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Thursday, July 03, 2014

McDonald: Jonathan Lucroy talks clutch hitting

Hyper-focus? Hell, who didn’t think Thijs van Leer wasn’t on something?

Lucroy’s stand-out year doesn’t end there. Looking closer, in high-leverage situations—those times when one swing of the bat can change the game—Lucroy is batting .406 in 79 plate appearances.

“I’ve been told by a psychologist before that I have the ability to hyper-focus,” Lucroy said before a recent game in St. Louis. “For some reason I enjoy those situations.”

Talk about clutch hitting not being a skill all you want, but the bottom line is the first-place Brewers are coming through when the game is on the line. Lucroy is a big part of this. He has 23 hits in high-leverage moments, third-most in MLB.

Lucroy said hitting for a high average in a clutch situation is not luck. He also thinks, despite conventional wisdom that clutch hitters do not exist, that there are guys who can be defined as clutch hitters.

“Guys get mad because you can’t quantify that,” Lucroy said. “[Stats people] can’t put a number on that. But I think within the human brain you have an ability to go, ‘OK, I’ve got to get locked in here.’ I just can’t go up there and go, ‘I’m going to do whatever.’ [You have] to lock in and do this. That’s hyper-focused.”

His approach in high-leverage situations, then, comes down to his mental ability, not mechanics or muscle memory. “This game is really more mental than anything,” Lucroy said. “It’s amazing how mental this game can get.”

Repoz Posted: July 03, 2014 at 08:58 AM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: brewers

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   1. Just drawing conclusions on the wall Posted: July 03, 2014 at 10:38 AM (#4742555)
Sounds to me like he should be a pinch hitter since he does not care enough to focus most of the time.
   2. adenzeno Posted: July 03, 2014 at 10:39 AM (#4742558)
A quick check of his lifetime/year by year stats in high leverage situations will quickly prove or disprove his thoughts on this...
   3. Ron J2 Posted: July 03, 2014 at 11:00 AM (#4742577)
#2 Or we could look at the articles from last year about the Cardinals clutch hitting prowess. And look at how they're doing this year.
   4. valuearbitrageur Posted: July 03, 2014 at 11:44 AM (#4742617)
I've been told by a psychologist that he could see my aura.

Then he prescribed drugs.
   5. Moeball Posted: July 03, 2014 at 12:43 PM (#4742677)
Hocus Pocus! Now you're a clutch hitter!

If only someone could work that kind of magic on my Padres...
   6. Stormy JE Posted: July 03, 2014 at 12:56 PM (#4742693)
He also thinks, despite conventional wisdom that clutch hitters do not exist,

Hang on: When did the CW adopt sabermetric thinking on clutch hitting?
   7. f_cking sick and tired of being 57i66135 Posted: July 03, 2014 at 01:05 PM (#4742707)
I've been told by a psychologist that he could see my aura.

Then he prescribed drugs.
you need a prescription for soap now? #thanksobama
   8. TJ Posted: July 03, 2014 at 01:22 PM (#4742723)
Lucroy and high leverage (from Fangraphs)

2010- BA: .253 (Hi Lev Sits: .167. Slug. Pct. .329 (HLS: .208)
2011- BA .265 (HLS: .263), Slug. .391 (HLS: .263)
2012- BA .320 (HLS: .226), Slug .513 (HLS: .387)
2013- BA .280 (HLS: .269), Slug. .455 (HLS: .418)
2014- BA .331 (HLS: .382), Slug .511 (HLS: .618)

Now Fangraphs only has Lucroy with 41 high-leverage plate appearances, so these are obviously two different sources of data. But in 2013 Lucroy had 76 high-leverage PA's according to Fangraphs,and he clearly underperformed his seasonal averages in those 76 PA's. As I A) totally believe in anything any MLB player says, and B) have been convinced by Murray Chass that any sort of analytics is baseball heresy, I can only assume that Lucroy spoke with that psychologist at some point between the 2013 and 2014 season...
   9. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 03, 2014 at 01:43 PM (#4742740)
Sounds to me like he should be a pinch hitter since he does not care enough to focus most of the time.

This is a common refrain, but I think it's wrong. It's probably not the case that Lucroy focuses at some (high-pressure) times and not at others; it's more likely that he has an ability to retain his focus when the stakes are highest. I've argued before that clutch performance isn't elevating your game under pressure, but not losing it under pressure; it's not necessarily being better, but being less worse than the other guy - and that what we should be studying is not players who improve in high-leverage situations relative to how they perform otherwise, but how their performance changes in those situations relative to how the performance of similar hitters changes.

-- MWE
   10. McCoy Posted: July 03, 2014 at 02:29 PM (#4742767)
When we're talking about 70 odd PA a year I sure would like to know who he faced to get those numbers. There is facing Mariano in a high pressure situation and then there is facing Sturtze in a high pressure situation.
   11. Walt Davis Posted: July 03, 2014 at 06:00 PM (#4742879)
and that what we should be studying is not players who improve in high-leverage situations relative to how they perform otherwise, but how their performance changes in those situations relative to how the performance of similar hitters changes.

tomato-tomahto really but regardless this effort might be aided if the writers would stop focusing on guy like LuCroy who are hitting 406 in "clutch" situations. If they wrote about the uber-clutch guy hitting only .005 worse in clutch situations as some sort of clutch god then we'd make fun of that instead but until such time, we'll be content making fun of stuff like this.

