Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens should have notched his eighth Cy Young Award in 2005.
When the Astros signed Roger Clemens to come join his friend Andy Pettitte in the Houston rotation, few could have imagined just how successful that venture would be. He was 41 and coming off a six-season run with the Yankees in which he pitched to a 4.01 ERA, which was still above average considering it was the AL East in the early 2000s.
But Clemens exceeded expectations, going 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA in his first season with the Astros and taking home the 2004 NL Cy Young Award, his seventh such award. His 2005 season was even better by many standards, but even though he should have won an eighth Cy Young, he only finished third in the voting.
Clemens worked to a league-leading 1.87 ERA in 32 starts in 2005, though poor run support led to him only compiling a pedestrian 13-8 record. The Astros offense averaged just 2.8 runs scored per outing while Clemens was in the game, which was easily the lowest mark of Clemens’ career.
He led the league in hits per nine, adjusted ERA, Fielding Independent Pitching and WAR among pitchers. He also led in several more advanced stats, such as Win Probability Added, Adjusted Pitching Runs and Adjusted Pitching Wins. Take away the win-loss record and it’s pretty clear that Clemens was the most effective pitcher in the NL in 2005.
The winner of the Cy Young that year was Chris Carpenter, and he certainly had a good season. He went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA, tying for the league lead in complete games and tossing four shutouts. But aside from the win-loss record, was he better than Clemens?
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Clemens’ ERA was almost a full run lower, and he also had the lower WHIP, hits per nine and home runs per nine. They both struck out batters at the same rate, though Carpenter threw more innings and thus had more volume. But the Cardinals offense scored 4.9 runs per game while Carpenter was on the mound, which was the second-best mark of his career. That’s how you get a 21-5 record.
Coming in second in the voting was Dontrelle Willis, who went 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA. He led the league in wins, shutouts and homers per nine, and tied with Carpenter for most complete games. But Clemens had him beat in most other stats, including WHIP, hits per nine and strikeouts per nine.
In truth, it’s the win-loss record that made the biggest difference in the voting, which is a shame. Carpenter was only fifth in the league in ERA, trailing Clemens, Pettitte, Willis and Pedro Martinez. He was sixth in WAR for pitchers as well. But he was second in wins and second in winning percentage, which is evidently what the voters were looking at.
In more recent years, voters have correctly placed less importance on the win-loss record, since they’re more a product of a pitcher’s team than his actual performance. That’s why Jacob deGrom won the 2018 NL Cy Young despite a 10-8 record — his 1.70 ERA was remarkable and he was more than deserving of the award.
If Clemens had the same run support as Carpenter, I’d venture to guess he’d end up with a better record. It’s not fair to penalize a pitcher for having a bad offense backing him. But nonetheless, even though Clemens was, by most stats, the best pitcher in the league in 2005, he didn’t come away with his eighth Cy Young.