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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

NYBD: Silva: Clutch Performance Does Exist and is Tangible

Can’t get into this now…as I’m working on my funky wiindigookaanzhimowin moves for a secret Wendigo Ceremony I’m attending this afternoon.

Is clutch performance a nice narrative to help newspapers sell, and blogs generate hits with heated debate? If you asked New York Times columnist Paul Sullivan clutch performance not only exists, but can be articulated tangibly.

Sullivan joined me on Sunday night’s podcast to discuss his book “Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t.” In the book he describes clutch performers as possessing more than luck, but “having the ability to do what you can do normally under immense pressure.” There are five traits of a clutch performer: focus, discipline, adaptability, the ability to be fully in the present, and being driven–not thwarted–by fear and desire. Clutch doesn’t just mean hitting the game winning home run, but it could be a hit and run single that puts runners at the corners with none out in the first inning. That event could lead to the starting pitcher unraveling and blowing the game open early. He describes clutch performers as grinders. Individuals that don’t think of the glory that they will get, but rather are just focused on that one task and one moment. Perhaps that is why some of the most unlikely individuals become heroes when the stakes are highest during a short postseason series.

On the flip side a “choker” is unable to accept responsibility and has a tendency to over think and be overconfident in those key situations. We have seen many individuals fall into this category throughout the history of sports, especially in this town.

It appears that Sullivan has taken this very intangible concept and made it tangible outside of the pure numbers of hitting with runners in scoring position, and “late & close.” Perhaps, we finally have tangibly described clutch performance in a way that even the nonbelievers can understand.

Repoz Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:19 PM | 38 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: projections, sabermetrics

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   1. Bourbon Samurai in Asia Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:36 PM (#3816424)
This kind of sounds like "clutch means whatever I feel like it should mean, and I can change what I feel at any time".
   2. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:39 PM (#3816425)
I agree with the headline, clutch performance does exist and it is tangible. Dustin Pedroia got a clutch single in last night's game, that was very tangible.

Now, the ability to elevate one's game in clutch situations over a meaningful sample...that one I'm skeptical of.
   3. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:39 PM (#3816426)
Well, I'm glad this has been solved.
   4. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:42 PM (#3816430)

Now, the ability to elevate one's game in clutch situations over a meaningful sample...that one I'm skeptical of.


Right. Its easy to track "clutch" moments. Its difficult, if not impossible to see it as a repeatable skill that can be predicted, and its probably folly for GMs to try to acquire "clutch" players.

Unless his name is Pat Tabler.
   5. LionoftheSenate (Brewers v A's World Series) Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:49 PM (#3816433)
Clutch thrives in small sample sizes.
   6. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:52 PM (#3816436)
My favorite clutch moment was when Marco Scutaro proved he is more clutch than Mariano Rivera, especially in this town.

edit: Of course, in non-snarky terms, I guess I'm bringing up the question of, in the battle of pitcher vs. hitter, how do you decide who was clutch and who was not clutch. If a reliever is anti-clutch, does the batter get credit for being clutch? Do the Yankee hitters get credit for being clutch when they face Arthur Rhodes in the 9th inning?
   7. Greg K Posted: May 03, 2011 at 01:59 PM (#3816444)
On the flip side a “choker” is unable to accept responsibility and has a tendency to over think and be overconfident in those key situations.

Sweet. I'm usually paralyzed by self-doubt and a lack of confidence in key situations. This means I'm guaranteed success right?

A not especially meaningful observation:
The baseball I've played in my life can only ever at best be loosely described as competitive, but almost exclusively every situation that felt like the pressure of a "clutch" situation was either when I was pitching or fielding. Hitting is such an insular, reactive activity that I almost find it hard to believe that someone could stand in a batters box and have even one spare brain cell to devote to paying attention to the score, or the game situation.

Of course, easy for me to say since I've only ever played infront of a handful of parents at a time.
   8. Ron J Posted: May 03, 2011 at 02:00 PM (#3816446)
OK Mike. I'll repeat the request that I make of anybody who makes this type of assertion. Define what you mean by clutch situations.

