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Monday, October 15, 2012

Feldman: Clutch performers. Fluke or no?

What does that make Freese? It makes him a clutch hitter, right? It makes him a professional. He wants to be paid to get clutch hits!

And one of those is how they don’t believe there is such a thing as performing in the clutch.  Statisticians believe an at-bat is an at-bat.  An inning is an inning.  And they’re all the same.

But if you think you can justify comparing an at-bat in the middle of May to what David Freese saw against Neftali Feliz last October or what Daniel Descalso saw against Drew Storen on Friday night, with all due respect, they’re insane.

Mike Matheny said in his pre game press conference today at AT&T Park that he doesn’t get that either.  He knows what when you see a statistic such as the fact David Freese has 25 RBIs in his first 25 career postseason at-bats, something only Lou Gehrig has done, it’s legitimate.

That’s no fluke.

That’s someone who doesn’t get distracted or scared by a situation.

Some Cardinals told reporters that they saw a few of the Nationals taking deep breaths during that epic Game 5 in Washington on Friday night.  They saw them trying to calm their nerves.  They knew the Nationals were nervous.  They knew they could take advantage of that.

If that’s not living proof that situations are different then I don’t know what is.  When you’re in a pressurized game or a pressurized at-bat your true colors show.

The Cards have that.  Not all other teams do.

Repoz Posted: October 15, 2012 at 09:02 PM | 35 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cardinals, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: October 15, 2012 at 09:14 PM (#4271787)
Great article. Thanks, Repoz!
   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 15, 2012 at 09:28 PM (#4271818)
Clutch doesn't seem to exist, in that players can't raise their performance above their usual talent level in big spots (or the effect is so very small, that it doesn't really matter).

However, choking almost certainly does exist, in that players often under-perform their usual talent levels because of a mental block, or nerves, or fear, or what have you. The most extreme cases are obvious: Steve Blass, Steve Trout, Mackey Sasser, Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Sax, Rick Ankiel.

Given that players can completely lose the ability to perform at even a basic level b/c of a mental block of some sort, it is completely reasonable to expect players to under-perform due to mental issues.
   3. cardsfanboy Posted: October 15, 2012 at 09:29 PM (#4271824)
What the writer doesn't seem to get, is that the reason stat community doesn't belief in clutch is that there is nobody who has been shown to be clutch regardless of the amount of studies done on the matter. Reasoning for this can be argued, but some like to argue that the mere act of making it to the major leagues meant you had to perform in the clutch so often that you have the skill to maintain consistency at the major league level.

I do absolutely believe that unclutch is a distinct possibility.

Some Cardinals told reporters that they saw a few of the Nationals taking deep breaths during that epic Game 5 in Washington on Friday night. They saw them trying to calm their nerves. They knew the Nationals were nervous. They knew they could take advantage of that.


And if you read all the quotes from the game and know exactly who they are talking about, you can see that they were projecting pressure on a guy that they weren't happy with (For the record, it's Bryce Harper they are talking about taking breaths)
   4. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 15, 2012 at 09:43 PM (#4271874)
I'll grant the extreme cases (Blass, Sax, Ankiel, etc.).
But what the writers never seem to notice is the guys who are totally un-clutch.... until they ARE clutch. Bonds, A-Rod (who's been there and back and there again). In football, Manning.

My favorite example: Rick Dempsey, 1983. Finished the season on an 8-for-46 with three GIDPs. Went 2-for-12 in the ALCS. Then all of a sudden went bonkers and won the World Series MVP. His "true ability" was probably much closer to those first 60 PAs than those last 15... so was he clutch? Not clutch? Or was it JUST ONE OF THOSE DAMN THINGS?
(I'm voting for the latter)
   5. cardsfanboy Posted: October 15, 2012 at 09:50 PM (#4271891)
In football, Manning.


