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Trying to measure Clemens' impact

(Editor's note: Bill Ordine is out for the rest of the day because of a softball injury. His Sun colleagues are pinch-hittingblogging.)

The Yankees made perhaps the biggest sports news of the weekend when they unveiled their newest, oldest toy, Roger Clemens, during the seventh-inning stretch of yesterday's game against Seattle.

Fans of the Yankees' divisional competitors may want to throw up their hands, figuring the Bombers just bought another divisional title. But it's not that simple.

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Clemens will certainly do the Yanks a favor if he keeps Kei Igawa (7.63 ERA) from starting any more games. But actually, the other guys he might displace, Darrell Rasner and Phil Hughes, have pitched pretty well in six combined starts.

If the Yankees do overtake Boston with Clemens at the head of their rotation, he will receive a huge amount of credit. In reality, they were bound to improve anyway. Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina are back healthy. Mariano Rivera seems unlikely to carry an 8.38 ERA for the whole season. And if middle relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino can't do better, the club will find someone who can.

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More importantly, the Yankees' offense remains awesome, on pace to score 972 runs for the season. Folks, it's awfully hard to be a losing team when you score 972 runs.

Anyway, how much will Clemens help?

The clever folks at Baseball Prospectus have devised a stat that measures how many wins a player is worth beyond a replacement-level talent at his position. Clemens was worth about five wins over replacement last year in only 113 1/3 innings for Houston. That's outstanding. On a per-inning basis, the 44-year-old Clemens pitched as well as the accepted best hurler in the world, Johan Santana. Amazing, really.

But can we expect Clemens to be as good this season at age 45?

Well, the Prospectus projections say no. They predict he'll be worth 3.6 wins above replacement if he pitches 130 innings (about the number he should reach with four healthy months.) That's still outstanding, about twice as good as Rasner's projection.

We also must consider that Clemens is awfully hard to project, because he's breaking new ground by pitching at a Cy Young level in his mid-40s. Nolan Ryan posted a brilliant season at age 44 and remained an effective power pitcher at 45. He wasn't as good as Clemens, but he's the only one who seems even comparable. Most of history's great power pitchers -- from Walter Johnson to Lefty Grove to Bob Gibson to Tom Seaver -- had been retired several years when they turned 45. We have to assume that if Clemens tries to pitch in perpetuity, he'll peter out at some point. But we really don't know when because he's such an outlier.

If the Prospectus figures are close to correct, Clemens will be worth an extra two wins or so to the Yankees. That would be helpful in a close race but hardly paradigm-shifting.

-- Childs Walker


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