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Friday, October 05, 2012

Brian Kenny: Fallacy of ‘clutch’ hitting shouldn’t factor into MVP race

Using Professor Pepperwinkle’s skirt-invertin’ Anti-Magneto Gravitational Register…Kenny turns the baseball world upside-down!

But I have another question for you: If someone can “come up big” late in games, why can’t they “come up big” early, too? These players we see as “clutch” are usually just that—players who we see as clutch. It’s our perception.

Cabrera doesn’t give away early at-bats, it’s just that we remember the late RBIs better than the early ones. Just be aware that late production doesn’t count any more than early production. Not even a little. I mean not one bit. One equals one.

...You have 162 games, and a late win—even in the final days—absolutely, positively, does not count more than a win earlier in the season.

That being the case, why would what someone does in September be of any greater importance than what he does in May? The answer is, it isn’t. It just seems like it. We remember it better.

It seems like the season is “on the line” in the final weeks. The truth is, the season is always on the line. There may not be as much intensity, and there is time to overcome an early stumble, but those wins count precisely the same amount as wins gained when the schedule is shrinking. You have 162 games. You have 27 outs per game.

May got a bad rap. May is just as important as September. The early innings are just as important as the late innings. The game, and the season, is always on the line. “Late and clutch” make for a better story, but that’s all it is. When looking to hand out the AL MVP Award, go for the best player, not the best story.

Repoz Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:50 AM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:17 AM (#4254871)
Depends what "clutch" means. If two players are roughly equal, I don't have a problem with giving the MVP award to the one who happened to deliver "clutch" hits whether it's a real skill or not. It's still value.

But if his point is that "clutch" isn't clearly defined and that "RISP" or "late and close" are not good ways of measuring or defining it, then I'll agree with that. WPA might be better but it's got that late-game bias Kenny clearly is trying to avoid.

As a crude measure and a misleading counting stat :-), I wouldn't mind something like game-tying and tie-breaking runs + RBIs. You never know when/if you're going to get another chance to score, you never know when the "winning" run is going to score so whether those tying/tie-breaking runs occur in the 1st or the 15th, they'd count equally. (There's an obvious issue around runs in that the guy who scored may have reached base by forcing out the guy who got a hit in front of him but no crude, misleading counting stat is perfect.)

And I assume Kenny's main point is that the 3-run HR that turns the 2-0 game into a 5-0 game in the 3rd inning is pretty freaking valuable too. I'll agree with that.
   2. Tricky Dick Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:31 AM (#4254874)
And I assume Kenny's main point is that the 3-run HR that turns the 2-0 game into a 5-0 game in the 3rd inning is pretty freaking valuable too. I'll agree with that.


WPA would pick that up, right? Changing a 2-0 game into a 5-0 game should cause a pretty big increase in the probability of winning the game. I wouldn't use WPA to evaluate repeatable skills, but if one believes that the timing of hits is relevant to the MVP, WPA is a pretty good measure.
   3. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:21 AM (#4254906)
I agree with most of what Kenny says, and, as usual, with everything that Walt says :)

My one extra thought is to look at the quality of the opposition. One reason we remember Kirk Gibson's 2-run home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 9th more than Mike Marshall's 3-run home run off Storm Davis in the 3rd the next night (which in fact I didn't remember, I just looked it up on spec right now :) …

is that Eckersley was Eckersley (or fixing to become so over the next few years), and Storm Davis is somebody I couldn't even have conjured up till now, no disrespect to him.