The main analytical problem is defining "clutch" which nobody can agree on. But AL 2014:

254/320/396 overall
250/312/392 nobody on
252/339/390 RISP
260/330/402 men on
302/361/451 on 3rd < 2 outs (SF added back in as ABs)
219/325/359 on 3rd, 2 outs
220/318/339 RISP, 2 outs
244/322/369 late and close
250/319/392 tie game
265/325/389 high leverage

So the only evidence that the typical batter does worse in "clutch" situations are the 2 out situations (when pitchers are also handing out lots of unintentional intentional walks) and "late and close."

Of course in "late and close" situations these days, you're almost always facing a one-inning reliever. The average AL 2014 reliever is giving up a line of 244/319/376 ... little different than 244/322/369 for batters "late and close".

The average line with 2 outs, regardless of base/score situation, is 235/315/367. Assuming the extra walks are semi-discretionary strategic walks, batters on average do perform worse with men on base and 2 outs, especially RISP, 2 out. I'm not sure that's still not more pitcher strategy (if there's a base open, they'd rather walk them than give them a good pitch to hit) than batter ineptitude.

So that seems to leave us with the 2 outs situations as "clutch" scenarios where typical performance declines. (Of course for all we know the differential was 5 runs at the time.) For his career, LuCroy has indeed hit well in these situations -- 330/408/496 in 130 PA with 3rd, 2 out and 305/385/469 in 270 PA with RISP 2 out.
   12. Mike Emeigh Posted: July 03, 2014 at 07:44 PM (#4742947)
The main analytical problem is defining "clutch" which nobody can agree on.

I think we should use LI as a proxy for clutch, because that gets us into situations where we're actually comparing things that are pretty much alike in terms of game impact.

I usually break down situations like this:

LI < 0.5
LI between 0.5 and 0.74
LI between 0.75 and 0.99
LI between 1.0 and 1.24
LI between 1.25 and 1.49
LI between 1.5 and 1.74
LI between 1.75 and 1.99
LI >= 2.0

I think you have to look at similar hitters rather than looking at how "the league" does, largely because opportunities to hit in clutch situations aren't evenly distributed.

-- MWE
   13. Walt Davis Posted: July 04, 2014 at 03:09 AM (#4743118)
Don't know why you'd want such a detailed breakdown. B-R defines "low" as .7 or lower and says that's about 40% of plays. .7 to 1.5 is mid and that's another 40%. 1.5 and above therefore is about 20% and I assume that gets smaller as it goes up. LI >= 2 might be as few as 2% of PAs.

Lucroy's career aLI is 1.01 so pretty much dead-on league average. Doesn't mean he's not facing more high LI situations but if he is, they're being precisely balanced by having more low ones. The range so far this year (qualified batters) is .81 to 1.27 (AJ). The highest for any player of 2000-14 with at least 3000 PA is Ryan Ludwick at 1.08. Ludwick, Doumit and Hawpe are 3 of the top 4 so I'm not sure it's clustering around mediocre hitters providing "protection." Mike Piazza is #2 though. Howard is at 1.05, Ortiz at 1.006. 26 players with 3000 PA and a aLI of 1.05 or higher, 2000-2014.

In short, I'd like to see evidence that opportunities to hit in clutch situations aren't evenly distributed, especially after you control for walks. Of course top hitters are often pitched around in high leverage situations, probably why guys like Ludwick, Doumit and Hawpe have high aLIs. Since LI kinda automatically is more common when men are on base, batting behind higher OBPs should offer more LI opportunities and those fall mainly to above-average hitters (like Ludwick, Doumit and Hawpe), leading to a higher expected OPS. But then I'd assume the batters in such situations are much less likely to have the platoon advantage, leading to a lower expected OPS. I'd be surprised if we're talking more than ephemera.

In the end, it almost simply can't matter. You're spinning wheels over 20% of a player's PAs and you won't have enough data for any reliability until the guy is 10-15 years into his career at which point his overall skills are diminishing and so probably is his Super Focus (TM).
   14. Ron J2 Posted: July 04, 2014 at 09:40 AM (#4743143)
#13 Paul Molitor stayed clutch (by the BA with RISP definition at any rate) to the very end.

My objection to any focus on clutch is not that clutch players don't exist. Every time I've checked for any given definition I've found a couple of players who qualify.

My primary objection (as you allude to) is that there simply aren't enough runs at stake. Over the last 15 years of his career, Paul Molitor hit 31 points higher with RISP than overall. Best I can tell that was worth 29 runs. Now 29 runs matter of course, but Molitor is very much an outlier. And if the impact of the outlier is 2 runs a year, it's just not all that important.

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