Clutch Questionnaire

I got a very interesting questionnaire on clutch hitting recently that I just couldn’t help but share with you. I hope everyone who reads this posts their own answers in the comments section. The questions are in bold, and my responses below them:
1) Do you believe that certain situations are “clutch”?
No. Certain outcomes are clutch, but not situations. Let’s say you’re down by one in the bottom of the ninth with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out. If the batter strikes out and then the next batter gets out, people will say he was unclutch. If the batter strikes out and the next batter singles home the next two runners, everyone will forget the strikeout and there will be no discussion of the batter’s clutch tendencies (unless, of course, he already has a reputation as being unclutch). If the batter gets drives in the two runners, he will immediately get a reputation as being clutch. And if he walks? Nothing.
Our perception of clutch centers not on the situation, but on the outcome of the situation. Take another example. Team is down by three, two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded. If the batter hits a fly ball that is caught and the game ends, no one says he is unclutch. That’s right, of course, because his team only had about an 8.6% chance of winning before anyways. But if he hits a home run, the man is hailed as a clutch god. Again, what we call clutch is not a function of the game situation but of the outcome.
I’ll add a third hypothetical just for the hell of it. Top of the ninth, home team down by one, bases loaded, and the pitcher strikes out the last batter. If the home team doesn’t come back, that strikeout wasn’t anything, if it scores two and wins, “what a clutch K by the pitcher to give the team a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth!”
(Note: I am only addressing our subjective views on clutch here, which is really all that matters since what is and what isn’t clutch is determined by the subjective opinions of the fans, the media, and the players.)
2) If so, what are those situations? (Be as general or specific as you desire, so long as all the situations that fit your description would be considered “clutch” by you)
Well, I know I said there is no such thing as a clutch situation but nevertheless, I personally would consider it a clutch situation if the outcome of the game (largely) rested on the player’s performance in that specific instance.
3) Do you believe that certain major league baseball players have ANY specific ability outside of their normal offensive ability to be “clutch”?
No. I think that some players can be “unclutch.” To be clutch means that you somehow get better with the game on the line. That makes little sense to me. If you can make yourself better in a specific situation, why not do it all the time? Why not imagine that your team is down by one in the bottom of the ninth with men on second and third and two outs every time you come to bat? Maybe some players do in fact do that, but in that case they wouldn’t actually perform any better in real clutch situations. I do believe that some players can choke in clutch situations. Some simply can’t handle the pressure, or out-think themselves when the game is on the line.
4) If so, what players would you consider to be “clutch”? What players would you consider to be “unclutch”?
I think Alex Rodriguez is certainly a good example of an unclutch player. However, IMO, he’s not inherently unclutch. However, the media’s focus on his unclutch failures has gotten to his head, and at this point, I can’t imagine that it doesn’t eat away at him every time he comes to bat in an important situation. Moreover, I think that going back to #1, when A-Rod does fail, we tend to call those situations clutch ones, no matter how clutch or unclutch they actually were.
Of course, David Ortiz has a great reputation for being clutch. I’ve seen him fail in the clutch enough times not to believe that, however, I do think that he performs better than the average player in these types of situations because opposing pitchers buy into this reputation. They get scared, and they end up making mistakes like pitching to him inside.
5) How many clutch opportunities would you need to see a player in order to form a subjective opinion about their clutchness?
Depends on what they do in those opportunities. If someone gets 10 (very) clutch hits in one season, that would be enough for me to think that they are clutch. If they make 20 outs in clutch situations in one season, I would probably think them to be unclutch. If the results were more mixed, it would take a lot more. Again, this all goes back to my reply to the first question. Our subjective opinions of clutch are determined by the outcome.
6) Is a double play ever clutch? Is a double play ever not unclutch?
Yes, if a ground ball pitcher is brought in to get a double play with men on first and third (or the bases loaded) and one out, and he does, he has come through in the clutch. A double play can be not unclutch (in our subjective view) if the batter’s team still wins.
7) Should Sac Bunts, Productive Outs, Reached on Error, Hit by Pitch or Intentional Walks be included in any way in a measure of clutchness?
Intentional Walks – no. The rest are all hitter skills (including hit-by-pitch, which JC Bradbury and I showed to correlate better from year-to-year for batters than for pitchers, implying more batter control over whether or not a hitter is hit by a pitch), so of course they should.
8) Is a Strikeout more unclutch than any other out that doesn’t advance a runner?
Well, if the other out could have advanced the runner, then yes. Even if it couldn’t have, maybe, because if you make contact with the ball, there’s always a chance that you get a hit. If you don’t, there is no chance of anything but an out.
9) *(Optional)* What would you consider a “clutch” outcome for the situations described in #2?
Not losing the game. (A non-out. Some might consider walking “taking the easy way out” and not include it in their definition, but my opinion is that a walk is actually tougher to take in a clutch situation because the player has such a desire to win the game with a big hit. So I would consider a hitter that can keep his cool in the clutch and take a walk to have made a clutch play.)
10) *(Optional) *What would you consider an “unclutch” outcome for the situations described in #2?
Making an out and losing the game.
11) *(Optional)* Should outcomes that fit neither under your definition of “clutch” or “unclutch” be considered when determining whether a player performs well or poorly in clutch situations?
It depends on what you’re looking for. If you want to be able to find statistically significant evidence of something then yes, because under my definition your sample will simply be too small. If you really want to be able to call a player clutch or unclutch (which to me implies a degree of clutchness that would outweigh other considerations), then no.


Some Links

Sorry, I forgot to link to my last two Hardball Times articles. One is a new feature we’re calling the THT Dartboard, which is a modified version of the Power Rankings I did here last year. There was some nice discussion of the Dartboard up on Baseball Primer. The other article, which was published Friday was called DIPS, Again, and in it I discussed two recent theories on what types of pitchers might fall outside of the influence of DIPS theory. It’s somewhat technical, but I think the conclusions are quite exciting. A good thread on this can be found at Fanhome.
Have fun reading!

Albert Pujols and the State of Baseball

My Hardball Times column usually runs on Friday, but this one was delayed because of a glut of articles we had. It’s not so much analysis-based, though it does include a little number crunching. The basic point is that the Albert Pujols injury is good for baseball. If he was chasing Bonds’ home run record, we would have been distracted from the still-serious steroid (and other PED) problem in baseball, which most fans want to be. But in reality, if people are serious about cleaning up the sport, we can’t just close are eyes and ignore the still-prevalent problems. Pujols’ injury means we won’t be able to do that, and that’s a good thing. Enjoy the article!

What’s wrong with Bonds?

I’m filling in for Dave Studeman at Heater Magazine this week, and my article explores what’s wrong with Barry’s game. The short answer: everything. The long answer: You’ll have to subscribe and read the issue. Heater is a PDF magazine geared at fantasy players, and according to my detailed sabermetric analysis, it’s very cool, so I urge you to subscribe. Here’s another link in case you didn’t click the first one. And another. And another. Okay, I’ll stop now.