I find that to be as silly as saying his brother is an elite quarterback.
   6. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 15, 2012 at 10:05 PM (#4271930)
By "Manning" I mean the New York one. I remember Archie (lived in Mississippi when he was with the Saints) but don't really follow foobaw.
DAMMIT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN
   7. cardsfanboy Posted: October 15, 2012 at 10:36 PM (#4272008)
By "Manning" I mean the New York one. I remember Archie (lived in Mississippi when he was with the Saints) but don't really follow foobaw.
DAMMIT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN


Ok, I was assuming you meant Peyton, since the common refrain is he's a choker, which is a downright silly comment/belief.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: October 15, 2012 at 10:44 PM (#4272028)
We had a thread on this ... oh, 12 hours ago. I agree with snapper in #2. I think that's a nice summation of what I believe.

On Eli Manning: he has been weirdly clutch for his whole career, as far as I can tell. Even before he was a good QB. And with his boyish sheepish face it would be the easiest thing in the world for people to write him off as a choker, if it ever happened with regularity.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: October 15, 2012 at 11:01 PM (#4272072)
Various problems:

1) Was Freese clutch or was Feliz un-clutch?

1a) If pressure matters, if it (usually) affects performance, it does so for both players, one would assume equally so (on average). Therefore why would we expect different outcomes from the batter-pitcher matchup in the clutch?

1b) Batters usually perform better with men on base; clutch situations are usually with men on base; potentially relates back to question #1.

1c) I am going to assume Freese has a ton of post-season RBIs because he's come up with tons of guys on base, probably at least partly due to teams pitching around the better hitters in front of him. Which is not to deny he has had some awesome games.

2) Who do you want at bat in a clutch situation -- the 700 OPS clutch player or the 850 OPS un-clutch player?

3) Since you have essentially no control over who comes to bat in a clutch situation why does it matter who is and isn't clutch? Note, you have a lot of control over who pitches in a clutch situation but this is rarely discussed until there's a Valverde style meltdown. (Oh, OK, all closers are assumed to be clutch -- that's why they're closing!)
   10. smileyy Posted: October 15, 2012 at 11:15 PM (#4272119)
Put me in the camp that choking happens more than clutchness does. Particularly in the context of pitchers suddenly not being able to get someone out.
   11. silhouetted by the sea Posted: October 15, 2012 at 11:56 PM (#4272169)
Maybe what you need in a clutch situation is a player who goes top the plate thinking "I've got millions in the bank and nothing to prove. Why should I care if we win or lose."
   12. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: October 16, 2012 at 12:12 AM (#4272181)
The most extreme cases are obvious: Steve Blass, Steve Trout, Mackey Sasser, Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Sax, Rick Ankiel.

Don't forget Nick Swisher!
   13. JE (Jason) Posted: October 16, 2012 at 12:53 AM (#4272197)
And if you read all the quotes from the game and know exactly who they are talking about, you can see that they were projecting pressure on a guy that they weren't happy with (For the record, it's Bryce Harper they are talking about taking breaths)

Sure, he struck out on a ball above his neck in the ninth inning, but Harper hit a triple and home run in his first two plate appearances.
   14. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: October 16, 2012 at 01:04 AM (#4272202)
When did Steve Trout go Blass? I grew up watching the Cubs in the mid-'80s and don't remember it, nor had I heard anything about it until today.
   15. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: October 16, 2012 at 02:51 AM (#4272208)
Clutch is going to be hard to find at the major league level. If you made it this far, you probably don't crumble under pressure. Of course late and close in a playoff elimination game is a new type of pressure that might get to some but those situations are rare enough that you could never get a big enough sample to do a meaningful study.

It's obviously unreasonable to say that all players will react exactly the same to extreme pressure situations. There will be some variation (just as humans show variation in reaction to any situation) and so clutch and unclutch do exist at some level. But trying to figure out who belongs in what group is a fool's errand.
   16. JoeHova Posted: October 16, 2012 at 04:00 AM (#4272213)
Some Cardinals told reporters that they saw a few of the Nationals taking deep breaths during that epic Game 5 in Washington on Friday night.

