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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Clemens better than ever

Roger Clemens is not supposed to be doing what he is doing. He did, after all, try to quit.

Clemens, who has a won World Series ring and numerous Cy Young awards, "retired" after the Yankees lost to the Marlins in the 2003 World Series. Before the 2004 season began, however, he was coerced into playing one more season for his hometown Houston Astros.

It was a remarkable season at that. Clemens posted an 18-4 record, won a seventh Cy Young award and helped the Astros come within one game of their first-ever World Series appearance.

After last season, things began to go south for the Astros. Carlos Beltran left for a fat contract with the Mets. Lance Berkman tore up his knee. Jeff Kent signed with the Dodgers. Surely Clemens would ride off into the sunset with 328 career victories in his pocket.

Not so. Clemens did come back this season, playing for the love of the game and $18 million. Amazingly enough, at the age of 43, Clemens has never been better. In fact, you can argue that no one has ever been better.

After pitching six shutout innings Saturday in Washington, Clemens has an ERA of 1.40. The National League's composite ERA is 4.34.

What's more, Clemens' home ballpark, Minute Maid Field, favors hitters. The park effect in Houston has been a little more neutral the last couple of seasons but, in the past, the park has had as much of a 15-percent effect on run scoring in favor of the offense. Also, Clemens has allowed only four unearned runs this season.

Bob Gibson holds the record for ERA in the live-ball era, or since 1920. Before 1919, baseball was much different, and 40 out of the 41 best ERAs ever posted occurred during that time.

Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968 ranks fourth all-time and came in a season in which the National League's composite ERA was 2.98. He also pitched in a pitcher's park and allowed 11 unearned runs.

Adjusting for ballparks and unearned runs, you get recalculated runs-allowed-per-nine innings of 1.49 for Gibson and 1.86 for Clemens. Gibson was allowing runs at 44 percent of the league average. Clemens is at 34 percent of the league's pace.

Continuing at his current pace will be a tall order even for Clemens. But, if he does, this may be the most dominant pitching performance ever and, at the same time, give further credence to the argument that the Rocket is the best pitcher who ever lived.

* MOYE'S SKILLS: Royals owner David Glass said something the other day that merits another look.

Referring to Class A outfielder Alan Moye, Glass said, “He's got some skills and is really coming on,” Glass said.

Before you get too excited about Moye, there are some of things to consider.

First of all, the run-scoring environment of the High Desert Mavericks is as favorable to hitters as any almost ballpark in minor-league baseball.

Second, Moye will turn 23 years old in October. That's not ancient for high Class A, but it is a little advanced for a true prospect.

Lastly, and most important, Moye wouldn't know the strike zone if it fell on his head. This season, in 89 games, Moye has struck out 121 times and walked 19.

Moye may have talent, but if he doesn't make significant strides in plate discipline and frequency of contact, he won't have an appreciable big-league career.

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