Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Ben K. on Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Curse of Roger Clemens

That's it. It's all over for the Rocket. Right now, he's the talk of baseball, but after his next few starts, people won't be saying that anymore.

Wait. Wait. Wait. What am I talking about, you might wonder. Roger Clemens, the 41-year-old Roger Clemens who retired a few months ago, is 7-0 with a 1.72 ERA. He's given up 31 hits in 52.1 innings while averaging 10.66 K/9 IP. Furthermore, opponents are hitting just .170 (or approximately Derek Jeter's batting average) off of him. How can I say his finished?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, as MLB.com reported just a few short hours ago, Roger Clemens will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And we all know what that means: here comes the slump or injury or anything else that vindicated the jinx of Sports Illustrated.

So you don't believe in superstition. Well, talk a look at this article. It's a story Sports Illustrated did about its own jinx, complete with stats, science, and fiction. As Alexander Wolff wrote back in 2002:
In investigating virtually all of SI's 2,456 covers, we found 913 "jinxes" -- a demonstrable misfortune or decline in performance following a cover appearance roughly 37.2 percent of the time.
In that article, Wolff talks about how players at their peak attract SI, but then, inevitably, they will decline in production shortly after appearing on the cover. He also talks about some psychological mumbo-jumbo about not living up to self-induced expectations. But either way, Clemens, you're going down! Finally, those fans who think you're a traitor (in New York AND Boston) will gain some pleasure watching you lose.

Well, hey, we can dream, right? Anyway, on to the substantial stuff.

The Five-Point-Palm Exploding Heart Technique or the Top Five Disappointments of the 2004 Season

So the season is about a quarter over, more or less, depending upon which team you look at. In honor of that and in honor of my borderline obsession with bad teams and players, I thought I would take a look at some of this season's disappointments so far. I'll talk about whether or not players can turn it around and why they are disappointing. Additionally, I'm going to list the top five in the poll (check the sidebar, left column of the page, near the top) so you can vote on what you think is the number one disappointment. If you disagree with me completely, leave a comment. Here goes.

1. Jose Contreras — Some people might accuse me of East Coast or Yankee bias with this one, but it's hard to argue that any other player has been more disappointing than Jose Contreras. Before his recent trip to the Columbus Clippers with Yankee pitching guru Billy Connors, Contreras was 1-2 with a staggering 9.47 ERA. While he's striking out 8.05 per 9 innings, these same opponents are also hitting .316 against him. He's walked 14 in 19 innings and has surrendered 7 home runs. At that pace, and assuming 200 innings pitched, he would have the dubious achievement of giving up 73 home runs. Bert Blyleven holds the record for most in a season, and he gave up only 50. Yup, only 50.

Why he is a disappointment? — Well, this certainly doesn't need much of an explanation. The Yankees are paying Contreras $8 million a year to pitch well, and so far, he hasn't really delivered. He showed flashes of greatness down the stretch last year, but he has shown no confidence or poise on the mound. In fact, in most starts, he's looked downright clueless. The Yankees' starting pitching rests on shaky ground, and Torre and Co. really needed Contreras to pitch better. No one else in Major League Baseball has gained so much attention this season for being so ineffective and bad.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Sure, he could, but will he is a different matter altogether. I personally don't think he will. The Yankees are having him start against the hard-hitting Texas Rangers this weekend just because the next best option is Tanyon Sturtze. Yet, I don't think Sturtze could do any worse, and it wouldn't kill the Yanks to give him a shot. In his AAA assignments, Contreras was 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 12 in 13 innings, but he also managed to throw 2 wild pitches and allow five stolen bases. Rushing him back only means that the disappointment will last all year and probably for the rest of his contract.

2. Derek Jeter — Continuing in the grand tradition of my being from New York, I present for your consideration Captain Jeter. I think the .188 average speaks for itself.

Why is he a disappointment? — Well, his fielding is better, but his offense is in the toilet. Or maybe below the toilet. The biggest problem right now, from my perspective, is his .251 on-base percentage. The Yankees have a great lineup behind Derek, but ARod, Giambi, and Sheff need Derek on base so they can drive him in. His .251 OBP means he's getting on base about once per game. They won't fly if the Yankees are going to win.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Depends what you (I?) mean by overcome. He'll hit better soon enough. He can't hit worse. He hit well tonight against Anaheim, but Chone Figgins made a few nice plays. He also walked, which means he's talking pitches. Everyone under the sun feels Derek's not talking enough pitches. I think he may need to relax. I think he keeps checking out the new third baseman and wondering if his job is secure. Considering that Rodriguez is playing Gold Glove-caliber third base, Derek should quit worrying about short. His fielding is better this year, but at what cost? Before this year, he was Mr. Consistency, on pace for 3000 hits easily. He's gotta go back to taking pitches, working the count, and driving the ball the other way. That's what he does best. He's not a home run hitter, but he doesn't have to be. I'm sure he'll get over this start, and I have a feeling he'll end the season at .270 or so. To do that, he would have to hit just .298 the rest of the season. It's really quite easy considering how good he can be when he's on.