Just one reason, mind you; the game state was more important. And oddly enough, it was about as easy to hit HR that year off Eckersley as off Davis, per inning. But it's generally true that close and late, and especially behind in the score, you're going to be facing a better pitcher than the kind of guy you beat up for a 3-run homer in the 3rd.
   4. charityslave is thinking about baseball Posted: October 05, 2012 at 09:44 AM (#4254941)
Professor Pepperwinkle’s skirt-invertin’ Anti-Magneto Gravitational Register


I think it's just red wine.
   5. GuyMcGuffin Posted: October 05, 2012 at 10:36 AM (#4255007)
My one extra thought is to look at the quality of the opposition. One reason we remember Kirk Gibson's 2-run home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 9th more than Mike Marshall's 3-run home run off Storm Davis in the 3rd the next night (which in fact I didn't remember, I just looked it up on spec right now :) …


Canseco has actually said that it was Marshall's home run that really crushed the Athletics' spirit. I think he was just being contrary, but I remember that home run more for Jose Canseco posturing about it 20 years later than for its own merits.

Now while we're talking about Canseco and 88 World Series HRs, I definitely remember the Grand Slam he hit in the second inning of Game 1 that hit the camera in CF.
   6. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: October 05, 2012 at 11:25 AM (#4255066)
WPA would pick that up, right? Changing a 2-0 game into a 5-0 game should cause a pretty big increase in the probability of winning the game. I wouldn't use WPA to evaluate repeatable skills, but if one believes that the timing of hits is relevant to the MVP, WPA is a pretty good measure.

Yes, but as Walt said, WPA has late-game bias. A first-inning solo HR in a 0-0 game and a ninth-inning HR in a 0-0 game should basically be worth the same by WPA if the final score is 1-0. But WPA gives more weight to the latter, I'm pretty sure.

Anyway, I think it's ok for MVP voting to take into account how a guy hits with runners on and how he hits in close games, stuff like that. Whether his hits came early in the game or late, not so much.
   7. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: October 05, 2012 at 11:40 AM (#4255080)


Yes, but as Walt said, WPA has late-game bias. A first-inning solo HR in a 0-0 game and a ninth-inning HR in a 0-0 game should basically be worth the same by WPA if the final score is 1-0. But WPA gives more weight to the latter, I'm pretty sure.


It makes sense to give more weight to the 9th inning home run. A 1-0 lead in the 1st may well be erased. It's much harder to do that with a 1-0 lead in the 9th due to the paucity of remaining outs.

Frankly, I think the same logic applies to the regular season as well. A win in September pennant race does mean more than a win in May because the margin of error is smaller.
   8. The District Attorney Posted: October 05, 2012 at 11:42 AM (#4255082)
I think we all know WPA by itself is not worth much of anything. The WPA/LI leaders might be of interest:

AL: Trout 6.72, M. Cabrera 5.94, E. Encarnacion 4.77, Fielder 4.41, J. Hamilton 3.53, Cespedes 3.46, Cano 3.44
NL: Braun 6.44, Headley 6.04, Posey 6.00, McCutchen 4.85, Heyward 4.41, Ar. Ramirez 4.08, D. Wright 3.88
   9. TomH Posted: October 05, 2012 at 11:53 AM (#4255094)
But #6, the reason WPA gives more weight in the ninth is because every game is tied in the first, while few games are tied ithe 9th. Isn't it relevant to note if batter A hit most of his 9th inning home runs when up or down by 6, while batter B hit many of his 9th inning taters to tie or win the game?

Same with Sept vs May; after the fact, they are the same, but that only applies to those races that remained close in Sept. It's just a different view; neither right or wrong (after the fact versus feeling of clutch at the time), but different. If you don't care about how good a player's teammates are, then the May vs Sept thing goes away but performing when the game is close is one valid metric of value; not that I am advocating WPI or WPI/LA as THE metric.
   10. Jim Furtado Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:03 PM (#4255105)
It makes sense to give more weight to the 9th inning home run. A 1-0 lead in the 1st may well be erased. It's much harder to do that with a 1-0 lead in the 9th due to the paucity of remaining outs.

Frankly, I think the same logic applies to the regular season as well. A win in September pennant race does mean more than a win in May because the margin of error is smaller.
Although I will take runs for my team whenever I can get them, if, in a hypothetical world, I'm given the choice between a solo homer in the 9th in a tie game or a solo homer in the first of a 0-0 game, I will take the homer in the 9th.

