Barry Bonds vs. Roger Clemens - The Titanic PED Showdown

ivanvamp

captain obvious
Jul 18, 2005
6,104
A post in another thread regarding the dropping offensive numbers in baseball got me thinking about great players playing great *relative to the era in which they played*.  Naturally, OPS+ and ERA+ comes to mind.  And my mind got wandering to two of the all-time great players, totally embroiled in the PED issue:  Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.  And I wonder:  Just how great were these two players?
 
Let's make a couple of assumptions, based on the information that has come to light over the past ten years.  Let's assume that Roger Clemens started using PEDs in 1998, and Barry Bonds before the 1999 seasons.  
 
Here are their respective career numbers before their own personal "steroid era":
 
Clemens
- TOTALS:  14 seasons, 213-118, 2.97 era, 149 era+, 1.15 whip, 8.5 k/9, 6 all-star teams, 4 CYAs, 1 MVP, 93.2 bWAR, led league in 49 categories (b-ref main page)
- Per 162:  18-10, 2.97 era, 149 era+, 250.0 ip, 206 k, 1.15 whip, 8.5 k/9, 8.1 bWAR
 
Bonds
- TOTALS:  12 seasons, .288/.408/.551/.959, 164 ops+, 7 all-star teams, 3 MVPs, 91.5 bWAR, led league in 32 categories
- Per 162:  563 ab, 116 r, 35 hr, 102 rbi, 39 sb, .288/.408/.551/.959, 8.6 bWAR
 
Now let's look at their numbers during their "steroid era":
 
Clemens
- TOTALS:  10 seasons, 141-66, 3.38 era, 133 era+, 1.21 whip, 8.6 k/9, 5 all-star teams, 3 CYAs, 46.1 bWAR, led league in 15 categories
- Per 162:  17-8, 3.38 era, 133 era+, 220.0 ip, 210 k, 1.21 whip, 8.6 k/9, 5.9 bWAR
 
Bonds
- TOTALS:  9 seasons, .316/.505/.712/1.217, 214 ops+, 6 all-star teams, 4 MVPs, 62.9 bWAR, led league in 34 categories
- Per 162:  481 ab, 129 r, 53 hr, 117 rbi, 11 sb, .316/.505/.712/1.217, 9.6 bWAR
 
Now, from those numbers, it appears that the benefit of PEDs was greater for Bonds than for Clemens.  Clemens' era+ actually went down from 149 to 133, his raw era from 2.97 to 3.38, and his bWAR on average from 8.1 down to 5.9.
 
Bonds, meanwhile, saw his ops+ go from 164 to 214 (!), his raw ops go from .959 to 1.217, and his bWAR go from 8.6 up to 9.6 on average.  
 
I think long before they started using PEDs, both players were off the charts great.  Lock hall of famers if their careers took a normal arc.  It is a shame they took PEDs because it taints what were otherwise unbelievable careers.
 
Some other interesting tidbits…..
 
- At age 41, Clemens won the Cy Young award.
- At age 42, Clemens ed the league in era (1.87 with Houston), as well as era+ (226)
- That 226 era+ was the 12th best era+ among qualified pitchers in history.
 
- Among qualified players, Bonds has the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th, 35th, and 42nd best ops+ numbers (single season) in history.
- Over a 5-year stretch (1999-2004), Bonds averaged the following stat line:  123 r, 52 hr, 109 rbi, .339/.535/.781/1.316, 241 ops+
 
 
 

ivanvamp

captain obvious
Jul 18, 2005
6,104
The assumption for Clemens is based on the testimony during the Clemens investigation.  I don't know exactly what to believe, of course, but McNamee testified to having injected Clemens in 1998, but there was no testimony, to my knowledge, that Clemens was using before that.  So that's why I started there.  The assumption for Bonds is because the investigations into him have led most to the conclusion that that's when he started using, following the 1998 season.
 
Of course, it's possible they were both juicing all along, or that my dates are off.  But at least you know where my assumptions come from.
 

Kliq

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 31, 2013
11,848
The thing about Bonds was that I never thought it was that surprising that he was the one to re-write the record book. If you looked at him in 1986, and you saw his pedigree and you saw his skill set, would it surprise anyone that he would evolve into the best player of his generation? Bonds was someone that was made in a lab to hit baseballs (no pun intended lol).
 
The way I feel about Bonds and Clemens and how they fit into the steroid era and the HOF is that they were so extraordinary that I think their accomplishments overshadow their use of PEDs to a certain extent. For the juiceball era guys, I think they should get into the HOF, just that the numerical bar is set higher for them. Someone like Bonds gets in, obviously, but someone with otherwise good numbers, like Palmeiro or Juan Gonzalez, don't. 
 

ivanvamp

captain obvious
Jul 18, 2005
6,104
I think that if I had a vote, I'd be torn.  On the one hand, of course I don't want to let those guys in and reward their PED use, but on the other hand, they were both CLEAR hall-of-famers before we have any evidence that they were juicing.  And if that's the case, then we could completely erase the PED part of their careers and they'd both still be HOF-worthy.
 
