Best Pitching Season Ever: Roger Clemens 1997 Blue Jays

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Roger Clemens had the best season of his storied career with the Blue Jays in 1997. And the Best Pitching Season Ever.

The Blue Jays attempted to re-establish themselves in the American League East by signing Roger Clemens via Free Agency and bringing All-Stars Carlos García and Orlando Merced through trade.

Clemens rejuvenated himself with the Blue Jays (en route to one of the best-ever single seasons by a starting pitcher).

In 1996 he finished with a 10-13 record and 3.63 ERA for the Red Sox.

Everyone thought he was DONE.

A common belief is Roger Clemens was on the downside of his career in his final year in Boston in 1996 and only PEDs brought his game back to Cy Young level.

Nerd metrics disagree. In 1996 Clemens finished;

~2nd in pitcher WAR
~2nd in WAA
~5th in ERA+

Ridiculous right? Let’s look at his old fashioned stats;

~7th in ERA
~7th in walks/hits per 9 innings
~2nd in hits/9 innings
~1st in Ks/9 innings
~5th in innings
~1st in Ks
~4th in complete games
~8th in K/BB
~3rd in lowest homers/9 innings
~2nd in FIP

Not his best year, but pretty damn good right?

I’m assuming his 10 and 13 record plus 3.63 ERA are the main reasons. A few explanations for that;

1. Clemens recieved 3.9 runs per 9 innings. AL teams averaged 5.39 runs per 9innings.

2. Red Sox were a terrible defensive team. Rtot negative 77.

3. Fenway was a real good hitters park, inflating offenses by 9%.

He was still a top pitcher when he left Boston.

But in 1997, Clemens had the best pitching season ever.

He won the pitching Triple Crown and won the AL Cy Young Award. Clemens led the majors in pitcher fWAR with 10.7 (Pedro was second with 8.5).

That year he led the league in:

~21 wins
~2.05 ERA
~9 complete games
~3 shutouts
~264 innings pitched
~292 Ks
~2.25 FIP
~1.030 WHIP

In geeky stats he also lead the league in;
~11.9 WAR
~222 ERA+

Clemens 11.9 WAR is tied for the 3rd best single season mark since the deadball era(1920).

His 2.22 ERA+ is tied for 10th best for a pitcher all time since 1920.

WAR and ERA+ are calculated by comparing performance to league average. 100 ERA+ is average, so Roger was 122% better than the average AL pitcher in 1997.

To demonstrate, in 1997 the average AL pitcher had a 4.93 ERA and the average batter had a batting average of 271, OBP of 340 and slugging of 428.

Clemens had an ERA of 2.05 and batters had a BA of .213, OBP of .273 and a slugging of .291.

Clemens actually had below average run support with 4.81 runs per game as opposed to league average of 4.94. With better run support, he almost definitely would have an even better won/loss record.

Roger Clemens had an ERA of 2.05 over 264 innings. Clemens struck out 28% of all batters he faced, with 292 strikeouts on the season.

Yeah, Rocket was probably juiced to the gills during the best pitching season ever, but he was facing batters equally juiced and as a whole the league was one of the most offensive in MLB history.

So most pitchers were losing the steroid battle to hitters.

But not Roger Clemens during the best pitching season ever.