Those chokers were breathing!
   17. vortex of dissipation Posted: October 16, 2012 at 04:04 AM (#4272214)
When did Steve Trout go Blass?


I'm assuming they're referring to Trout's 0-4, 6.60 showing for the Yankees in 1987. He actually pitched worse after that for the Mariners, 8-10, 7.40, but that's the Mariners...He only pitched two games in the postseason, for the '84 Cubs, and went 1-0, 2.00, 9 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 3 K, which looks pretty good to me.
   18. Russ Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:06 AM (#4272222)
Those chokers were breathing!


No breath, no life.
   19. Balkroth Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:07 AM (#4272223)
My thoughts are generally similar to #2, in that there really isn't clutch players , but that there are clutch performances.

Although when I think about it , there may be a skill there, but it's more of a mental thing for opposing players changing their approaches because of the clutch player's past success in those situations, which then actually gives the hitter better performances in though situations, or something along those lines.
   20. McCoy Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:28 AM (#4272225)
My view is that they are all clutch to some degree. MLB players are the players that have made it through crucible and can perform at a high level despite all the obstacles put in their place. Clutch players facing off against clutch players isn't likely to produce results that will prove a player is clutch.
   21. Howie Menckel Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:50 AM (#4272226)
The NY FB Giants haven't won a game in the playoffs - yet not reached the Super Bowl - since 1993.
They haven't won a game in the playoffs - yet not WON the Super Bowl - since 2000.

Intermittent clutchiness, that.

   22. JJ1986 Posted: October 16, 2012 at 09:36 AM (#4272263)
I think QB clucthness is often a function of offensive coaches deciding to stop running the ball and defensive coaches deciding to play back. Most QBs could thrive in that situation (or at least play much better than they do for most of the game).
   23. BDC Posted: October 16, 2012 at 09:43 AM (#4272274)
Meanwhile there's Tony Romo, an exceptional athlete, tough hard-nosed QB, who will throw the ball into a cluster of linebackers two or three times a game. I guess if there's a baseball analogy, it's the big slugger who hits frequent home runs but strikes out violently in the clutch often enough, too. It isn't necessarily that he's choked, it's that his approach dictates dramatic failure when he does fail. Likewise, Romo's "throw before you think" strategy has resulted in some big passing games for him, needless to say.
   24. JJ1986 Posted: October 16, 2012 at 09:51 AM (#4272278)
Romo was so close to having a huge clutch game Sunday. Two TDs late against the Ravens and then Dez Bryant first fails to catch a 2-point conversion and then catches a 1-yard pass in bounds that he could easily have dropped intentionally as time ran down.
   25. JE (Jason) Posted: October 16, 2012 at 10:29 AM (#4272303)
Alas, the clock mismanagement was decidedly unclutch.
   26. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:06 AM (#4272336)
I'll grant the extreme cases (Blass, Sax, Ankiel, etc.).
But what the writers never seem to notice is the guys who are totally un-clutch.... until they ARE clutch


I'm not saying a guy can't overcome his mental issues that are hurting his performance; I think he certainly can. Also, there's no reason a guy was was "clutch" in the past (e.g. ARod 2009) can't revert to choking at a later time. Confidence and self-doubt are funny things.
   27. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:15 AM (#4272344)
When did Steve Trout go Blass? I grew up watching the Cubs in the mid-'80s and don't remember it, nor had I heard anything about it until today.

Trout's acquisition by the New York Yankees in a mid-season trade proved to be a disastrous trade for the Yankees. Though his last two starts with the Cubs were complete game shutouts, and his ERA was one of the best in the National League, with the Yankees he proved unable to locate the strike zone. He walked 37 batters and threw 9 wild pitches in 46 innings and lasted an average of only four innings a start in his nine starts Yankee starts.


This is the quote from the Wiki article. Trout lost it literally in mid-season (at age-29), and never got it back.