WPA results reflect the extra value in the timing of events. To say that the timing doesn't matter ignores reality.
   11. Mike Emeigh Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:31 PM (#4255135)
WPA results reflect the extra value in the timing of events. To say that the timing doesn't matter ignores reality.


Yes, but we need to be careful not to go too far the other way, either. We need to account for opportunity (how many chances does a player actually have to break up a 0-0 game in the ninth?), we need to take into consideration the extent to which an early-game HR removes the need for a late-game HR, and so forth.

WPA/LI is a data point that sometimes gives you useful information about the value of a player's performance beyond his raw stats. My tendency is to use it more as a dis-qualifier than as a qualifier; I think it's legitimate to take McCutchen down a peg or three, for example, in part due to where he sits on the NL WPA/LI list, but I wouldn't necessarily give Braun or Headley a big boost for it. That's consistent with evidence that suggests that players are more likely to wilt in the face of pressure than they are to shine.

-- MWE
   12. Jim Furtado Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:39 PM (#4255146)
Yes, but we need to be careful not to go too far the other way, either. We need to account for opportunity (how many chances does a player actually have to break up a 0-0 game in the ninth?), we need to take into consideration the extent to which an early-game HR removes the need for a late-game HR, and so forth.
I agree. It's one tidbit of information.
   13. Ron J2 Posted: October 05, 2012 at 12:39 PM (#4255147)
#11 I only use WPA as a sort of tie breaker in the event that a team's projected runs scored are very different from their actual runs scored or their pythagorean W/L is very different from their actual W/L. Then there's clear evidence that timing truly mattered.
   14. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: October 05, 2012 at 02:50 PM (#4255289)

It makes sense to give more weight to the 9th inning home run. A 1-0 lead in the 1st may well be erased. It's much harder to do that with a 1-0 lead in the 9th due to the paucity of remaining outs.

Yes, but I'm saying that after the fact, you know which 1-0 leads were erased and which weren't. When *retrospectively* looking at value, and you know the final score was 1-0, a solo HR any time had the same amount of value.

But #6, the reason WPA gives more weight in the ninth is because every game is tied in the first, while few games are tied ithe 9th. Isn't it relevant to note if batter A hit most of his 9th inning home runs when up or down by 6, while batter B hit many of his 9th inning taters to tie or win the game?

Yes. I specifically said it's the ultimate closeness of the game that matters, not the inning.

Although I will take runs for my team whenever I can get them, if, in a hypothetical world, I'm given the choice between a solo homer in the 9th in a tie game or a solo homer in the first of a 0-0 game, I will take the homer in the 9th.

If you *know* the both you and other team aren't going to score any other runs, why do you care? Of course if you didn't know what was going to happen afterwards, you'd rather have the HR in a game that's tied in the 9th inning. But if you know the final score was 1-0, then it didn't matter to you which inning that one run came in.
   15. cardsfanboy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:02 PM (#4255303)
I think it's legitimate to take McCutchen down a peg or three, for example, in part due to where he sits on the NL WPA/LI list, but I wouldn't necessarily give Braun or Headley a big boost for it.


McCutchen is second in the league on wpa/li...not sure he needs to be taken down a peg or two. Note this is sorted by bb-ref, not whatever was used up above.