Very tough call with both guys.
 

ivanvamp

captain obvious
Jul 18, 2005
6,104
From pretty much the very beginning of their respective careers, both were *GREAT* players.  
 
Clemens:
- Great college pitcher at a big-time baseball school, Texas.  Two-time All-American.  Won the College WS in 1983.
- In two seasons in the minors, covering A, AA, and AAA, he compiled a 1.55 era, 0.92 whip, and 10.2 k/9.
- First three seasons in the majors:
 
1984 (age 21):  133.3 ip, 4.32 era, 1.31 whip, 8.5 k/9
1985 (age 22):  98.1 ip, 3.29 era, 1.22 whip, 6.8 k/9
1986 (age 23):  254.0 ip, 2.48 era, 0.97 whip, 8.4 k/9, CYA and MVP
 
Bonds:  
- Great college hitter at Arizona State.  All-American.  In 1985 he hit .368 with 23 hr and 66 rbi.  Dominant player.
- In two partial seasons in the minors, he compiled a .303/.403/.540/.943 slash line, including a .963 ops in AAA.
- First three seasons in the majors:
 
1986 (age 21):  413 ab, .223/.330/.416/.746
1987 (age 22):  551 ab, .261/.329/.492/.821 (25 hr)
1988 (age 23):  538 ab, .283/.368/.491/.859 (148 ops+)
 
At very early ages, both these guys were already studs.  So unless we assume they were juicing way back even in college, it's safe to say that they were on a trajectory for great, great careers.  It didn't surprise *anybody* that they were hugely successful in the major leagues.  
 
Now, it would have surprised many people to see Bonds hit 73 homers or Clemens put up a 1.87 era as a 41 year old.  So the longevity is astounding.  But during what I consider to be the pre-PED portions of their career, they were both unbelievable, top-shelf, elite superstars.  Multiple MVP and CYA winners by then.  
 
I am not saying I know they weren't juicing back then.  But it would likely have meant that they were juicing back in college.  Which is possible, of course.
 

jschip1

lurker
Jul 16, 2005
468
Completely off topic but I went and looked at the times Bonds and Clemens actually faced each other, just for fun.  Eight PA, 5 walks (1 IBB), 2 Ks, 1 HBP, for a line of .000/.750/.000
 
Conclusion: we learn nothing.  However, and I'm sure this has been discussed before but I had never seen it: against Greg Maddux Bonds went for .265/.376/.508 in 157 PA.  That's astounding.
 

snowmanny

Member
SoSH Member
Dec 8, 2005
10,988
Yes, I have an absolute distrust of any argument that is based on the premise that so-and-so only used for these particular dates.  For awhile we were being fed the lie that ARod ONLY used PEDs from 2001-2003.
 

threecy

Cosbologist
SoSH Member
Sep 1, 2006
1,573
Tamworth, NH
I think it's easy to think Barry Bonds started juicing in the 1990s just by looking at the changes in his body and huge jump in how far he was hitting balls.
Clemens' body type didn't change much during the 1990s, nor did his velocity.  I would suggest that if he was using, he started around the time of his shoulder injury in 1985.
 
I think it's troubling that players in the 1990s can be convicted of steroid use in the court of public opinion, whilst those in previous decades get a pass.  It's hard to believe that baseball was clean until the players' strike in 1994.
 
 

SumnerH

Malt Liquor Picker
Dope
Jul 18, 2005
26,616
Alexandria, VA
threecy said:
I think it's troubling that players in the 1990s can be convicted of steroid use in the court of public opinion, whilst those in previous decades get a pass.  It's hard to believe that baseball was clean until the players' strike in 1994.
There's a difference between Burleigh Grimes throwing a spitball and Gaylord Perry doing it, or Deacon Jones doing a head slap vs. Charles Woodson. Steroids were legal until the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 (and not against the rules of baseball until the Vincent memo in 1991, though being illegal probably trumps needing a rule).
 

gaelgirl

The People's Champion
SoSH Member
Feb 25, 2004
4,759
Sonoma, California
I don't know... can't you just compare these two players to guys who were also using PEDs? Barry Bonds and Marvin Benard had the same source for their PEDs and presumably the same type of schedules (someone more interested can look into that). Marvin Benard was not Barry Bonds. Benito Santiago is maybe a better comparison because their body types are more similar, but still... Santiago was no Bonds. 
 
Basically, what I'm saying is that Barry Bonds was an extraordinarily great player, PED assisted or not. He played in an era where a huge number of other players, including pitchers, were equally pumped full of PEDs. I don't think being a Hall of Famer rewards Bonds for cheating, I think it acknowledges that his talents were extraordinary. 
 
I also find it hilariously ridiculous that writers voted him MVP AFTER his association with BALCO was well-known, but they refuse now to elect him to the Hall of Fame. Where were your standards then, sportswriters?