Is David Ortiz a clutch hitter?

Jess Sussman says no. Seth Mnookin (and pretty much the rest of the world) says yes. One of the most astonishing numbers quoted in the David-Ortiz-is-a-clutch-hitter arguments is that Ortiz has come to plate 19 times since the end of the 2004 regular season, and gotten on-base in 16 of those plate appearances. In his 14 official at-bats in that time span, Ortiz has 11 hits. If this seems like statistical cherry-picking, it is, and I’ll get back to that in a second. But are these numbers statistically significant?
The short answer is yes. The probability that Ortiz would have 11 hits in 14 at-bats just by random chance alone is one in 34,365 (assuming that he is a .295 hitter). The chances that he would get on-base in 16 of 19 plate appearances are just as slim if we assume that Ortiz will generally get on-base 39.5% of the time — one in 30,269. The National League has eight hitters per team and 16 teams, which is 128 hitters. The American League has nine hitters per team, and 14 teams — that’s 126 hitters. Combined, that’s 254 hitters. We would expect them to hit as well as Ortiz has in walk-off situations just once every 120 or so years. That’s pretty significant.
But the cherry-picking problem is a big one. There are of course plenty of players who go through 11 for 14 streaks in their careers — that’s nothing special. The reason that those streaks are not particularly significant is because they can start with any at-bat, as long as there are 13 more at-bats left in the season. If the average player gets 620 at-bats a year, that’s 607 opportunities a season to start such a streak. With 254 hitters, we expect four or five such stretches a year. Still rare, but no longer in the realm of statistically unlikely. What we’ve done with Ortiz here, however, is said that such a streak must have started in one specific moment (at the end of the 2004 regular season). Why not count the 2004 regular season? Why not count his whole career? By doing it this way, we’re limiting the number of eligible hitters, and using his best-possible clutch streak.
So is David Ortiz a clutch hitter? The answer is, I don’t know. What I do know is that clutch or not, I’m happy he plays for my Boston Red Sox.


8 Responses to Is David Ortiz a clutch hitter?

  1. Funny when conversations we have turn into free content

  2. Cyril Morong says:

    What situation are you looking at? Walk-off situations?
    Ortiz has obviously done better than he normally does in these 19 PAs. But suppose he performed at his normal level. How many games would the Red Sox have won? Still some of them. And even if he made outs at the same rate that he normally does, would that have stopped the Red Sox from winning? Say the Red Sox are tied in the bottom of the 9th and Ortiz leads off with a HR. Even if he made an out, the Red Sox might have still won the game. So I think an important question is how many more wins did he add with this above normal performance?

  3. Beamer says:

    Interesting. I have been looking into this recently. If you look at Close and Late situations (as defined by STATS) vs normal plate apprearances thet Ortiz’ clutch hitting is well 2 std dev away from his normal hitting. So definitely boardering on the significant …

  4. Cyril Morong says:

    Is Ortiz 2 SDs better for this year or for his whole career?

  5. Beamer says:

    It’s the 2.2 st dev in AVG over the last three years (combined).

  6. David Gassko says:

    By my count, Ortiz has 213 at-bats in close and late situations in the past three years (04-06), and 70 hits. Assuming he is a .295 hitter (normally), one standard deviation is .031 points of batting average (actually, .03125). He’s actually batting .329, so that’s just .832 SDs away. I’m not including the postseason in my calculations, but John, how are you coming up with your numbers?

  7. Beamer says:

    You are right. I went back and checked my numbers and in the process of sorting the data the standard deviation screwed up and I used the number of actual plate appearance, not ones in the clutch. I have roughly the same AVG numbers as you do (slightly out but that will because the 2006 numbers will probably be slightly off).
    In retrospect I should have spotted that because I did the same for A-Rod and there was absolutely no sign of any clutch hitting… but that was because I was using the right number 🙂

  8. […] Statistically Speaking | MVN – Most Valuable Network Blog Archive Is David Ortiz a clutch hitter? interesting, and measured, look at Ortiz’ clutch statistics – as Mnookin points out, according to Bill James, just because clutch hitters cannot currently be measured accurately does not mean that they do not exist; like this guy, i’m just happy he’s ours (tags: DavidOrtiz BillJames SethMnookin clutch statistics RedSox via:Alex) […]

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