1987 NYY 46.1 IP, 6.60 ERA, 27 K, 37 BB, 1 HBP, 9 WP
1988 SEA 56.1 IP, 7.83 ERA, 14 K, 31 BB, 5 HBP, 5 WP
1989 SEA 30 IP, 6.60 ERA, 17 K, 17BB
   28. Bitter Mouse Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:27 AM (#4272354)
#15 almost exactly sums up my feelings on the matter.

the narrative of clutch is very powerful though. Narrative is important and one of the reasons we love sports, so I am loath to just dismiss it. No narrative leads to spreadsheets and mom's basement.
   29. dlf Posted: October 16, 2012 at 11:49 AM (#4272379)
Are there types of players that do relatively better against better opponents? For example, does a high BA, low ISO hitter retain more, less or the same amount of value compared to an otherwise equally talented low BA, high ISO? Does a high K/9 pitcher with a similar FIP to one with a lower K/9 do better, worse, or the same against a high scoring offense? Anyone know of any studies on this?
   30. PreservedFish Posted: October 16, 2012 at 12:15 PM (#4272391)
But what the writers never seem to notice is the guys who are totally un-clutch.... until they ARE clutch


You know, if we want to be rigorous here, this doesn't really prove anything. Suppose ARod (for example) is a true talent .300/.400/.500 hitter, but in October his nervousness drops him to a true talent .250/.350/.400 hitter: at that latter level he is still capable of a monstrously dominant and clutch performance in a small sample.

IMO the whole issue revolves around small samples that are literally impossible to accurately define. There will never be definitive evidence on one side of the issue or the other. The only arguments that can hope to approach the matter are unverifiable thought experiments.
   31. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: October 16, 2012 at 12:28 PM (#4272399)

IMO the whole issue revolves around small samples that are literally impossible to accurately define. There will never be definitive evidence on one side of the issue or the other. The only arguments that can hope to approach the matter are unverifiable thought experiments.


It ought to be testable. Take a random sample of early season batting performances by a random group of players with a certain season performance level, then take another random sample of a similar random group of player performances in the post-season. Test to see if the distribution of performances is the same in each case.
   32. Cyril Morong Posted: October 16, 2012 at 02:08 PM (#4272531)
#29

I have a couple of posts that might be related to your question

Do Power Hitters Choke in the Clutch?
http://cybermetric.blogspot.com/2012/06/do-power-hitters-choke-in-clutch.html

and

http://cybermetric.blogspot.com/2010/07/dont-let-your-little-leaguers-grow-up.html

#28

Yes, narrative is very powerful. We may be wired for story. See Johathan Gotshall's great book "The Storytelling Animal."

I wonder if some writers will ever stop writing these kinds of stories. As far as I know, clutch never affects any personnel decisions or in game decisions. Certainly not the way lefty/righty aspects do.
   33. BDC Posted: October 16, 2012 at 02:42 PM (#4272583)
As far as I know, clutch never affects any personnel decisions or in game decisions

It's funny: I was going to remark that it's extremely hard to separate "clutch" from just plain "better" in, say, a pinch-hitting situation; the good hitter is likely to have the clutchier reputation anyway.

The first example that always comes to mind is Kirk Gibson in 1988. But who was Lasorda's other logical pinch-hit option there? Rick Dempsey. And as Agonistes pointed out, if anyone could be said to be a gold-plated World Series clutch icon, it would be Rick Dempsey. So the "clutch is never a factor" factor seems proven by the first available example :)
   34. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: October 16, 2012 at 02:43 PM (#4272585)
So, Joe Niekro: 20 postseason IP (including a 10-inning start), zero runs allowed.
Plus a Game 163 CG in which he gave up just one run, unearned.

Joe Niekro: one of the great clutch performers ever... or not?
   35. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: October 16, 2012 at 06:05 PM (#4272846)
The thing I don't understand about people who claim that there are players who "turn it up a level" in the postseason and elevate their play in those situations is why that's always framed as such a positive thing, and not as, "Why does he only turn it on during the playoffs? If he can play like this, why doesn't he do it all the time, the slacker. He's a professional being paid millions of dollars, he should be playing at the highest level he can all the time."

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