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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

EconoBall: Kevin Kouzmanoff, Greatest Clutch Player In the Last 20 Years?

As an A’s fan used to tell me…“You Kooz, you lose.”

I started by collecting data on every hitter in the game for the last 20 years.  (Pithcers were dropped.)  I then regressed RE24 on PA, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, sacrifice flies, sacrifice bunts, double plays, walks, and strikeouts.  The idea here is that if a given player is as likely to, say, hit a single with the bases empty as he is with a runner on third, these statistics should define much of the variance in RE24.  The regression results are quite good.  My regression explains 85% of the variance in RE24 and every individual statistic has the expected sign and is significant.  (That is, strikeouts detract from RE24, home runs increase it, etc.)

This regression allows me to predict what their RE24 would be if there was no luck involved in when they happened to get their hits.  I define “clutch” as the difference between their actual RE24 and this predicted value.  It’s important to note that, over the course of a season, some players will be lucky and have RE24s well above the predicted value and others well below the predicted value.  However, in the normal course of events, a player will have both good luck and bad luck over the course of his career.  Some years will be well above average, others significantly below average.  So, to identify a clutch player, we need someone who put up an RE24 significantly above the predicted value over a career.

To test this, I average the “clutch” statistics for every player who played four or more seasons over this stretch.  This comes out to 1293 different players.  Only five of them had statistics significantly greater than zero.  The list is a surprising one: Brandon Larson, Yamaico Navarro, Andrew Romaine, Peter Bourjos, and Kevin Kouzmanoff.  Of the five, Kouzmanoff has by far the best record, outperforming his predicted RE24 by almost 7 runs per season.  On the flip side, four players have RE24s statistically below their predicted value: Jason Bates, Matt Walbeck, Mike Gallego, and Adam Piatt.  Bates is the worst of these, averaging an RE24 almost 4.5 runs a year under the predicted value.

When dealing with statistics, it’s well known that sometimes statistical noise causes “false positives.”  Looking at the data, I’m pretty convinced that’s the case for all 9 of the players mentioned above.  Thus, it turns out that Sabermetrics is right: there are no clutch players.

Repoz Posted: February 18, 2014 at 07:52 AM | 8 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: February 18, 2014 at 09:14 AM (#4658365)
Thus, it turns out that Sabermetrics is right: there are no clutch players.
The study I haven't seen, but that I would like to see, is whether there are players who consistently underperform in the clutch. It makes sense to me that there's no such thing as someone who can improve his play when he needs to - why wouldn't he do that in every plate appearance, then? - but I wonder if there are players that consistently fail in the clutch because they can't stand up to the mental pressure.

I guess the flip side of this is that the Major Leagues only employ the best of the best, and that most players who can't handle pressure get weeded out in the developmental process.
   2. villageidiom Posted: February 18, 2014 at 09:55 AM (#4658377)
Thus, it turns out that Sabermetrics is right: there are no clutch players.
Sabermetrics say clutch hitting cannot currently be detected in the stats, not that it doesn't exist.

We still don't have a proper definition of "clutch". We only have definitions that were constructed to facilitate an interesting analysis.

Is clutch:

Performing better in important situations than one's typical performance? Than average in MLB? Than average in organized baseball? Than average in any endeavor? (And if either of the latter two, the lack of non-random variation in MLB stats could mean there are no clutch hitters... or that everyone in MLB is a clutch hitter.)

Suffering a smaller drop in performance than we should expect in important situations?

And what is "important"? Is it defined objectively? Is it even possible to define it objectively? EDIT: Isn't importance a subjective concept to an individual player? And couldn't there be situations that a hitter deems important that a pitcher does not? Does clutch pitching/fielding and clutch hitting cancel each other out?

Is it tautological? If a person does not feel pressure in a given situation, is it a pressure situation? Is pressure defined by the level of drama felt by a non-participant, and does that make any sense?

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.
   3. McCoy Posted: February 18, 2014 at 09:57 AM (#4658378)
They are all clutch.
   4. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: February 18, 2014 at 11:00 AM (#4658416)
Dan, if you're down with the methodology here, they looked to answer your question (consistent underperformers) as well.