Rk                  Age  PA  Tm BtRuns BtWins WPA      WPA/LClutch
1           Ryaraun  28 677 MIL   50.7    5.0 5.1         5.8 
-0.5
2     AndrecCutchen  25 673 PIT   53.7    5.2 4.6         4.9 
-0.1
3         Busteosey  25 610 SFG   56.5    5.5 4.8         4.8 
-0.2
4       Chaseadley
#  28 699 SDP   39.6    3.9 4.1         4.6 -0.6
5          Joeotto*  28 475 CIN   48.6    4.7 6.0         4.5  1.5
6    Giancarltanton  22 501 MIA   35.1    3.4 3.4         4.2 
-1.0
7       Melkabrera
#  27 501 SFG   36.2    3.5 3.4         3.9 -0.4
8     Pauoldschmidt  24 587 ARI   19.1    1.9 3.3         3.7 -0.2
9        Matolliday  32 688 STL   34.6    3.4 3.0         3.7 
-0.7
10      Aramiamirez  34 630 MIL   30.2    3.0 4.7         3.7  0.8
11        Daviright  29 670 NYM   38.3    3.8 4.0         3.6  0.3
12       Yadieolina  29 563 STL   27.0    2.7 4.2         3.3  1.0
13         Alleraig  27 514 STL   24.4    2.4 2.8         3.1 
-0.4
14      Jasoeyward
*  22 651 ATL   12.4    1.2 2.4         3.1 -0.6
15          Aaroill  30 668 ARI   25.8    2.5 1.6         3.1 
-1.3 
   16. cardsfanboy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:07 PM (#4255311)
I pretty much agree with everything from post 14. After the fact it doesn't matter when you scored in a 1-0 game, wpa is measuring the viewer investment in the play more than anything else.

For the MVP I will consider wpa, wpa/l1 if the players are really close, but I wouldn't knock a player with a postive value, as number of opportunities is going to factor into it, you only get a knock if you have a negative value.

I really need to read up on the clutch stat to see what it is measuring.

   17. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:14 PM (#4255318)
Clutch hitters may or may not exist but clutch hits sure as hell do exist and they should be appropriately rewarded. All three run homers are not created equal, all games are not created equal (games against your rivals are a two game swing). This stuff might not be predictive but if you are trying to determine who posted the most value during the season, it all counts. A lot of the 'there is no clutch' talk strikes me as folks just being lazy.
   18. The District Attorney Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:20 PM (#4255326)
Hmm, that's quite odd. My WPA/LI stats were from Fangraphs.
   19. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:35 PM (#4255344)
if you are trying to determine who posted the most value during the season, it all counts

Sure, but I think the basic assumption is when you have guys performing at a very high level over 162 games and >600 plate appearances, clutch contributions even out. Discrepancies should be searched for and noted: again, as Walt implies above, if one MVP candidate demonstrably hit a lot of walkoff HRs and another hit a distressing number of solo HRs in games with 5-run leads, then by all means vote for the former. But how often do such discrepancies amount to a hill of beans? (That's a semi-rhetorical but semi-serious question, actually.)
   20. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: October 05, 2012 at 03:51 PM (#4255365)
But how often do such discrepancies amount to a hill of beans? (That's a semi-rhetorical but semi-serious question, actually.)

The obvious example is Chipper Jones in 1999, owning a 97 win Mets team (49 PAs of .410/.500/1.000 with 7 HR) to push the Braves over the top. He won and deserved the MVP despite being only fourth in WAR. I don't know how often it happens, but it does, and the voters should at least attempt to factor it in.
   21. cardsfanboy Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:06 PM (#4255386)
The obvious example is Chipper Jones in 1999, owning a 97 win Mets team (49 PAs of .410/.500/1.000 with 7 HR) to push the Braves over the top. He won and deserved the MVP despite being only fourth in WAR. I don't know how often it happens, but it does, and the voters should at least attempt to factor it in.


Provided they don't get caught up in one story, while ignoring the other stories. I had a friend of mine(A Tiger fan) say something like "You don't watch him play everyday" in regards to Cabrera, the counter argument is of course, you don't watch Trout or any other play every day either.

In chipper's case he had two pitchers ahead of him, and there is enough debate on pitchers value for the mvp and issues with war that he arguably had a better season, and he was within .5 war of Bagwell while putting up equal if not better offensive numbers and playing a tougher defensive position(which was probably wiped out by the fact that Bagwell was a better fielder even with positional adjustments)

Chipper was a close case and you needed all the evidence, war has a margin of error of about 1 war anyway.
   22. BDC Posted: October 05, 2012 at 04:24 PM (#4255399)
Good example, Robert. And I'm not arguing Chipper/Bagwell one way or another here (I remember at the time being completely satisfied with Chipper winning the MVP). But it's interesting to note that Jones that year hit .370/.462/.667 in B-Ref's "high leverage" situations, and Bagwell hit .314/.500/.667. (Also, Bagwell had several more high-leverage PAs than Jones did, absolutely and by percentage of his total PAs.)

