Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Figures Lie and Liars Figure

The conventional wisdom is that you can manipulate statistics to bolster any argument. So the fact that Team Clemens claims their latest testimonial -- an endless accumulation of numbers, graphs and exposition -- explains away Clemens' remarkable longevity is no surprise.'s Tom Verducci does a great job cutting through the clutter and coming to the conclusion that you can use 18,000 words and still have nothing to say.

But I think Verducci lets Clemens off the hook. In fact, using the very statistics that Verducci provides, one can argue the case against Clemens grows even stronger. Let's take a look at the numbers from Clemens' first season in Toronto, both before and after the time that Brian McNamee claims to have first injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone:

1998 GS W-L ERA K/9 OPS
Before 13 6-6 3.27 9.18 .592
After 20 14-0 2.29 11.11 .561

Combine his slow start in Toronto with four sub-par seasons in Boston -- twice under .500, no more than 11 wins, twice with an ERA over 4 -- and this is the portrait of a pitcher approaching the downside of his career. Then, like flipping a switch, Clemens becomes virtually unbeatable. But instead of the obvious, Clemens' camp instead serves up this implausible explanation:
By the mid 1990's, he had mastered the split-finger fastball, and the combination of Clemens' experience, his overpowering fastball, and his improved split-finger fastball led to two consecutive Cy Young Awards in what the record shows to be the best pitching of his career. -- Clemens Report
Really? In the 14th year of his major league career, after four-plus years on the decline, Roger Clemens had the best seasons of his life because he picked up the splitter? Really? Did I mention that was his 14th season?

But let's assume for the moment that we'll consider this ridiculous assertion, and that Clemens resurgence was due to his craftiness on the mound, rather than a slavish devotion to performance-enhancing drugs. What, then, do we make of Brian McNamee and his claims? Are we expected to believe that McNamee was so prescient that he'd broken down Clemens' exploits himself? Otherwise, how is it that he provided dates and doses that corresponded nearly exactly with the ups and downs of Clemens' post-Boston career? And that he was able to provide that information on demand, under oath, with a possible Federal indictment hanging over his head?

Clemens himself noted how hard it is "to prove a negative". It becomes even harder when your angry denials, backed by little more than an indignant attitude, stand in direct opposition to common sense. But hey, you can't blame Pete Rose... er, I mean, Roger Clemens, for trying.

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