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Monday, June 12, 2006


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good stuff. A couple of questions: How would incorporating ball park effects change these numbers? It seems to me that A-Rod's offensive production is particularly impressive as it comes from a righty playing at Yankee stadium half his games. It it possible that he actually is not bringing up the rear (for 2003-2006 totals)?

Did the numbers for A-Rod surprise you? In other words, most people say he's unclutch, but as far as I can tell he's pretty good based on your numbers. He might not be in the stratosphere that is Pujols or Ortiz, but he doesn't seem deserving of the unclutch tag.

I, for one, am convinced Papi is clutch, to the extent that clutchness exists, which I think it only does minimally. (This is addressed in Baseball Between the Numbers in some depth, and I've seen other sabermetrician take their cracks at the idea as well). As for this estimable presentation, there are certain numbers that i would say present small-sample issues, and others than can be explained as reasonable deviations from mean. And I'm guessing that, as Paul suggests, there are indeed more advanced metrics that might tell us--who knows?

What I do know is this: Papi absolutely rakes. God help the pitcher staring him down in a late inning situation.

Paul if you are saying A-Rod's numbers could be skewed because he is a righty at Yankee Stadium, well isn't it equally as impressive that Ortiz is a lefty at Fenway?

That was me who brought up A-Rod's numbers at Yankees stadium. I might be wrong, but my guess is that righties have had it worse at the stadium than lefties have at Fenway. Anyone know?

To me, the clutch debate is problematic because of the dubious nature of the definition of clutch. I get that we generally identify late inning hgih pressure situations as the moments when clutch hitting occurs. That seems to be the fundamental starting point. Sometimes, the debate opens up to earlier innings, and we include hitting with RISP. The idea I guess is to demonstrate that a hitter is good under pressure and that his hits are more valuable. Regarding the pressure component of the argument, who deals with more pressure than A-Rod? Seriously, he plays in the biggest market, with a huge and famous contract. He's despised by the media. He isscrutinized virtually every at bat. Under this enormous pressure he managed to win the MVP, putting up some of the best numbers by a Yankees righty ever. Did he perform well under pressure, or can pressure only be defined by the game situation? The second component is the value of the hit. A run is a run is a run. No one has ever convinced me that a homer with a 3-run lead in the third is less a run than a homer to break the tie in the bottom of the ninth. And if I wasn't at work I'd continue this inarticulate rant.

No one has ever convinced me that a homer with a 3-run lead in the third is less a run than a homer to break the tie in the bottom of the ninth.

I understand the gist of your post, Nick. But doesn't one win a game outright, the other increase a lead? I mean, I may be a bit of a simpleton, and I know that no lead is technically safe (except, of course, the one given by a bottom of the ninth dinger), but even I can see the difference between these two things, both functionally and aesthetically. Statistically the guys at BP may say something different

It certainly aesthetically different, but couldn't you say that both are functionally the same, or at least can be functionally the same. A-Rod hits a solo homer that puts the Yanks up 4-0 in the third. The Sox come back in the ninth within a run thanks in part to Papi homer with two outs. Manny strikes out to end the game. The one run is the difference. Its function was to give the ultimate lead to the Yanks. If it didn't happen, the Yanks don't win.

By the way, this is why Yanks fans give curtain calls for 2nd inning homers.

C'Mon, Nick. The Yanks give sencond inning curtain calls to piss me off - you know that!

Actually, since you brought it up, I think that the "curtain call" should be reserved for things like a last at bat home-run or a last a bat huge strike out, and nothing more. They should be reserved for things great, and nothing less. Every other team's fans understand that - why can't the Yankees?

Also, and I don't mean to sound like a jerk here, but it is MUCH harder to hit a homerun when you have to do so. Trying to hit a homerun is the worst thing any batter can do. Combine this fact with what seems to be an inordinate amount of pressure that the Sox fans put on Papi in this situation, and it's easy to understand how absolutely incredible the man is. I refuse to put A-Rod, clearly the most talented player in the game, on Papi's level until he comes close to giving the Yankee fans something to actually give a curtain call for - several game winning moments. When A-Rod hits a bomb in the 12th or 13th inning against K-Rod to play in the ALCS, and then does it again against the Yankees in the next series, he deserves his own level of admiration. Not that A-Rod deserves what he gets from those "classy" fans at the stadium, but he most certainly doesn't compare with the stick when it matters.