In any case, I'm w/ vi.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: February 18, 2014 at 06:26 PM (#4658716)
vi hits the point but one I think is pretty much intractable is that if it's a clutch situation for the hitter, then it's a clutch situation for the pitcher (and fielders). Hitter success/failure is inseparable from pitcher failure/success. We don't know who, if anybody, choked. So while we like to say "clutch hits exist, just (maybe) not clutch hitters", we can't even really say that since we're not sure it was a clutch hit or a choke pitch. I suppose it's theoretically possible with pitch f/x, etc. to determine whether the outcome was better/worse than expected given a pitch's type, speed, movement and location ... in which case we can blame it on fielders choking.

As to vi's main point, let me remind everybody of the concept of statistical power. Statistical power is a measure of how likely you are to detect an effect of a given size given a sample size and level of significance. You don't have to settle for "maybe the effect was too small for me to detect" you can specifically state something like "I had a power of .9 to detect an OPS difference of at least .010 at a significance level of .05." Ideally you undertake the power analysis before the substantive analysis/data collection to make sure that you have the power to reliably detect an "important" effect.
   6. Al Kaline Trio Posted: February 18, 2014 at 08:02 PM (#4658749)
In clutch situations the manager on defense has the choice to bring in a better pitcher / fielders which would make it tougher on the hitter. I think that some hitters perform versus all pitching types more evenly (for example Pujols or Bonds in their prime). If Ryan Howard is up and they bring in a lefty reliever his OPS will be expected to go down whether he is choking or not.
   7. Squash Posted: February 18, 2014 at 09:16 PM (#4658780)
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.

I would imagine however that we can all agree that clutch as a massively game-changing force (not referring to an individual game, but rather to the game of baseball) does not exist. .010 or .020 of OPS ain't much, at all, in any one at bat - there are no hitters who demonstrate a persistent ability to go from an .800 OPS to a .900 OPS in clutch situations (or an expected .800 to .900, adjusting for pitcher quality, handedness, defense, etc.), however we define clutch (and is .100 of OPS even that much in any one at bat?).
   8. Moeball Posted: February 18, 2014 at 09:28 PM (#4658783)
Well, again, we are down to trying to define what is "clutch":

Is it performing with runners on base?
Is it performing with runners in scoring position?
Is it performing with two outs and a runner on third?
Is it performing in the late innings of a close game?
Is it performing when your team is behind and needs to get back in the game?
Is it performing in the postseason?

Is it all of these things?

We now have splits available for just about every kind of situation imaginable so we can actually examine all these categories and many others.

It is possible to find hitters or pitchers who excel or do poorly in any one of these situations from year-to-year; for example, the Elias Analyst positively chortled each year in the late '80s over Barry Bonds' poor numbers with runners in scoring position, commenting how he was an immense "choker" because he did poorly in this situation year after year. Then in the '90s his numbers in these situations started going way up year after year. Did he suddenly become "clutch" after being labeled a "choker"? Or was it just the odds just starting to even out?

Was Reggie Jackson a "clutch" hero (World Series career slash .357/.457/.755) or a huge "choker" (ALCS career slash .227/.298/.380)?

Why is it that in the bottom of the 9th inning of a game where your team is down by one run, the guy who led off the inning with a double did a nice job, but the guys who really came through "under pressure" according to the announcers were the guy who grounded out to first to advance him to 3rd and the guy who hit the fly ball that scored him, thus tying up the game and keeping your team alive. I thought the guy who hit the double was the only one who didn't make an out, and outs are what bring the inning closer to being over. But apparently there is no pressure batting with no one on base, which is why everyone has an .800 on-base percentage with no one on, right?

I watched Kouzmanoff play for the Padres for 3 years and, from what I remember, he did hit better with runners on, but worse in late and close situations. Come to think of it, looking at his career splits, that seems to be the trend. I wasn't particularly impressed, but then, to be fair, when I saw him play was mostly home games at Petco and, like most Padres players, his numbers there were significantly worse than on the road outside of Petco.

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