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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

BP (Carleton): I Believe In Clutch Hitting

I assume he means for the next two months, and then Jeter retires.

I examined how, for each player, the leverage of a situation affected his tendencies to swing at the first pitch… I then… calculated the chances that each player would swing at a first pitch when the leverage index was 1 (average) and 2 (a situation twice as important as the average situation)... What I found is that for hitters who show more of an effect on swing difference (leverage makes them swing at the first pitch more), they were less likely than expected to walk and less likely to strike out as leverage went up. Instead, they showed higher rates of both extra base hits and outs in play…

What we have here is an indicator that has reasonable (if not great) consistency across years, and it explains differences between players in how leverage affects them. More searching might find something with more consistency. Even then, year-to-year consistency is not the only way to establish that a measure is reflective of a player’s true talent level. Using a more tracking-based approach might help. Players can and do change, even within a season. There’s no reason clutch needs to be an enduring trait, rather than a state we can detect with some reliability. The rest is simply showing that the factor, whatever it is, can explain some of the differences between players’ performances in different leverage situations.

As to these specific analyses, it might very well be that what’s driving things is that some players are looking at the sorts of relievers they face in high-leverage situations and saying “Well, he usually comes right at me, so no point in messing around. I might as well swing when I see something interesting.” It might not be a mystical force at work, but a very reasonable reaction to the circumstances. In that case, clutch isn’t even something psychological, but a mental skill. Still, there could be problems with multi-colinearity. What this might be showing is that some players swing more in high-leverage situations, and so we would expect them to take fewer walks, somewhat by definition. Then again, even knowing that information could have strategic value. Maybe when we have other data sets to work with, we might be able to look at measures of how leverage affects a player that aren’t based on game results.

The other piece of this, and it’s one that I tried to drive home in the piece in the [2014 Baseball Prospectus] Annual that started everything, is that knowing that a player swings more (or less) often in high-leverage situations might be good within the context of one skill set and bad within another. These analyses fall into the large-N trap that assumes that more swinging is better (or seems to be) for everyone. But if nothing else, I’d present these analyses as a way of re-opening what had been assumed to be a closed debate. Clutch hitting might just exist.

 

 

The District Attorney Posted: August 12, 2014 at 02:24 PM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Repoz Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:15 PM (#4769600)
One word. Allencraig.
   2. Bug Selig Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:31 PM (#4769628)
So, swinging at the first pitch more often leads to less walking and striking out. Can't believe I let that subscription lapse.
   3. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 04:48 PM (#4769698)
One word. Allencraig.


Not sure what that is supposed to mean...that there aren't clutch hitting because Allen Craig is having a poor year this year(while ignoring he's having a poor year over his entire body of work this year) or that he is an example of a clutch hitter, because prior to this year he was pretty good in the perceived clutch situations? Which of course MGL and Tango would point out that it's basically two consecutive years of very good hitting in clutch situations, and that type of variance is expected to happen sometimes over the large number of samples that exist.

As far as the article goes....he starts right off attributing personality to a players decision to change their approach in "clutch situations"
Some players swing a lot more when the leverage goes up. Some barely notice. A few start to freeze.

Right there is a red flag on this type of study, assigning traits like that, just doesn't seem objective. I do not see why taking the first pitch in higher leverage situations is "freezing" instead of "trying to get a read on the pitcher and improve chances at getting it into a hitters count, where he'll have to serve up a big ole meatball".


Having said that, this article is just a start at trying to come up with a better methodology for gauging clutch, instead of going to the old truism that "we can't measure it, so it doesn't exist". Ultimately this article really is just him presenting the first piece in what will probably be a comprehensive study that he is trying to feel out. (or suggestion for others on how to go about looking deeper into it.) I have no problem with that.

If you want to measure clutch and argue for it's existence, (or non-existence) at some point somebody is going to have to make a pool of players and put into three (or more camps) 1.) those players who expand their strike zone in clutch situations 2.) those who make no discernible changes 3.)those who tighten up their strike zones. Or with modern data you could have pools about a batters tendency changes...such as their line drive/flyball/ground ball rates in clutch situation. This article is proposing exactly that (with the first example I listed)

And as time goes on, we might even get to arguing pitcher clutch and whether pitchers in clutch situations stay the course, throw inside more, throw more of a certain pitch etc....
   4. The District Attorney Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:04 PM (#4769711)
The whole Cardinal team, of course, has gone from probably literally the clutchiest ever last year, to very non-clutch this year.

