Please, no more clutch hitting statistics!

by Cyril Morong

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Youíre watching a game. The announcer says the batter is hitting .360 with runners in scoring position (RISP). Does this meaning anything? No.

Why not? Isnít it good to hit well with RISP? Sure, but players pretty much hit about the same in any clutch situation as they normally do, in the long run. When a player hits .360 or .400 with RISP over the course of a season it is only due to random chance.Below are the top 10 averages with RISP over the 1987-2001 period (6000 or more plate appearances) followed by the top 10 overall averages (to see the complete rankings, go to http://www.geocities.com/cyrilmorong@sbcglobal.net/clutch.htm).

 

RISP

 

 

Overall

 

 

Rank

Name

AVG

Rank

Name

AVG

1

Tony Gwynn

0.356

1

Tony Gwynn

0.342

2

Paul Molitor

0.349

2

Edgar Martinez

0.319

3

Frank Thomas

0.330

3

Frank Thomas

0.319

4

Tony Fernandez

0.326

4

Wade Boggs

0.317

5

Roberto Alomar

0.316

5

Paul Molitor

0.316

6

Mark Grace

0.315

6

Larry Walker

0.315

7

Wally Joyner

0.314

7

Mark Grace

0.307

8

Kenny Lofton

0.311

8

Roberto Alomar

0.306

9

Will Clark

0.311

9

Bernie Williams

0.305

10

Tim Raines

0.310

10

Will Clark

0.304

 

Six of the top 10 in RISP were in the top 10 overall anyway. The other four players who made the top 10 in RISP actually did not increase their AVG much over their overall average. Here are their overall averages:

 

Tony Fernandez

0.286

Wally Joyner

0.289

Kenny Lofton

0.302

Tim Raines

0.288

 

Actually, even these players, hit about the same with RISP as they did overall. Take Fernandez. His RISP AVG is .040 above his overall AVG. This seems like a big difference, but normally RISP at-bats (ABs) account for about 25% of all ABs. So in a season of 640 ABs, that is 160 ABs. If your AVG goes up .040, that is still just 6.4 hits over the whole season.

We can see this in close and late situations (CL) or situations when the game is in the 7th inning or later and the batting team is leading by one run, tied, or has the potential tying run on base, at bat or on deck. Here are the top 10. Only the top 4 really excel here and again, what they hit is not much different than what they normally hit.

 

Rank

Name

AVG

 

1

Tony Gwynn

0.361

 

2

Edgar Martinez

0.323

 

3

Mark Grace

0.320

 

4

Paul Molitor

0.315

 

5

Tony Fernandez

0.305

 

6

Dante Bichette

0.301

 

7

Roberto Alomar

0.297

 

8

Tino Martinez

0.297

 

9

Luis Gonzalez

0.294

 

10

Tim Raines

0.293

 

 

Same thing with power. Below are the top 10 in overall slugging percentage and SLG with runners on base (ROB). No one truly goes much above their normal performance.

 

ROB

 

 

Overall

 

 

Rank

Name

SLG

Rank

Name

SLG

1

Mark McGwire

0.615

1

Barry Bonds

0.594

2

Barry Bonds

0.613

2

Mark McGwire

0.590

3

Frank Thomas

0.584

3

Frank Thomas

0.577

4

Ken Griffey Jr.

0.581

4

Larry Walker

0.572

5

Juan Gonzalez

0.577

5

Juan Gonzalez

0.568

6

Larry Walker

0.561

6

Ken Griffey Jr.

0.566

7

Sammy Sosa

0.555

7

Albert Belle

0.564

8

Jeff Bagwell

0.551

8

Jeff Bagwell

0.554

9

Gary Sheffield

0.541

9

Sammy Sosa

0.542

10

David Justice

0.529

10

Edgar Martinez

0.530

 

 

††††††††††† But wait; arenít some guys really clutch hitters, like Derek Jeter? In 2003, in close and late situations, Jeter's average was .152 and his OBP was .310. Over 2001-3, they are .236 and .340. I got those numbers from ESPN. So his numbers go down when the game is close and late. A Sports Illustrated article earlier this year on clutch mentioned how they go up in the post season when it is close and late. What is going on, is Jeter taking it easy in the regular season? In CL, Jeter has a .415 AVG in post-season games.

