To Be Clutch or Not To Be Clutch
Wikipedia defines a clutch hitter as a baseball player with a knack for coming up with the "big" hit. The big hit is typically a game-deciding hit, sometimes a home run, often coming with two outs. Being known as a clutch hitter is a position of high honor and responsibility, as the clutch hitter is recognized as the "go-to guy" for the team, and his exploits in pressure situations are celebrated by both fans and players alike.
Pretty straightforward, right? Not really. I would tend to agree with Bill James and other statheads that clutch hitting does not exist. I will take it a step further to add another dimension and say that people can shrivel up and lose their ability to perform. While some people simply may not be able to take the pressure and perform up to their abilities during stressful situations, others simply perform at their established levels.
"How is it that a player who possesses the reflexes and the batting stroke and the knowledge and the experience to be a .260 hitter in other circumstances magically becomes a .300 hitter when the game is on the line? How does that happen? What is the process? What are the effects? Until we can answer those questions, I see little point in talking about clutch ability."
The thought process is that if someone really did play better in clutch situations, the GM would be pretty interested to know why said clutch player is not playing as well in non-clutch situations. Disinterested? Not likely. Needing the pressure to perform? Can someone really gain ability in this type of situation? Aren't the players most cited for being clutch in guys like Jeter, Mariano, Ortiz, etc. just better on a per-game basis than most others and continue to do what is expected of them which is perform? Last I checked, most clutch performers were superstars anyway. I'm not talking about guys like Scott Brosius or Kirk Gibson who certainly came up with big hits, but guys regarded for their clutch ability over a long period of time.
It's really a tricky question because of other factors like the pitcher maybe not being able to continue to perform at the same levels due to not handling stress as well. Also, I'm sure you can spew stats that prove that this guy has hit .500 in close late and .400 in the playoffs, but to that I would just point out sample size. Generally, if you go back long enough and look at a large enough body of work, you would assume that for the most part, a player's stats would be consistent with his career states whether you looked at when the bases were empty or whether there were bases loaded.
Why don't we take a look at Mr. Clutch and New York's own Derek Jeter. If we go use the always informative ESPN splits from '04 through '06 and isolate the situations we would typically deem as clutch, we can see how much he deviates from his three year average in each of those situations:
Overall AVG OBP SLGWhat do we see? For the most part, minor variances. There were more situations when he 'choked' and he technically performed under his true abilities (however so slightly) and there were less situations when he was 'clutch' and performed over his true abilities. In the ones where there are greater variances, you have to take into account sample size. If he had gotten two less hits with the bases loaded and four less hits with runners on third, he would be would be in line with his three year average of batting average. Maybe instead of proving a player is clutch, people should be more concerned with said player simply playing up to their abilities during times of stress rather than slinking away.
Bases Loaded 13% 25% 4%
Close and Late (8%) 1% (8%)
Men On, 2 out (3%) 5% (6%)
On Second (18%) (4%) (10%)
On Third 27% 12% 15%
Runners On 2% 4% (4%)
Scoring Position (2%) 5% (1%)
Scoring Posn, 2 out (4%) 8% (2%)
Second and Third (13%) (2%) (31%)
What is my point? One of the biggest problems with the Mets right now is getting guys hits when they need to. Basically, the Mets have had an extreme lack of clutch hits, but I am confident the Mets will be alright. The law of averages tells me so in conjunction with past performance. Baseball is a series of streaks both good and bad. Outside of Moises Alou, not many people give you the same thing day in and day out. While some guys have greatly underperformed when it counts for the Mets this season, it is hard to believe that things will not improve.
If you look at past performances, we know that the Mets team is not full of guys that shrivel in the face of high pressure situations. Reyes, Wright, and Beltran are the same guys who hit .414, .358, and . 310 with runners in scoring position with two outs last year. They have done it before and though they may not be 'clutch' for the rest of the year, I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty they will more likely perform to their abilities during those high leverage situations than continue down the path they are headed right now. If the Mets pitching can hold up and their bullpen can continue to perform like they have, something tells me this team will make a move and create some space.
Pedro Martinez was expected back a few days ago after taking a breather in the Dominican Republic. But according to a Mets official, he remained there to do his bullpen session Tuesday and is expected back in Port St. Lucie later this week.
