June 17, 2007

Clemens vs. NY Mets

The Subway Series resumed on Friday with Roger Clemens pitching against Oliver Perez, and it was a tale of two teams going in different directions. The Yankees had won their past 9 games, while the Mets had dropped nine of their last 10. The Mets ended their slide and the Yankees' streak with a 2-0 victory, as Perez threw a gem. I was really interested to see how Clemens threw, however; this was his second start in the big leagues, with the first being a decent game against the Pirates (6 IP, 3 ER). Overall, you have to say that Clemens has been everything the Yankees hoped for thus far, although his throwing 6 1/3 innings of 2-run ball and getting hung with the loss was a flashback to his Houson days.

In particular, there were two numbers from
his 2006 splits that stood out to me:

1. Clemens was exceptionally tough on righties last year, holding them to just a .185/.228/.286 (BA/OBP/SLG) line. But he was startlingly mediocre against lefties, allowing them to hit .254/.322/.368, still not great numbers but much better than lefties. This stat was particularly relevant to Friday's game, given that the Mets have arguably the best collection of left-handed hitters in all of baseball in Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Green, and Valentin. This should be as good a test as any to see if Clemens continues to pitch at his '06 splits.

2. Hitters hit very well off Clemens when the count was 2-0, which is to be expected; hitters in all of baseball hit best on 2-0. But the next best count for hitters against Clemens was 0-0 - when swinging first-pitch, hitters had a stellar .455 batting average and a .750 slugging percentage, in a somewhat significant sample size (44 AB). So I was curious to see if the Mets hitters would take advantage and swing at the first pitch more often, given that it's apparently easier to hit than the subsequent ones. This kind of makes sense - Clemens' fastball isn't as dominating as it was in his prime, but his splitter is still excellent; maybe he throws a lot of first-pitch fastballs and uses his splitter later in the count.

Anyways, I went back through the game (with help from
MLB.TV) and looked at his pitches more in-depth. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

Regarding the first two splits I mentioned: The lefties in the lineup went 4-for-15, including a Reyes HR, while the righties were 3-for-12 (with two of those being Carlos Gomez bunt singles). Not really conclusive proof either way. Delgado had an awful game - three K's against Clemens, with another after he left - and the others didn't really seem to see the ball well either; Reyes was really the only one hitting well from either side of the plate. As for the other split: Only three players put the ball in play on the first pitch, and all three got hits (although, to be fair, one was a bunt) - Beltran's single in the first, Reyes' aforementioned homer in the fourth, and Gomez's bunt single in the seventh. Again, it seems the best strategy against Clemens is to take advantage of that first pitch. Clemens threw first pitch strikes to 15 of the 27 hitters he faced, and he threw fastballs to the majority of the hitters. By my count, the Mets only swung at six of these first pitches (and two were bunts!); they might have been able to score another run or two if they had been more aggressive. (By the way, in his debut against the Pirates, only one player put a first-pitch offering in play - Adam LaRoche, who hit an RBI single to center.)

Clemens' fastball is no longer a plus pitch in terms of velocity or movement, but he sure knows how to use it. His location on his fastball was excellent - almost everything was on the corners, and he didn't leave much up in the zone. His pitch topped out at 91, but it was consistantly in the 89-91 range, and he sets it up nicely with his splitter and slider. (Actually, the my9 radar gun said 97 once, but I'm pretty sure that was a misread. Their coverage actually sucked for this purpose; there were more than 20 pitches where they didn't show the velocity reading. Lesson learned...) His command was really good as well - 42 of his 67 fastballs were for strikes.

His splitter, on the other hand, is still probably one of the top ten or fifteen pitches in baseball, from any pitcher. He threw it 29 times, and only thre 9 balls; almost every pitch was in the lower third of the zone, as well. He throws his splitter much more to lefties than he does righties. Clemens did give up three hits off his splitter - a seeing-eye grounder by Reyes that scored Gomez, a one-hopper by Wright that would have been an out if Jeter had any range to his left, and Gomez's bunt single. If he keeps commanding this pitch this well - it usually read in the 84-86 range - he's going to remain a very useful pitcher.

His off-speed stuff really isn't very good at all any more. He throws his slider almost exclusively to righties, but didn't keep it in the zone very well. He tends to throw it pretty early in counts, instead of using it as an out pitch or a chase pitch. He only threw a handful of curveballs, mostly to lefties; he left this up in the zone occasionally, and put one belt-high and over the inner half to Reyes, who hit probably the farthest homer of his life. Again, he used this early in the count as well, mostly to keep hitters honest; he's basically a two-pitch pitcher to lefties now (although those pitches are pretty damned good).

Clemens is going to take some heat for allowing four stolen bases, and he does deserve some of it - he is kinda slow to the plate, and studies have shown that pitchers are just about as responsible as catchers for stolen bases that happen when they're on the mound. However, I think we now have to look at Posada as well - the Mets added another steal after Clemens left and stole five more bags on Saturday, so it's very possible Posada just doesn't have the arm he used to. Yes, the Mets are the best base-stealing team in baseball, but come on - 10 SBs in two games? That's really bad. (Not that I'm complaining - I have Reyes on both my fantasy teams...)

Julio Franco sure is patient...he only swung the bat four times, and he's walked nine times this year in only 45 at-bats. Too bad he can't really hit anymore...

Is the book on Carlos Gomez that he can't hit off-speed stuff? He sure saw a lot more junk than anybody else...

Clemens only walked one, by the way, and got 8 strikeouts; his control was that good throughout the game.

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