On Sunday, Roger Clemens announced to an excited Yankee Stadium crowd that he was returning to New York in 2007. The announcement ended months of speculation about where the certain Hall of Famer would pitch this season. Clemens started 19 games for the Houston Astros in 2006 and was just as effective as he had been through the best seasons of his career. His strikeout-per-nine rate was still an impressive 8.10, though he was pitching just over six innings per start.
Later on, in the YES booth, Clemens said that his goal is to pitch for the Yankees sometime in late May or early June, which would be earlier than his 2006 season debut. In his first start of '06, Clemens lasted five innings and threw 100 pitches. His strikeout total also remained fairly low until his fifth start of last season at Florida.
In fantasy, you must go grab him now. Clemens is owned in only 50.9 percent of leagues, which means there is a good chance he is available in yours. You can expect the usual excellence from Clemens. His numbers from this past season were on par with his best seasons as he had a 2.30 ERA, a WHIP of 1.07, both well under his career numbers in those respective categories of 3.10 and 1.17 numbers. Most importantly for fantasy players, he maintained an excellent strikeout rate, with 112 Ks in 122 innings. In 2003, Clemens' last season in New York, he was 17-9 with a 3.91 ERA.
With one of the best offenses in the game backing him and arguably the best closer in baseball available to nail down his victories, expect Clemens to approach, and likely surpass, double-digit wins with an ERA in the mid-3s and a strong strikeout total. A late May return would give him the chance to start 23-25 games, and if he averages 6 1/3 innings as he did in 2006, he should be good for about 150 innings, with 130 strikeouts a reasonable expectation. Age has yet to slow Clemens down, and it likely won't happen this season.
The rest of the Yankee rotation will likely experience a minor shakeup. Clemens, Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte are a rock solid top four. The fifth starter slot will go to whoever impresses Joe Torre. Currently Darrell Rasner, Kei Igawa and Matt DeSalvo are the contenders for the spot. Once Phil Hughes returns, however, those three arms will all go to the bullpen or back down to Triple-A.
The Red Sox, who were rumored to also have been chasing Clemens, will now make do with Julian Tavarez as their fifth starter, at least until Jon Lester is ready to go, which could be very soon. The Astros will stick with Matt Albers and Chris Sampson in their rotation, both of whom have been impressive enough that they will stick to the rotation when Jason Jennings returns from injury.