So the question is: since both hit exceedingly well in the clutch over the long haul, what's the difference? You point to Jones against the Mets, and that's no doubt a clutch performance; Bagwell, meanwhile, was hitting only .196/.339/.457 against the Reds, who came closer to Houston than the Mets did to Atlanta. It's a factor. Bagwell ended up with 8 RBI against the Reds; Jones had 16 against New York. If one could go even more granular and see that Jones's RBIs were better-timed as well as more plentiful, that would be yet another factor. In context, such factors become smaller and smaller, and the MVP race has to be narrower and narrower for them to matter.
   23. bjhanke Posted: October 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM (#4255521)
I think that the reason the clutch hitting still has such an audience is that the players themselves believe in it, because of the pressure they feel when it's late and close. I do, too. I spent 20 years doing a form of stick fighting (the SCA) and was good at it, although I never did win the Crown (kings in the SCA are chosen as the result of tournaments; I finished second twice and made the semifinals 6 more times). And I have known some people who suddenly forget how to fight once they reach the semifinals. They can't take the pressure of getting that close to the Crown. I, meanwhile, fought over my head in tournaments, with a complete focus once I got to the semis. I had a rep as a clutch fighter. What I really had was a very very strong desire to be king, but it expressed itself late and close in tournaments. So, while I agree that a run is a run and all of them count, I think the idea of "clutch" is a recognition that some players respond really well to pressure, and some cave in.

BTW, the big story on the Gibson homer is that one of his team's coaches had been watching film of Eckersley, and had found out that he ALWAYS threw a back door slider if the ball/strike count reached the one that he had on Gibson. Gibson has admitted, more than once, that he hit that homer because he knew what pitch was coming, and credits the team scout with coming through in the clutch. I also credit Gibson with being able to crank an Eckersley back door slider out of the park when he could hardly walk and the pressure was ON. Look at the film of him "running" the bases. He's hardly able to stay in the basepath because he is so busy pumping his arm with joy. Emotion is what makes "clutch hitting" have the following it has. - Brock Hanke
   24. Walt Davis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 06:18 PM (#4255583)
The similar link to the Cameron piece (using RE24) is relevant here. He compares Trout to Cabrera and finds that Trout still wins looking just at offense when timing is considered. (RE24 is a change in run expectancy thing added up) But he looks at the distribution and that's really where he touches on clutch.

Cabrera did have a lot of hits that made a huge change in RE and a number of them came in Sept. But he also notes his high number of DPs, a lot of which came at really bad times. Media and fans will remember those huge hits and not those DPs. Trout meanwhile basically just killed you a little bit PA after PA -- not very many big ones but also almost no disastrous ones.

As to WPA ... I like to think of it in terms of potential vs. kinetic energy. That 9th inning PA with the game tied (why is 0-0 any different than 8-8?) is actually the product of the clutch and non-clutch performances of everybody throughout the game -- i.e. a 9th inning PA with the game tied is a PA with a lot of potential energy in it but that potential energy wasn't created (solely) by the guy at the plate or the guy on the mound. The batter is simply the guy who does or doesn't convert that potential energy into kinetic energy ... but WPA gives him full credit.

So really I think I am OK with WPA something like 99% of the time. It probably only goes way off track on those game-ending plays which is when it credits one guy for taking it from (say) .6 of a win to 1.