To be clear I'm not a straight debunker. I've found players who meet any definition of clutch.
   9. BDC Posted: May 03, 2011 at 02:16 PM (#3816472)
Silva on AROD '09:

After so many failures he finally was able to perform at his normal level during the heightened pressure of the playoffs. Many wondered what had changed.


To me there are only two plausible answers in such cases: (a) nothing at all; and (b) a bunch, but it changes so quickly and randomly that it might as well be (a).

A comparable player to AROD, in terms both of greatness and postseason reputation, was Mike Schmidt. In his first four playoff series, right through the great 1980 NLCS, he hit .191 with no home runs; the Phillies lost three of those series, Schmidt was obviously pressing and uncomfortable. The Philadelphia press made a lot of this, and the fans were impatient with Schmidt.

Whereupon he became MVP of the 1980 World Series. He hit another home run in the 1981 playoffs, and then the Dodgers couldn't get him out in the 1983 NLCS. Something had changed; Schmidt was loose, the demons were off his back.

And then he went one-for-twenty in the 1983 World Series, leading the Phillies to their loss with a choking whimper.

Whatever. It's more likely to me that Schmidt, just like AROD, was substantially the same guy throughout his career. Sometimes he dominated the best competition, and sometimes it dominated him. This tends to happen in sports.
   10. Gotham Dave Posted: May 03, 2011 at 02:27 PM (#3816486)
So, every player in Major League Baseball is clutch? Sounds about right to me.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: May 03, 2011 at 02:32 PM (#3816496)
A comparable player to AROD, in terms both of greatness and postseason reputation, was Mike Schmidt.


Or Bonds. He was ripped for his three postseason series in Pittsburgh. For some reason, I don't recall it being said much by 2003.
   12. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: May 03, 2011 at 02:33 PM (#3816497)
So, every player in Major League Baseball is clutch? Sounds about right to me.

Or, if you're a glass empty kind of guy, they are all chokers.
   13. tfbg9 Posted: May 03, 2011 at 03:13 PM (#3816559)
Define what you mean by clutch situations.


10/20/04, 8:30PM - 11:31PM, EDT

(as Joyce said, the Irish live in the past)
   14. Ron J Posted: May 03, 2011 at 03:27 PM (#3816587)
#11 A better example is Mantle. While he played pretty well in the World Series overall, he hit a combined .130/.216/.217 in 1961-63. (And yes, I'm aware that he was injured in 1961 so that you're talking a 1-6. Feel free to remove that. Won't make the numbers from 1962-63 look any better)
   15. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: May 03, 2011 at 03:59 PM (#3816639)
OK Mike. I'll repeat the request that I make of anybody who makes this type of assertion. Define what you mean by clutch situations.


I'm not Mike, but here's my definition: a "clutch situation" is one that feels significantly more important than the average AB to the hitter. So, not "RISP, close and late" or anything that can be conveniently measured.

However, these situations do exist, and I believe hitters experience physical effects from them, deriving from the increased adrenaline, dry mouth, etc. A "clutch hitter" is one that can handle those physical effects well and direct them toward a positive result. A "choker" is one that handles them poorly and gets a negative result.

Now, it's possible, as some claim, that every MLB at-bat is equally important in the eyes of the players and consequently no one feels added pressure in specific situations. I don't believe it myself, but maybe it's true. If so, fine. But note that I'm not talking about "trying harder when the game is on the line"; I'm just talking about players who have better coping mechanisms in certain situations.

Also, even if this could be measured (maybe "potential WPA swing" could come close to measuring how important a game situation felt to the players?) I don't think it's particularly important in measuring a player's value. By definition, this kind of "clutch performance" comes up far less than the "average AB".
   16. James Kannengieser Posted: May 03, 2011 at 04:37 PM (#3816674)
Usually inclusion of the word "tangible" in a headline means there will be some tangible evidence in the post. Color me unsurprised.