But you described a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth, not a meaningless get-within-one dinger. So I am not sure what you are saying.

I suppose this is where math fails again. In the bottom of the ninth, one would suppose a hitter is facing a specialty pitcher, a team's closer. In the bottom of the fourth with a four run lead, a three run jack is coming against a weak starter or a middle reliever. So math doesn't tell us everything.

that's a fair point. Although, the early innings homer might come against as a starter. And all this further deconstruction kind of supports my greater point, which is that it's very hard to define clutch. Was it not clutch of Papi to hit that game-winning home-run in the 2004 ALCS against the great Esteban Loaiza? Or was it less clutch that the greatest point of clutch (whatever that is)?

Also, how is Papi's 3-run homer meaningless if it brings up Manny with a chance to tie? Ultimately, A-Rod's homer is part of the difference. His homer made Ortiz's homer "meaningless"

As an aside: I hope you don't have me pigeonholed as a stathead, or math guy. I think I'm trying to use my flawed grasp of logic and basic numbers to make an argument.

freakin' awesome post. this is the kind of thing i just don't have the knack for. excellent. thank you for this.

As an aside: I hope you don't have me pigeonholed as a stathead, or math guy. I think I'm trying to use my flawed grasp of logic and basic numbers to make an argument.

No way - no worries. And if you were a stathead or math guy I'd respect you all the same ;-)

I actually love the statistical aspect of baseball, how it has changed the way we look at things. But I do find that it tends to disallow complexity, ironically. Devoid of the psychological, the numbers don't let us look at situational baseball in human terms, only mathematical ones. This is what I find most frustrating. Just look at my incessant blasting of Tito's batting order. BP (and YF) would say that I have no case, the numbers don't lie, OBP and batting order position are irrelevant, but I would counter with "but what about how a player reacts to his position in the order?", or "what about enabling slumps?", or "what about screwing with a player's routine by moving him around the order every three days?". I think we've come to rely on the BP-type stats a little too much. Though they add a great deal, and help complete our understanding of players, teams, and performances, they are unable to take into account a vital aspect of the game that is unquantifiable: the humanity of it. I don't dislike statheads. I just want my stathead to be a human being.

A couple quick points:

YF, there are some obvious sample-size issues, as you noted, and some instances of possible deviation. I'm not a stats guy either. What you see (calculating averages, ratios and percentages) is about the limit of my statistical ability, so I couldn't tell you how common such deviations are or should be... Nevertheless, Papi doesn't deviate from the mean negatively at all in any of these categories. The closest would be his 9th-inning batting average, but even there his power numbers are good. So, sure, we have possible sample-size and deviation issues, but it would be truly amazing, I would think, for all these issues to randomly occur in Ortiz's favor.

Nick, I hadn't thought of park effects in my post, mostly because the comparison to other players was an afterthought. I'm sure ARod's numbers are suppressed by Yankee Stadium, perhaps more so than Ortiz's by Fenway Park. I was surprised by ARod's numbers because I expected them to be better than everyone else's except Pujols'. In fact, his numbers were worse across the board than any of the other three. Doing a quick check of Baseball Reference, Ortiz's OPS+ (park-adjusted OPS in which 100 is average), Ortiz the last three seasons has hit 144, 145 and 161. ARod's has been 148, 133 and 167. Clearly, the park has made a difference. As for whether he's been "unclutch" in that time -- to whatever extent one can be clutch or unclutch -- I imagine a lot of it comes from his pathetic .228 average (.783 OPS in 101 ABs) at Fenway Park since 2003. Hard to be clutch in any situation when you're doing that poorly.