If you want another tortured analogy, the "proximate cause of death" is almost never (maybe literally never) cancer or AIDs or auto accident. What kills you is liver failure or internal hemmoraging or what have you. The reliever who grooved the pitch that got hit for the game-winning HR is the liver failure but the batters who couldn't hit (in the 0-0 game) or the pitchers who couldn't pitch (in the 8-8 game) are the primary reason your team lost that game.
   25. Walt Davis Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:06 PM (#4255905)
Brock ... something like Gibson's HR is closer to your story of "clutch". But baseball regular seasons are 162 games long and these guys have been playing 100s of games a year forever. I suppose minor-league games may never seem "clutch" but college, high school, amateur tourney games were. And most definitions of clutch that are used within baseball are "got a hit late in a close game at any point in the season."

I can't imagine Cabrera had more than 2 or 3 moments that were close to the pressure of a Gibson situation. Yes, maybe here in Sept, chasing the White Sox, a 9th inning tie-game situation is around that level of pressure. But the rest of his "clutch" PAs were just regular old PAs.

I agree players believe in it but that's because players are even more wrapped up in the timing issue than we are. The joy they feel after the guy hits the game-winning HR dwarfs the fans. Although I bet the players do a much better job of remembering the game-ending DPs too.
   26. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: October 05, 2012 at 08:22 PM (#4255969)
Whether or not clutch hitting *ability* exists, there is certainly such a thing as getting hits when they matter. Maybe it's just lucky, but that doesn't make it any less valuable to the team in retrospect. I don't think Mike Trout is a true talent 171 OPS+ hitter; there was almost certainly some luck involved there, but he hit for a 171 OPS+ this season and I'm going to measure his value based on that. Likewise, if another hitter had a 150 OPS+ but hit extremely well with runners on base such that his performance was equal in value to Trout's, I'd consider that additional value, too.

I do think you need to normalize for opportunity - I wouldn't give a guy extra credit for having a lot of at-bats with RISP, but I would give him credit for hitting well in the RISP at-bats he was given.
   27. Walt Davis Posted: October 06, 2012 at 04:53 AM (#4256576)
But getting hits with RISP isn't the only way to be clutch. Getting a walk or a hit to lead off a late and close inning is every bit as clutch as the guy who eventually drives him in. Trout singles and steals second or goes 1st to third on a single is every bit as "clutch" as Pujols getting the hit to drive him in. That's partly what Cameron's article is about. The guys who score the big runs were "clutch" too.
   28. BDC Posted: October 06, 2012 at 09:19 AM (#4256637)
Seems to be the right thread to note that Chipper Jones came up yesterday, bases empty, an out away from elimination, and got a base hit :) And then died at third, as they say …
   29. Jay Z Posted: October 06, 2012 at 12:37 PM (#4256739)
But getting hits with RISP isn't the only way to be clutch. Getting a walk or a hit to lead off a late and close inning is every bit as clutch as the guy who eventually drives him in. Trout singles and steals second or goes 1st to third on a single is every bit as "clutch" as Pujols getting the hit to drive him in. That's partly what Cameron's article is about. The guys who score the big runs were "clutch" too.


A player goes 4 for 4 with 4 leadoff doubles. All of his teammates do nothing but strike out, he doesn't score any runs, and the team gets shut out. WPA might tell you that the player is the MVP of the game, maybe even more valuable than the opposing pitcher or pitchers. But no runs were scored.

WPA assume players are in an average context. But players are never in an average context. Players are playing with other players whose performance can be predicted better than the average performance WPA assumes.

In the context that the doubles hitting machine is playing in, his doubles are worthless because his teammates can't provide him any help in scoring the run. If he can change his strategy to swing for the fences, trading six doubles for every home run is an excellent trade. In an "average" context it wouldn't be, but in this one the team will score more runs with the occasional home run.

I'm reluctant to allocate the same value to an event the way WPA does without regard for the final result. WPA will tell you to grade to leadoff hitters the same based on their component performance regardless of one having Babe Ruths hittng behind him while the other one has Tiny Tims. Whereas I would credit the one playing with the Babe Ruths as being more value because his components can be converted into actual runs at a higher rate.

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