I know the buzz around is that Pedro's break from rehab raises red flags (another mention about it again today, but I'm too lazy to find the link again), but we cannot forget what Will Carroll had said back on July 6th.
When a success is followed by ten days off, people get confused. Pedro Martinez threw a great simulated game and now moves into a new phase of rehab, one where he goes from strengthening for function to conditioning for action. Pitching is a very specific activity and while Martinez has certainly been preparing for that during his shoulder rehab, it's a different process to actually get ready to pitch—saying that he's "doing spring training" is a vast oversimplification. It's a different process altogether, so while it is counterintuitive for him to take off time to "recharge" (as the Mets are calling it), it's the accepted move. More than anything else, the Mets are making sure that they do this right.
Do not buy into the sensationalism coming out of the media. Something could be wrong of course since his comeback has been mostly shrouded in mystery, but I'll side with Will Carroll on this one.
"Not only the stolen base," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "Even at the plate. Anything you can do to help the team win a ballgame, you've got to do it."
Said manager Willie Randolph: "He's just a competitor, man. I love his energy and his fight. He forces you to play the game. He just loves to compete. If you don't pay attention to him, it's almost insulting to him."
Some guys are complacent and go through the motions but The Duque is 100% not one of those guys.
That's 21 numbers and that is a lot of numbers and they will be in triple digits soon, but the MLB should stay out of it and work on other ways to honor past greats. I truly think there are better ways to honor people...and don't ask me I have not given it much thought. Regardless, it should entirely be up to the team, but even then, I'm not a big fan. Why can't you simply hang numbers with names and still let the numbers be worn? Whatever, minor gripe here that has no large bearing on the game at all, but still a gripe worth mentioning.
Law also responded to his disappointing scouting report on Deolis.
Lenny (Villanova, Pa): Keith, in an article following the future's game, you criticized Deolis Guerra. Two questions relating to that: 1) Was that the first time you've seen Guerra? 2) Your reports said his FB was a lot of 87-88, but BA had him at 93-94. Why the discrepancy? Thanks.
SportsNation Keith Law: (1:16 PM ET ) Just to be clear, I didn't criticize Guerra. I gave a report on him, and it wasn't glowing, but that's not the same as criticizing the kid. That was the first time I'd seen him, yes. I have no idea where BA got its velocities; I didn't see anyone with them in the scouts' section, which is where I was sitting with the radar gun.
Not sure who is telling the truth here.
Mr. Law also likes Milledge.
Lenny (Villanova, Pa): Have you seen Milledge play since he has been up? Do you think he is here to stay this time, and do you think the hype is deserved?
SportsNation Keith Law: (1:29 PM ET ) I never understood how his stock fell as quickly as it did. He's going to be an above-average corner outfield bat, with good defense.
He also said the top GMs were Dombrowski, Melvin, Shapiro, Minaya, and Beane (not necessarily in any order).
Greg (New York): Will the Mets sign Efferson?
SportsNation Jim Callis: (2:40 PM ET ) Wow, a Brandon Efferson question. He's a little pitcher from Louisiana with big stuff, and yes, I bet he signs before the deadline. Call it a gut feel.
As I stated before, even if they have to overpay, they need to get this kid. They need some live arms and his upside is huge.
Mike(NY): Lightning round- Martinez, Gomez, Milledge, Tabata?
SportsNation Jim Callis: (2:42 PM ET ) I'll be difficult and still say Milledge.
Looks like Milledge is getting some love from the chat people today. I still see a .300+ batter with 20+ homers, 20+ steals, and solid defense during his peak.
The government's case includes evidence that Vick and his cohorts "tested" pit bulls for ferocity. If the dogs failed the test, the indictment charges, they were executed by hanging or drowning. In one case, with Vick present, the indictment says a dog was slammed to the ground until it was dead. In another incident, a dog was soaked with a hose, then electrocuted. Those aren't the sort of transgressions that lead to probation and community service. It's the kind of behavior that results in punishment, and the punishment will be jail time.
I know killing animals is not on par with humans, but that type of behavior should be held in serious regard. I have not read anything about projected time in the klink, but at this point, five years would not be nearly enough and he should be banned from the NFL for life. Of course, I'm not saying he is guilty, but he has been indicted and the prosecution percentage is 95% according to another ESPN article and said they would not be indicting him if the case was not strong. He is still innocent at this point, but it is not looking good. I wonder what happens to his $130 million contract if convicted?