As for whether homers mean more in the second or seventh innings, of course they do. Not in the stats (key problem with using them to determine clutchiness), but from the seventh on, each individual at-bat means far more than in the second. It's a key reason why WPA and similar stats being espoused of late on SOSH (mostly in response to the MVP vote) have gained popularity. The pressure on the hitter (and pitcher) in those situations is much greater. This is why it's so difficult to be a great closer, and why we've seen great middle releivers and great starters fall on their faces when called upon in the ninth, and it's the main reason why I think it's hard to argue conclusively that "clutch hitters" do not exist, as if every at-bat were isolated in a test tube, devoid of the context of the game and left to the law of averages and the talent of those involved. This is obviously not the case, so I'm not sure why the sabercrowd argues as if it is.

"but from the seventh on, each individual at-bat means far more than in the second."

It depends on the game, doesn't it? A guy hits gets a solo homer-run in the 2nd inning of a game that puts his team ahead 1-0. Say his team starts piling on runs and by the 7th it's 10-0. Then I assume you believe that same player's home run in the 7th would be less "meaningful."

"The pressure on the hitter (and pitcher) in those situations is much greater. This is why it's so difficult to be a great closer, and why we've seen great middle releivers and great starters fall on their faces when called upon in the ninth,"

Maybe true, but what accounts for players with great stuff not being able to succeed as starters? I could argue that they can't handle the responsibility of the early innings, that the pressure to keep their team in the game is too much.

homer-run is home-run

Although I love the numbers in this post, great work, I have some problems with this argument as a whole. I don't think stats and "clutch" belong in the same argument, as crazy as that sounds. SF made a great point about stats not looking at the human side of baseball situations and I think that's dead on.

To me, clutch is more of gut reaction, from the fan and the player.

Is Ortiz clutch? In my book yes, if for the only reason that there isn't another person in baseball I want at the plate when the Red Sox are down by 1 late in the game.

I have seen with my own eyes, in person, him tie the game or put us ahead so many times, I don't need the numbers.

Yanks fans, game on the line, 1 run down, would you prefer Arod of Ortiz batting for you?

If you answer Arod; that means to you he's clutch. Nothing wrong with that if that's the way you feel. However, I'm willing to bet a lot of you just answered Ortiz, even if you won’t admit it.

Yanks fan here. I'd rather have Ortiz up, yeah.

ARod takes more shit than he deserves, but Papi definitely has a certain something. At this point it could be self-perpetuating thing. I'm sure that pitchers are aware of the legend of Big Papi (and also the supposed anti-clutchitude of ARod) and that could impact the way they pitch.

As a Yanks fan, I'm not going to sit here and argue that A-Rod is as "clutch" as Papi, because I think the numbers demonstrate that Papi is better in those types of situations.

*That being said,* Papi hits in front of the greatest right-handed hitter of our generation, and as the game goes on and gets close and you simply can't afford to put a guy on base, having Manny on deck means fastballs for Papi to crush (and crush them he does).

Contrast this with A-Rod -- it's not that he doesn't have strong hitters around him (since he does), but he's the guy teams pitch around. Even in his dismal ALDS last year, the Angels wanted no part of him.

(Oh, and apologies to Pujols (not enough years yet) and Edgar (Manny's just better) on the greatest RH hitter thing.)

To say that you'd rather have Ortiz up in that situation than A-Rod doesn't mean you'd rather have him on your team. I'll reverse the question: Who do you think wins you more games over the course of a season? Who is the better player?

Same question: Who would you rather have on your team? Manny or Ortiz?

And for the purposes of this question, let's ignore financial considerations.

Here's another thing to think about. The clutch tag is thrown on a player relatively early on in his career. The same holds true for the unclutch tag. As salient examples, Joe Buck and company wax poetic about Derek Jeter as the world's clutchest player. This seems to be the result of a very early successful post-season career and some very memorable plays. The thing is that of late, his numbers in the post-season have regressed to the mean. He's come back to earth (which is still very good considering the baseline is his career average). I'm certain that Jeter could have a Vladimir Guerrero style ALDS (what was it? 1 for 22?) and Joe Buck and a lot of people would continue the ball washing. At the other end, you have the example of Barry Bonds, whose performance as a Pirate in the post-season screamed to the critics that he lacked intestinal fortitude, couldn't do it under pressure. Then he has that recent post-season which is probably in the top 3 of all-time performances. The record is barely modified. I've never heard Bonds, for all the platitudes thrown his way (before the recent scandal) be described as clutch.