Moving away from year-to-year consistency as the test feels dangerous when we're talking about something that comes up rarely to begin with. Attempting to discern that the player was in the "clutch state" in his 10 clutch at-bats in April, and then wasn't in the "clutch state" in his 10 clutch at-bats in July, feels like angels on the head of a pin stuff to me. But, I could be wrong. Let's see what develops.
   5. villageidiom Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:08 PM (#4769715)
Having said that, this article is just a start at trying to come up with a better methodology for gauging clutch, instead of going to the old truism that "we can't measure it, so it doesn't exist". Ultimately this article really is just him presenting the first piece in what will probably be a comprehensive study that he is trying to feel out. (or suggestion for others on how to go about looking deeper into it.) I have no problem with that.
Seconded.
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:17 PM (#4769721)
The whole Cardinal team, of course, has gone from probably literally the clutchiest ever last year, to very non-clutch this year.


not really. Cardinals this year(just using risp.)
As a team overall .252/.318/.375/.693
vs in risp situations .244/.325/.354/.680....they have just not been good as a team offensively, regardless of situations. (technically speaking they have been league average offensively rate wise as the NL overall rate is .249/.312/.383/.695...but a little less than average in clutch, as league average clutchiness is slightly better than overall numbers. .248/.329/.378/.708.

Basically the Cardinals had the full regression that many people predicted in their rate numbers, instead of the partial regression that others(me) predicted might happen.

   7. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:18 PM (#4769723)
Seconded.


I do like that line from you at the end.

Some of these are easy to define, others not so easy. It seems to me, however, that we only analyze the easy ones, and then declare clutch not to exist when really it is undetected in the given analysis and the manner it was defined for that analysis. It could be that players fail; it could also be that our attempts at analysis fail.
   8. The District Attorney Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:33 PM (#4769735)
Well, the Cards are 11th in the league in FanGraphs "clutch". They're 8th in the league in OPS, but 14th in runs scored. Obviously they were better just in general last year, which was then magnified by clutch. But I do think that their overall mediocrity this year is then being dragged down further by clutch.
   9. Steve Treder Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:38 PM (#4769742)
It could be that players fail; it could also be that our attempts at analysis fail.

Clearly, we need better clutch sabermetricians.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: August 12, 2014 at 06:30 PM (#4769777)
What the heck, I'm home sick, seems like it's been a while since I've had a good rant on "clutch."

I have no problem with studying it, I do want not only clear definitions of "clutch" but an explanation of why we should care about the effects of a "clutch situation" on the batter.

Let's start with this one. A clutch situation is a situation with a leverage of 2 or more. OK, let's accept that.

Do batters behave differently in clutch situations? This leads to several questions:

1. Why are we looking at batters? Why are we looking only at batters? Isn't every "clutch" performance by a batter an "unclutch" performance by a pitcher? Doesn't the pitcher have a lot more control over whether a pitch is in the strike zone or not? Doesn't the manager have a good deal of control over who is on the mound during a clutch situation (assuming he's planned ahead for it) than he does over who is at bat? (Technically he could obviously use a pinch-hitter but, even waving aside the pathetic performance of pinch-hitters relative to their expected performance, rarely does the manager have an even remotely equal option available on the bench.)

Lemma 1: If you're gonna look at clutch, start with the pitcher and go from there.

2. But fine, the batter certainly makes decisions during a PA so may make different decisions in a clutch situation. But we don't measure decisions, we measure outcomes. So, some batters swing at the first pitch more often. That may be due to a change in their decision-making process ... or it could be pitchers are more likely to throw first-pitch strikes in high leverage situations. Batter could swing at 40% of their first-pitch strikes in all situations but sees 50% first-pitch strikes in non-clutch and 60% in clutch -- voila, an increase in first pitch swing rate from 20% to 24% with no change in batter behavior. (Note, if you're a stud hitter and it's high leverage and 1B is open, you are being walked.)

3. But fine, we've at least established a change in outcome and let's assume we've detailed the follow-on effects from that -- e.g. the guy walks less, Ks less, gets more XBH while making more outs, hopefully some of them productive. And ... so what?

3a. That is, the eternal question -- who would you rather have coming to the plate in a high-leverage situation, the "choker" who normally puts up a 850 OPS but only a 800 OPS in the clutch or the "clutch" god who normally puts up a 700 OPS but jumps to 750 in the clutch or the "what's the score anyway?" guy who puts up a 770 OPS all the time? The "clutch" guy is your third best choice ...

