Yankees: A fair way to consider Roger Clemens for Hall of Fame

New York, UNITED STATES: Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates 09 June 2007 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Pirates 9-3. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Kathy Willens (Photo credit should read KATHY WILLENS/AFP via Getty Images)
New York, UNITED STATES: Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates 09 June 2007 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Pirates 9-3. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Kathy Willens (Photo credit should read KATHY WILLENS/AFP via Getty Images) /
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How should the voters weigh Rogers Clemens’ Hall of Fame case this time around?

For the most part, older members of the BBWAA generally oppose the induction of ballplayers who have used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during their careers and have excluded them from their ballots.

They believe that, among other things, evidence from medical research shows that PEDs provide players with an unfair advantage. These players are cheating in the minds of veteran voters.

Longtime members of the BBWAA are concerned that electing drug users to the Hall will undermine the integrity of the game and cause a snowball effect of controversy.

However, younger members of the BBWAA tend to be more forgiving of such drug use and are likely to vote to include outstanding former players, like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, into the Hall. After all, great players from past decades also used drugs to improve their play. Many of them are now in the Hall.

Support for Clemens, a former New York Yankee, and former San Francisco Giants outfielder Bonds for election to the Hall of Fame has increased over time. However, the replacement of older voters with younger voters has taken place slowly. It’s doubtful at this point that either player will garner the required 75% of votes to be elected to the Hall this year and probably next year — their last two years of eligiblity.

A compromise for Roger Clemens and his Hall of Fame Case

Until now, I have opposed allowing former baseball players who used drugs to be inducted. How do we assess these players in comparison to previous players already inducted into the Hall? This has been a main concern of mine.

I’ve come up with a solution on how to evaluate the performance of players who were either found to use drugs, admitted that they used drugs, or the circumstantial evidence strongly supports the conclusion that they used drugs. Let’s use Clemens’ case as an example of how one might be penalized but still considered for inclusion in the Hall.

First, a brief review of the case against Clemens. In a book published in 2005, Jose Canseco admitted to being a consistent user of PEDs. He accused Clemens, one of the most dominant pitchers to ever grace the mound, of taking steroids as well. Additionally, Clemens’ name was mentioned 82 times in the Mitchell Report. The Rocket, however, has consistently denied these accusations.

Former Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, who is on this year’s HOF ballot and admitted that he used a human growth hormone during his career, said that Clemens told him that trainer Brian McNamee injected Clemens with PEDs. Recently, two former federal investigators who worked on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) steroids trafficking case argue in an article in Forbes magazine that their evidence shows that Clemens (and Bonds) undeniably took steroids.

A fair way to correct for any advantage that Clemens may have received from consuming drugs would be to eliminate a significant portion of his record from consideration. The Hall of Fame could instruct voters to discount 20% of his best performing years in their assessments, leaving them to evaluate the overall quality of the remaining 80% of his overall pitching record. (Such an approach could be adopted in other cases as well.)

Clemens played 24 years in MLB, which means that voters would assess 19 years of pitching performance. Clemens won an extraordinary seven Cy Young awards during his impressive pitching career, as most fans know.

In Clemens’ case, this would mean that five of the seven years in which he won the award would be eliminated from consideration. (In cases involving other pitching candidates, metrics such as career win-loss record, ERA, and WAR would be used to identify the 20% of superior performing years.)

Overall, Clemens had an astounding 354-184 (.658) win-loss record during his entire MLB career. His lifetime ERA was 3.12, he struck out 4,672 batters, and he had a total WAR of 139.2.

His postseason play was quite good (12-8 with a 3.75 ERA). He helped the Yanks win World Series titles in 1999 and 2000.

To determine which five of the seven years should be eliminated from consideration, the BBWAA would analyze w-n-loss records, ERA, and WAR numbers during the seven years. Based on this approach, voters would likely ignore his performance in 1986, 1987, 1991, 1997, and 1998 in weighing his HOF candidacy. The two years in which he received the Cy Young Award, in 2001 and 2004, would be considered in determining the quality of his HOF candidacy.

By excluding these five years from consideration, Clemens would still have a stellar pitching record and be a very compelling candidate for inclusion in the HOF. His 19-year totals are 251-148 (.629) and 93.1 WAR. The Rocket’s strikeout total during this period remains impressive (3,374), and his ERA increases, but not all that much.

A similar approach can be used for everyday position players who also fall under the drug-use umbrella, like Bonds. Selected metrics to assess these individuals would include slash lines, WAR, and other offensive and defensive variables deemed paramount by the voters.

My approach to evaluating players who used drugs incorporates a significant penalty into the decision-making process, but not an onerous one such as entirely eliminating their consideration for induction. Based on my formula, players who used PEDs at some point in their careers but performed exceptionally well throughout their tenure would be the ones most likely to be elected to the Hall, which one could say is a fair trade-off.

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