Searching for the opposite of David Ortiz
April 1, 2007 7 Comments
I just returned from a small journey to Boston on business. I made a small pilgrimage to Fenway Park, although it was at night and it was closed up. I saw the statue of Ted Williams but really, just walking around the stadium was a little underwhelming. I asked a couple of the security guards who were working the loading bay if I could come in but they just chuckled and said no. Can you blame a guy for asking?
Walking around though, I thought about one of the most written-about men in the Sabermetric community who makes his home at Fenway: David Ortiz. I’m not a fan of “clutch ability,” but it’s hard to argue with a guy who does things like this and this at such opportune times. In something of an oppositional mood, I asked myself a simple question: If David Ortiz is “clutch”, then what’s the opposite of clutch? Choke? Anti-clutch? Gas pedal? The next obvious question is that if David Ortiz embodies clutch ability, then there must be a player who embodies everything that Ortiz isn’t… or a player that isn’t everything that Ortiz is… something like that. I need a poster boy for anti-clutch.
I admit, my methods on this one were not up to my Sabermetric best. I poked around the 2006 PBP data set from Retrosheet and selected for instances from the seventh inning onward in which a team was batting and the score was within three runs. (Yes, I know about the Leverage Index) Not exactly scientific, but there’s a certain amount of subjectivity to these sorts of things, so I didn’t feel too bad about being less than a scientist.
I was looking for a player who failed so miserably on so many occasions that he might be singled out for his amazing ineptitude when his team needed him in key situations. After a little while, I found him. I’ll see if you can guess who it is. A couple hints though: He plays in the American League East and has a reputation as a very good overall hitter. In fact, he’s always in the running for the MVP. To say that he’s never had any clutch hits would be incorrect. He’s had a few here and there. When I went through the data set though, it became laughably easy to pull out some amazingly non-clutch moments. We’ll call him “Player AR.” What follows is a list of his follies over the last year when he was faced with a crucial situation, but choked miserably. This isn’t even a complete list, just a greatest hits. Or non-hits, as the case may be. He’s probably not the worst offender in the league, but he certainly is a high profile one.
4/13/2006 — Against a division rival at home, in an early season game, his team down 8-6 with two outs in the 9th inning, with a runner on first. Player AR lifts a lazy fly ball to right field to end the game.
4/15/2006 – His team down 3-0 and desperate for runs two days later, Player AR comes to bat in the eighth inning with nobody out. He strikes out and the team never does score.
4/17/2006 — Later that week, in the eighth inning of another home game, his team on the short end of a 5-4 score. With nobody out, Player AR lifts a lazy fly ball to right field.
4/21/2006 – Player AR flies to right in the ninth inning of a tie game on the road, then strikes out in the 11th. His team goes on to lose in 12 innings.
4/28/2006 – Player AR’s team is playing a perennial league whipping boy on the road, but is down 5-2 with two outs in the top of the eighth. A hit here would really turn the game around. AR steps to the plate with runners at first and second and has the count in his favor 2-1, but all he can manage is a pop fly to short.
5/1/2006 – A home game against a particularly fierce divisional rival and the teams are tied 3-3 in the 7th inning. What does Player AR do? Grounds to third.
5/3/2006 – In the bottom of the ninth, with his team down a run and no one out, Player AR works the count to 3-1, but then strikes out for the first out in the inning.
5/24/2006 – A double dose of futility: Player AR strikes out in both the seventh (down 8-5) and eighth (down 8-6) innings of a home game, the eighth inning whiff coming with the bases loaded. The game was against that particularly fierce divisional rival from a big city in the Northeast. The game ends 8-6.
6/2/2006 and 6/3/2006 – In both games, Player AR’s team is down by a run in the eighth inning with two outs. In both cases, he hits a fly ball to center.
6/6/2006 – Playing away to those hated divisional rivals, Player AR strikes out in the eighth inning with one out and his team down by a run. The game ends in a 2-1 loss.
6/13/2006 – Tie game, runner on first, no one out. Player AR at bat. Yet another fly ball to center field in a key situation. He’s clearly got power, but he just can’t seem to channel it at key times when the game’s on the line. In the eleventh inning, with the game still tied, he strikes out for the second out in the inning. His team loses in the twelfth.
6/26/2006 – Ninth inning, tie game. Guess who strikes out to lead off the inning? If you guessed player AR, you’re correct. No rally, but mercifully, his team comes back to win in the twelfth. Not that he did anything to help.
7/9/2006 – On the road, ninth inning with one out and a runner on first. His team up by a run, AR has an opportunity to drive in what could end up being the insurance run. Instead, he drives a lovely double play ground ball to the third baseman. Same game, thirteenth inning, runners on 1st and 2nd with one out. Player AR grounds to second. Same game, fifteenth inning, two outs, liner to right. Same game, eighteenth inning, runner on first, no outs. Double play. For those of you counting, that’s four “clutch” opportunities and an 0-for-4 performance. I told you this guy was terrible in these situations. To add insult to ineptitude, Player AR’s team loses in a 19 inning marathon.
7/13/2006 – Eleventh inning of a tie game. His team just gave up two runs in the top of the 11th and is now down 5-3. Player AR leads off the inning and it’s a pop foul to third.
7/23/2006 – Down a run in the top of the ninth, Player AR strikes out to lead off the inning.
8/3/2006 – Another bottom of the ninth fly-out to right from the master of anti-clutch. This time, it’s to lead off the inning with his team down a run.
8/21/2006 – That hated divisional rival is back in town, and with AR’s team down 1-0 in the seventh, and a runner on first, Player AR K’s. Game goes to the rivals 2-1.
8/23/2006 – 8th inning of a close road game with two outs. Player AR’s team is up 5-4, but being on the road, an “insurance” run sure would be helpful here. AR flies to left. Thankfully for Player AR, the game ends in a 5-4 win.
9/5/2006 – Two outs in the eighth inning, with his team up a run, Player AR comes up… and walks back to the dugout as the proud new owner of a strike out. Inning over.
9/14/2006 – With his team, up 6-5 and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, Player AR steps to bat and fouls to third.
So there you go. A veritable plethora of times in which our “mystery” player didn’t come through when his team needed it. It’s hard to believe that one player could be this much of a choker. But, when you line up his plate appearances in these types of situations in the way that I have, it becomes harder to say otherwise. Player “AR” just can’t hit in the clutch. He is the very opposite of David Ortiz.
Except that he is David Ortiz.
Happy Fools’ Day. (Why? About whom did you think I was speaking?)