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Is Clemens the Answer For Houston?

T.O. Whenham - www.docsports.com
6/24/06

The mighty Roger Clemens has returned to baseball. The way people are talking about it you would think he walked on the Gulf of Mexico to get back to the Astros. This is the most hyped return from a non-retirement since some guy dribbled a ball in Washington for a couple of uninspiring seasons in the NBA. Houston, which is recovering from a terrible stretch after a hot start, definitely needs the help. The question is whether Clemens can provide the help that they need to get into the playoffs again. Solid arguments can be made for both sides of the debate. Here's a look:

PROS
He has an arm - With Brandon Backe out until at least the All-Star break the Astros have been a bit short of arms to follow Oswalt and Pettitte. Oswalt has health questions and Pettitte just hasn't been very good, so Clemens can calm the rotation down and provide some needed stability.

Boost for Pettitte - Ol' Andy is not having a great season, but the return of his good friend and motivator Clemens can hopefully get him back in form. Pettitte has won three of his last four decisions and had his best outing of the season in his last win, but the team is only 6-10 in his starts. You would have lost a fortune by betting on him so far this year, so he needs all the help he can get.

Clemens starts well - Historically, April is his best month. He has put up his best career ERA and fewest losses in the first month of the season. July is his April this year, which could give the team the boost it needs to get back into a race.

The team's in a good spot - They are six games out of first, but they only have to pass the fading Reds and the equally underwhelming Dodgers to take the lead in the wild card race. There doesn't appear to be that much strength in the NL. That plays into the Astros hand perfectly.

Good stuff - In his first game back he hit 92 mph several times and had his curve working. Minnesota's Joe Mauer, the leading hitter in the majors, said Clemens had nasty stuff in his first outing. The fact is that his stuff is already better than most of and it will only get better as he gets into shape and gets the feel of big league hitters again.

He's a road warrior - The Astros are terrible outside Houston - 12-18 on the road. Clemens had a 1.32 ERA on the road last year, a full run better than he was at home.

He's Roger Clemens - He's 31-12 with a 2.43 ERA the last two years. He led the majors in ERA last season and 26 of his 32 starts were quality outings. Is there a team in the league that wouldn't want to add him?

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CONS
He's old - He may be one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but the guy will turn 44 in August. At some point the dream dies for power pitchers. Relying on someone his age, especially someone who broke down physically last year, is a recipe for disaster.

His salary is a burden - The Astros almost got over the top in 2004 when they rented Carlos Beltran. After picking up Clemens' huge salary they don't have room to add anyone substantial down the stretch. In other words, if this doesn't work, there is nothing they can do about it.

Underwhelming stuff - His minor league starts were fine, but with blemishes. When he got hit it was often hard. His first start against Minnesota was fine, but not outstanding. Oddsmakers will likely overvalue Clemens in his first few outings, assuming that the public will back him like it's 1996 or 1986 instead of 2006.

Run support - The Astros still don't have any. Clemens was the victim of almost incomprehensible offensive ineptness last season, which killed what could have been a historic season. Houston isn't much better this year. The team ranks in the bottom half of every offensive category. For instance, in Clemens' first start on June 22, the total was set at 7.5 - the lowest number Houston has seen in over a month. The 4-2 loss left them under. Expect plenty of small numbers whenever the Rocket takes the hill.

Bullpen not great - The Astros bullpen has been decent, but far from great. That could be a real problem because they are going to get a lot of work in his starts. He went five innings in his first start and is unlikely to go beyond six on most nights. If the bullpen can't keep it together then it doesn't matter how good Clemens is.

What Clemens Effect? - As good as Clemens pitched last year, the team was still 15-17 in his starts, including a dismal 2-7 in his last nine. His individual dominance certainly doesn't translate to team success. He is 31-12 in his last 65 starts (a .721 winning percentage) while the team is just 38-27 in his starts (.585). That's a record of just 7-15 when he doesn't get a decision.

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