whisper campaign.” Whatever risk that poses to the Yankees, it would have been magnified a lot in Boston…)
I also kind of think Roger’s a self-satisfied prick, and it sure looks from what’s come out thus far like Clemens and agent Randy Hendricks played the Sox in order to get a couple million more per New York. (Interesting fact: assuming his pitch count averages around 100 pitches per game, he’ll be making $8,000 bucks per pitch. Apparently the $120 million or so he’s made thus far in salary alone isn’t quite enough…) I also think his demands — to have the freedom to take off when he’s not on the mound (no emergency relief appearances for him) — wouldn’t have worked out all that well on the Sox.
But I digress. The real reason the Sox don’t need Clemens is because of the ace of their staff…Timothy Wakefield. Wakefield, who’s set to make $4 million a year in perpetuity (or approximately what Clemens will pull down per game), is going through another one of his brilliant, unhittable stretches: his 3-3 record is the result of nothing so much as the criminally low run support he gets, as evidenced by his 2.11 ERA and his .197 BAA(!). To put that in some context, Schill’s ERA is 3.28 and his BAA is .298; Beckett weighs in at 2.72 and .219. Wakefield is, in fact, at the top or near the top of virtually every metric that looks at opponents’ offensive averages.
It’s true that Wakefield goes through one or two lights-out stretches each year. It’s also true that, since 2004, he’s been the teams best starter. Don’t believe me? Look it up. In the last three years, Wake’s ERA is almost a half-run better than Schilling’s (4.13 vs. 4.55) and he’s thrown 55 more innings (403 vs. 348). The only reason his record isn’t better (26-26 over that time, compared to Curt’s 27-16) is because of aforementioned lousy run support.
I’m not, of course, saying that Wake is a better pitcher than Curt. To me, the real question is why Wake doesn’t get more consistent respect. My theory: the knuckleball. The knuckleball — and the knuckleballer — is seen as kind of a flakey, flukey pitch. When it’s on, who can say why? And when it’s not working, well, who can explain that one?*
But how is this really different from any pitcher (or any pitch)? Sometimes pitchers never get a good feel for the ball, or they never get in a good rhythm, or their mechanics are off. And sometimes the same thing happens to Wake. But if he’s not complaining, I shouldn’t be either; it’s the reason the Sox get away with paying him so little…
* Preemptive apologia: I may have read/heard something along these lines before; it’s also possible that I’ve simply thought this same thing to myself sometime in the past. I just can’t tell, but I’m not trying to steal anyone else’s thunder…