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-color-of-clutch
   17. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 03, 2011 at 04:38 PM (#3816675)
There are five traits of a clutch performer: focus, discipline, adaptability, the ability to be fully in the present, and being driven–not thwarted–by fear and desire...He describes clutch performers as grinders. Individuals that don’t think of the glory that they will get, but rather are just focused on that one task and one moment.


OK, so he was able to concretely identify a group of Major League players who have these traits, measure them and correlate them with relevant performance "in the clutch" (i.e. make it tangible)...how, exactly? "Grindiness index?" "Net(Driven-ThwartedBy)?"
   18. Sean Forman Posted: May 03, 2011 at 05:06 PM (#3816702)
maybe "potential WPA swing" could come close to measuring how important a game situation felt to the players?


This is called Leverage Index and Baseball-Reference.com has splits by low, normal, and high leverage for every major leaguer since 1950, so knock yourself out.
   19. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 03, 2011 at 05:22 PM (#3816724)
I'm not Mike, but here's my definition: a "clutch situation" is one that feels significantly more important than the average AB to the hitter. So, not "RISP, close and late" or anything that can be conveniently measured.


That's not a bad definition at all. The problem is that if you can't measure it, then you cannot conclusively say some players succeed in the clutch and others do not.

FTFA

Often, the statistically inclined cite “small sample size” to excuse the poor performance of a player in key spots. Alex Rodriguez was the center of this debate for many years as he struggled in the postseason from 2005 to 2007


And sometimes the statistically inclined cite "random selections of data." Silva is right though, if you completely ignore the 26 games Rodriguez played in the post-season before 2005 then yes, he was a poor post-season player.
   20. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: May 03, 2011 at 05:31 PM (#3816733)
This is called Leverage Index and Baseball-Reference.com has splits by low, normal, and high leverage for every major leaguer since 1950, so knock yourself out.


Right, right. Leverage Index. I knew about that, honest! I shall probably not be knocking myself out, though. I shall content myself with theoretical discussions.
   21. bunyon Posted: May 03, 2011 at 05:36 PM (#3816739)
It's often said that all MLB players are clutch in that they have performed well, at some point, with a lot of pressure on them personally. They had to make teams, get noticed by scouts, etc. A regular season American Legion game in late June probably wouldn't normally be described as a pressure situation. But, tell the 17-year old starting pitcher that scouts from the Yankees, Braves and Giants will be in the stands and try to measure the butterfly flips in his belly. A MLB personality throws a two hit shutout while a guy with a good arm but choking tendencies walks ten and gives up 8 runs in 5 slow innings.

However, even at the MLB level, I am willing to believe some players respond to pressure better than others. The trouble is it won't be the same magnitude of difference as it is on teenage ballfields. The difference will be small enough that differences in talent and, dare I say it, luck are equally important and any "clutch" tendencies gets lost in the noise.


At the end of the day, the best way to be thought of as clutch at the big league level is to have a singular moment or an unbelievably hot postseason series early in your career and then never get near such a situation again.
   22. Tricky Dick Posted: May 03, 2011 at 05:41 PM (#3816751)
I don't mind that someone theorizes on the reasons that players are clutch or chokers. The degree of persuasiveness will depend on the reader. However, I do object to using the word "tangible." I don't see anything in that passage which makes the concept tangible. I would expect evidence quantifying or proving the concept in order to call it tangible. The kind of subjective observations and reasoning in this article are a perfect example of ascribing intangible characteristics to players.
   23. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: May 03, 2011 at 05:48 PM (#3816758)
The problem is that if you can't measure it, then you cannot conclusively say some players succeed in the clutch and others do not.


Oh, I'm fine with that. I've successfully convinced myself of the following things:

1) "Clutch ability" exists
2) It's not worth measuring

Everybody wins!
   24. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 03, 2011 at 05:55 PM (#3816766)
Just clicked through and the book appears to be a business book, not a baseball book. The onus then falls on Silva to demonstrate why it is relevant to a baseball audience.

The website for the book notes that one of the people "you'll meet" while reading the book is "A rookie baseball player who pitched his team into its first World Series."

What are the choices there?