3. Aubrey Huff — What's up, Aubrey? You were arguable last year's break-out player, but now, you're swinging the bat like Derek.

Why is he a disappointment? — Last year, Aubrey Huff, the Devil Rays' 3B-OF-1B-DH, wowed us all. He hit quite nicely, thank you very much, turning out a .311/.367/.555 line. He blasted 34 home runs and drove in 107. This year, he's managed to hit .207/.276/.321 with 4 home runs, 18 RBI, and a grand total of 8 extra base hits. The Devil Rays were counting on this 27-year-old to lead their team in a positive way. Instead, he's one of the major reasons why the D-Rays have scored just 136 runs and are 10-28. Definitely, Aubrey is not meeting high expectations.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Surprisingly (and this is sorta, kinda good news for Dave, who owns him in our fantasy league), I think he can. But, and this is a big but, the Devil Rays have to move him to the outfield where he has played a grand total of zero games this season. Back in March, I wrote a post about the statistical differences when designated hitters play the field. One of the guys I profiled was Aubrey Huff. I found out that Huff hits almost 100 points better when he plays the outfield than when he plays the infield. So because this must make sense to Sweet Lou, Huff has 87 at-bats as a third baseman, 55 at-bats as a DH, and 0 at-bats as an outfielder. While my idea can't explain why Huff is hitting only .200 through 55 at-bats as DH, I believe statistical chance can. He just needs more DH at-bats. But his .210 average as a third baseman fits in with what I found. Huff does not like to play the infield, and it shows in his batting average. If the Devil Rays put Aubrey back in the outfield, he'll excel. But otherwise, he'll continue to hit poorly. If he stays at third, I predict a final season average of around .240-.250.

4. Carlos Delgado — Where have you gone, Carlos Delgado? He finished second in the AL MVP voting last winter, garnering five first-place votes and 210 votes overall. Now, he's struck out 38 times this year is bad.

Why is he a disappointment? — Well, he hit four home runs on the last day of the season as part of his campaign for 2003 MVP. He finished second to some guy named A-Rod. Now, he's managing just .232/.328/.406 with just 6 home runs and 25 RBI. Also, his walk numbers are way, way down. He walked over 100 times last year; this year, he's projecting to 80 walks. The last time Delgado didn't walk 100 times in a season was 1999.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Really, the question is, does his knee hurt that badly and does he need surgery? If the answers are yes and yes, then no, he can't overcome the first 41 games. If he's just in a slump like DJ up there, he may snap out of it yet. It's a toss-up. In the end, though, everyone can snap out of their slumps. It's just a matter of will they, and I'm not so sure Delgado will. I can't really offer anything else here. Move on.

5. Albert Pujols — It's hard to believe that a guy with 9 home runs is considered one of the top disappointments of the season, but we've come to expect a whole lot more from the bat of Albert Pujols.

Why is he a disappointment? — For the first three seasons of his career, Albert Pujols has averaged .333/.412/.610 with 37 home runs and 127 RBIs. Plus, he's supposedly only 24 years old. Yet, this year, he's hitting just .278/.376/.536. While he's on pace for those same 37 home runs, he's projecting to just 100 RBIs. With the hot Scott Rolen behind him, Pujols has been seeing a lot of pitches to hit with minimal results. While he's on pace for 141 runs scored, that's mainly because Rolen's going to drive him about 141 times this year. The Cardinals need Pujols to produce more.

Can he overcome the first quarter? — Of course. It's quite likely that Albert will find his sweet stroke sometime soon, and then the balls will be flying out of Busch Stadium. In the end, .280 with 100 RBI and 37 home runs is not bad at all. The Cardinals have just come to expect much, much more from Pujols. I think he'll break out soon, but in the meantime, people will definitely begin to question whether or not he's really 24.

So that's it. Those are my top 5 disappointing players of the 2004 season, so far. Vote in the poll. Leave your comments. Tell me how wrong I was and list your own top 5. Also, let me know if you clicked on the link up there for "big but." I'm curious to find this one out.

Postscript: The Last Poll Results

For those of you interested, the last poll results are as follows:

Should MLB allow on-field advertising such as the planned Spider-Man 2 ads on the bases?
87 percent said no
13 percent said yes

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