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.

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3 Responses to Clutch Questionnaire

  1. lisa gray says:

    “Our perception of clutch centers not on the situation, but on the outcome of the situation.”
    – correctamundo
    but ain’t this the way it should be?
    for hitters –
    a hit that puts the team ahead
    getting on base and not making an out
    advancing the runner(s) even if you make an out
    – of course, people really only notice if it’s close and late, but clutch is STILL hitting a 3 run double in the 4th if it puts your team ahead for good…
    – but fact is that david The Pest eckstein managing to get a hit after going down 0-2 with 2 outs and edmonds managing to get a walk after that were JUST as important as uncle albert’s popup to the railroad tracks last october. so to me, The Pest was even clutcher than uncle albert.
    – unclutch only happens to guys who are SUPPOSED to be clutch. if adam everett Ks with the winning run at 3rd, well, adam who? but if it’s a “star” – well, then that’s unclutch…
    and if it’s a-rod, well, anything but a game winning hit – and he sucks.
    pitching?
    clutch is
    coming in with guys on base – if any of them score, the other team goes ahead, and you don’t let any runs score
    lisa

  2. DetroitMichael says:

    1) Yes I believe certain situations are clutch. Your argument sounds like a semantical argument that didn’t convince me.
    2) Best way to measure what is clutch is to look at the possible swings in win probability depending on the outcome. Doug Drinen used to call this “P” or “Pressure” when he evaluated relievers in the Big Baseball Annuals other others have their own systems. That’s not perfect exactly — for example, I would still call an at bat in the ninth inning, down by 3 runs, two outs, bases empty, in the 7th game of the World Series to be a clutch situation even though the volatility in the win probability depending on the outcome is low — but that’s probably the best way to measure it.
    3) I aspire to be able to be persuaded by rational arguments in either direction, although I’m probably biased to believe that there are few if any batters that have a persistent ability to perform better than expected in clutch situations, mostly because that viewpoint was advanced 20 years ago in the Bill James Abstracts. I do think that some batters (perhaps fastball hitters with good strike zone judgment) probably have the ability to consistently excel in bases loaded situations and there might be other base / out situations where batters’ abilities to take advantage of them differs. I also am now convinced that David Ortiz has at least some clutch abilities: it’s not a controlled experiment with large sample size but given widespread belief that he is a clutch hitter entering 2006 (remember the 2005 MVP debate) and that his win probability added in 2006 is again very high makes me think that we’ve got to believe that some of that is real.
    4) Ortiz mentioned above. On the unclutch side, how about Fausto Carmona’s HBP, HBP, walk performance in a save opportunity about three weeks ago? A-Rod is currently in a slump right now but I don’t believe he is unclutch.
    5) Depends. If one predicts before 2006 that David Ortiz is clutch and he performs better in win probability added than predicted from his base statistical line, then I’m fairly easily convinced. If one doesn’t make a prediction in advance but just looks at statistics after the fact, then the threshold for proving clutchness needs to be much higher to preclude that one is just looking at a random distribution.
    6) Inducing ground balls is a skill and I believe that pitchers can vary their patterns to increase somewhat their chances of inducing groundballs in certain situations. So, yes.
    7) Depends on what one is trying to prove.
    8) I’d be inclined to evaluate clutchness without differentiating between strikeouts and other outs, although your argument for the opposite conclusion is respectable. In some situations, it is good strategy for the clutch hitter to “swing for the fences” and not just “make solid contact” in which case a greater incidence of strikeouts should be expected.
    Questionnaire is long enough, so I’ll skip the optional questions. You’ve probably got enough input from me anyway: I’d be surprised if I’ve said anything you haven’t already thought of.

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