The lessons I draw from these examples is that past clutch performance is not predictive of future clutch performance.The same goes for the reverse. The other lesson is that false perception often frames debate so that we're focusing on the wrong players when talk of clutch and unclutch.

That said, Ortiz has a thing with getting clutch hits. Will he always be able to?

...And this year Guerrero could go 1 for 22 (or 15 for 22, for that matter) in a playoff series and, still, the Joe Bucks of the world would only talk about how he can hit any pitch -- no matter how far out of the strike zone -- out of the stadium. You're absolutely right, nick, once these storylines take shape, they stick.

Of course you're right. If you're the best clutch hitter in the universe, you're still failing 60% of the time in those situations. The labels we put on players frame our perceptions of the constant failure that is baseball.

A strikeout by David Ortiz in a big situation is forgotten about immediately. It's just an anomaly, since Ortiz is CLUTCH. He gets hits in big moments, he doesn't strike out. We eagerly await the next chance he has to confirm the CLUTCH label we've put on him.

A strikeout by A-Rod in a big situation is imprinted on our minds, because it confirms everything we expected to happen, as he is NOT CLUTCH. (A big hit and it's "Oh, FINALLY he shows up for ONCE." And then we get ready for the next strikeout.)

The reality is that in RISP and like situations, if Ortiz hits .320 and A-Rod hits .280, that's a real, measurable, important difference... but it's also a difference of 1 hit every 25 ABs. You can't tell me fans perceive and react to that difference properly on a day-by-day basis.

airk, lol. That's the only thing ever said about Vlad. The only thing. I think I might try a post on the set things said about certain players during a national broadcast. Eg. "Mariano Rivera is the greates reliever ever, and the REMARKABLE thing is that he uses ONE pitch."

I think what we can all agree on is that until MLB adds "clutch" as an official stat, it's going to vary in definition from player to player and fan base to fan base. Since I don’t see it becoming a stat, I think we are stuck with what we make it in our heads. The media also doesn’t help.

I think that any players that drive in 120+ runs a year are by virtue of their production "clutch". That leads me to believe that A-Rod is, in fact, a clutch player, mostly because since he's so productive, he has to be clutch. There's simply no way you can knock in that many runs, create that many opportunities for your team, without having a major impact on their success. Is he aesthetically clutch? Not so much, yet. But that's quite subjective. And I am of course much happier that Papi is doing our late-inning dirty work, for all sorts of reasons, no disrespect to A-Rod.

Another thing we may be failing to do is taking into consideration the holes in a specific player's swing, and whether or not those holes are tailored to certain situations/pitchers. In other words - is A-Rod's lack of late inning heroics due to the fact that when facing closers he is facing a pitcher that has the types of pitches that he is weakest at hitting? Do some closers who throw mostly fastballs/cut fastballs/sliders make A-Rod less comfy than a fastball/splitter pitcher? Or does Ortiz' swing give him an advantage against the typical closer, because of what he likes to hit, what he sees better? I think this is a very difficult quality to measure, for so many reasons. Once again, I find the statistics situationally limited.

Hi guys, first time commenter. Very cool analysis, but (as I pointed out on my blog, there are very real small sample issues at play here (which always get my dander up, being a statistician). While I love seeing Papi up in a key situation, most of these numbers could easily arise due to chance fluctuations.

Somebody (SF maybe?) made the point that the cumulative evidence from all these different stats also weighs heavily in Papi's favor, which I'll certainly grant is true. Just good to keep in mind that amidst all the sabermetrical numbers that they have their limitations in specifically predicting things like "clutch" hitting.

I can't disagree with Lockland that clutchiness is very much a subjective -- and game-to-game -- thing. Hey,Papi was as unclutch as possible with the sacks juiced against Farnsworth last much, but, as someone mentioned, that at-bat has disappeared from the collective memory. Nevertheless, what's the fun of baseball stats if you can't try to use them to prove/disprove your subjective observations? Sample size issues aside, the stats pretty convincingly show Papi is quite impressive in high-pressure situations. Why? Who knows? Maybe it's a fluke, maybe he'll regress to the mean in the next three years. But it's fun to hash out, and as it stands now, the stats show that Papi is clutch.

last much = last month

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