In Jeter's career through 2001, his overall AVG and OBP were .320 and .392. When it was close and late, they were .298 and .398. About the same. With RISP, they were .301 and .401. Again, about the same.

With runners in scoring position, Jeter has .211 average in the World Series. In the League Championship Series, it is .214. In the divisional series, it is .200. Thanks to the Retrosheet website, my source on that. Apparently, he can raise his average when it is CL but not with runners in scoring position. Is this some kind of selective clutch ability? Runners in scoring position is pretty darn important, too.

So much for Jeter. What about Reggie Jackson? Should we call him "Mr. October" because his World Series numbers are great? But his AVG in the League Championship Series (LCS) was just .227 with just 20 RBIs in 163 AB and just 17 walks.Did he save it up for the World Series?

Speaking of Jackson, he was quoted in the article saying"Are you telling me that when you're down to one shot, Michael Jordan is no different from anybody else?" Somehow Jackson got the mistaken belief that statisticians think everybody performs the same when the game is on the line. The point is that over a large number of plate appearances, hitters will do about the same in the clutch as they do otherwise. I think most statisticians would rather have Barry Bonds up when it is late and close than Willie Harris. I wish that Verducci had pointed out this flaw in Jackson's statement.

Mike Mussina said that experience is a factor in clutch. Look at Mike Schmidt. He did very well in the 1980 World Series (.381, 2 HRís and 7 RBI in 6 games). Then, after much post-season experience (LCS 76-78, too), he had a terrible World Series in 1983 (.050 (1 for 20) and no HRís or RBIís). What happened to the experience factor?

What about Yogi Berra? Berra's overall World Series (WS) AVG was .274. Not bad, but it is not enough to conclude he was a clutch hitter, and the World Series means something. With RISP in WS Berra hit .232. In CL, .242.

What about Barry Bonds in the post season? It appeared that he was a bad clutch hitter until 2002, based on his past post-season performances. His averages in the LCS in 1990-2 were .167, .148, and .261.Did Dusty Baker decide to bench him in the 2002 playoffs because he was a bad clutch hitter? No. Obviously Baker, a big league manager, does not buy into clutch.

The big issue is prediction. Will a guy who hit well in the clutch in the past do so in the future? Here is an example. From 1990-94, Darryl Hamilton hit .301 overall, yet hit .349 in close and late situations. Then from 1995-99, he hit .293 overall but only .276 in close and late situations. If a team wanted to get Hamilton because he was good in the clutch after the 1994 season, they would have been disappointed. For the entire 1990-99 period, Hamilton hit .296 and .306 in close and late situations. He was not especially clutch.

But getting back to the post season, do these numbers really matter much? You just woke up and you discover you've been named to manage a major league team as the playoffs are about to begin. Your roster includes

 

1B-Stan Musial

2B-Joe Morgan

SS-Maury Wills

3B-Mike Schmidt

OF-Curt Flood

OF-Ty Cobb

OF-Willie Mays

C-Bill Dickey

 

Are you confident? Perhaps. This list includes nothing but good, if not great players. Some might be considered the best ever at their position. But not so fast. Here are their post-season stats. AVG-SLG-OBP

 

1B-Stan Musial .256-.395-.347

2B-Joe Morgan .183-.348-.321

SS-Maury Wills .244-.282-.289

3B-Mike Schmidt .236-.386-.310

OF-Curt Flood .221-.267-.287

OF-Ty Cobb .262-.354-.314

OF-Willie Mays .247-.337-.323

C-Bill Dickey .255-.379-.329

 

I donít think anyone would mind having this team of chokers.

 

††††††††††† Finally, suppose it is the bottom of the ninth in game 7 of the World Series. The score is tied. Who do you send in to pinch-hit, Babe Ruth or Bill Mazeroski? A no-brainer? Well, in CL situations in World Series play, Ruth was 0 for 16. So if you believe in clutch hitting, you would rather have MAZ up there, since in this situation he hit a HR in 1960. If you donít believe in clutch hitting, then you send in the Babe.

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