3b. Not that you have a choice.

3c. Unless you have convinced Manny Mota to un-retire.

4. Ahh, but what if you're the GM and it's the offseason and you've got to decide which 31-year-old FA SS to give your owners' hard-earned millions to and they're both 700 overall OPS hitters (park, league adjusted of course!), equally skilled baserunners and fielders, equally good citizens, etc but one of them jumps 50 points of OPS in the clutch and the other drops 50 points. Well, first, you probably should have played the lotto that week cuz obviously the laws of probability are all out of whack. But beyond that if they're the same overall, then the non-clutch guy must be better in the non-clutch. A lot of those clutch situations that clutch dude excels at came about because somebody bothered to produce in a non-clutch situation. That 2-2 tie in the 8th exists because some shiftless scum drove in a second run in the top of the first.

5. And being you're a smart GM, you've got to ask the geeks about their level of certainty around that clutch difference estimate. They hate it when you ask them that question because that's the hard part of estimation and it's often kind of embarrasing how uncertain we are. What do you do if they come back to you and say that their projected 50 point difference in clutch OPS comes with a +/- 50 point confidence interval attached to it?

6. So maybe if we make sure we're comparing like to like, make all of the proper adjustments, crunch through all of those numbers, we'll find that if you have two otherwise identical players who only differ in their clutch/non-clutch ratios, the clutch guy produces .25 extra wins per year (on average) and so he's worth an extra $1.5 M per year -- thank god we got to the bottom of that one!

7. Which is when the snot-nosed analyst you hired last week runs a new bar chart and sees that your new clutch SS seems to get to 10% fewer balls in his defensive zone in high leverage situations ...

7a. Defense? Nobody chokes on defense! Besides, it's not like the manager has control over defensive replacements or ever has better fielders available on the bench!

   11. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 06:51 PM (#4769791)
7a. Defense? Nobody chokes on defense! Besides, it's not like the manager has control over defensive replacements or ever has better fielders available on the bench!


I think the argument there is that the sample size is so small on defense that it's not going to be something you could measure. I don't think anyone would be adverse to attempting it, (it shouldn't be that hard to be honest, just look at fielding metrics of the individual in whatever you define as a clutch situation in comparison to how he normally does, and how other fielders do in those situations compared to their norm.)

One of the first definitions/arguments of clutch, is to argue whether or not the definition of clutch is either how he does relative to his normal/expected performance, or is it relative to league? I mean you might have a guy named chokerod, who is a .950 ops player, and hits .810 ops in clutch situations, while the league norm in clutch is .750..... is this guy a choker or a clutcher? To a daily observer of the team, he might feel like a choker since he isn't "chokerod" in the clutch, but to a fan of the opposition, he might be clutch because he comes through more often than most other guys I see in that situation.

   12. bobm Posted: August 12, 2014 at 07:29 PM (#4769804)
[6]
                                                                     
I       Split Year   G   BA BAtot     %   PA RBI  SO  SLG BAbip sOPS+
    STL  RISP 2013 160 .330  .269 122.7 1621 583 256 .463  .377   139
    STL  RISP 2014 116 .244  .252  96.8 1124 315 190 .354  .282    90


Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/12/2014.
   13. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 07:36 PM (#4769808)
12. Nobody is arguing that the Cardinals weren't clutchiest of the clutch, my only point was that the Cardinals drop isn't that dramatically bad relative to how they are performing overall. There are a couple of teams in the 70's in sOps+ this season, and a couple more in the 80's, and between 90-100 there are another 10 teams...but sOps+ isn't the measurement to be using, it's tOps+ that is important. sOps+ just confirms my first point that they aren't hitting well period, regardless of situation.

Cardinals tOps+ is 97, still in the bottom third, but not drastically away from the norm(which is around 104)
   14. bobm Posted: August 12, 2014 at 10:33 PM (#4769902)
sOps+ isn't the measurement to be using, it's tOps+ that is important.

I was interested in simple batting average with RISP as % of overall, but it is similar to the tOPS+ decline from 136 to 97. BA-RISP / BA-TOTAL dropped from 123% to 97% from 2013 to 2014. The BAbip with RISP drop is large, albeit from a very high level in 2013.

sOps+ just confirms my first point that they aren't hitting well period, regardless of situation.

Yep.

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