John Lackey
David Price
Neftali Feliz
Livan Hernandez
   25. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:05 PM (#3816774)
Madison Bumgarner?

edit: I too clicked on the lick and if I may add a couple of observations...

1. The book looks douche-tastic but I have little patience for books of that type so it's not exactly in my wheel house
2. The one comment on the article is classic Mets fan (of a certain type)
   26. BDC Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:09 PM (#3816776)
"A rookie baseball player who pitched his team into its first World Series"

Duster Mails!
   27. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:17 PM (#3816781)
Madison Bumgarner?


Even if you expand "first World Series" to mean "first World Series win" that takes some liberties with Giant history.
   28. Dale Sams Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:24 PM (#3816788)
Does the 'contract year myth' exist? Wouldn't that be a clutch situation?
   29. Joe OBrien Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:24 PM (#3816790)
I can't find it, but Jeff Kent had a great quote about pressure in MLB. Around September, a reporter asked him if he was going to step up his game for the stretch drive. Kent informed him in colorful terms that he was already trying his hardest.

To me, that's the problem with clutch in baseball. Sure, sometimes guys cruise, and some head cases rarely give full effort. But for the majority of players, they're between 95% and 100% effort almost always. You just can't improve much if you're always trying hard.
   30. SoSH U at work Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:26 PM (#3816796)
Even if you expand "first World Series" to mean "first World Series win" that takes some liberties with Giant history.


But it does open the door for a Marty Bystrom sighting.
   31. cardsfanboy Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:37 PM (#3816810)
I always think of Yogi Berra as the argument against clutch vs large sample size type of player. His world series numbers over his career is quite good, but his first five world series(a little over 100 plate appearances) he was not even a decent player, then he has a string of great or good or average and even one bad world series to bring his post season numbers up to his career norm, meanwhile he builds and cements a reputation as a clutch performer partially based upon those performances.
   32. Go-Kart Mozart Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:37 PM (#3816811)
edit: Of course, in non-snarky terms, I guess I'm bringing up the question of, in the battle of pitcher vs. hitter, how do you decide who was clutch and who was not clutch. If a reliever is anti-clutch, does the batter get credit for being clutch? Do the Yankee hitters get credit for being clutch when they face Arthur Rhodes in the 9th inning?


if you roll a 1-3 on the indicator die, then the hitter was clutch. if you roll 4-6 on the indicator die, the pitcher was anti-clutch. see? simple!
   33. Swedish Chef Posted: May 03, 2011 at 06:57 PM (#3816828)
Does the 'contract year myth' exist? Wouldn't that be a clutch situation?

I don't know about baseball, but in soccer there certainly are players that temporarily stays off the models and the vodka and starts to give a #### when when new contract time is approaching.
   34. dr. scott Posted: May 03, 2011 at 11:34 PM (#3817146)
29 mentions what always bugs me. If a clutch hitter is someone who steps up his game in pressure situations, I would call that person lazy and unfocused for not being that good the majority of the time. I mean if you have the ability to step it up, don't turn it off!

I only say this slightly tongue and cheek, as I consider this one of my problems. i tend to only perform very well in my job when I'm very interested and engaged and there are pressure situations with high payoffs... otherwise I surf the net.
   35. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: May 03, 2011 at 11:36 PM (#3817150)
Is clutch performance a nice narrative to help newspapers sell[?]

Nope. Nothing can make newspapers sell anymore.
   36. PepTech Posted: May 03, 2011 at 11:48 PM (#3817178)
My Subaru needs a new clutch. Its performance blows.
   37. Walt Davis Posted: May 04, 2011 at 03:16 AM (#3817489)
Sweet. I'm usually paralyzed by self-doubt and a lack of confidence in key situations. This means I'm guaranteed success right?

In one of those silly psych tests for managers I was:

a) overly confident and sure of my answer in stressful situations

and

b) unable to make a decision in stressful situations
   38. Walt Davis Posted: May 04, 2011 at 03:37 AM (#3817504)
The other aspect that often gets overlooked by the pro-clutch argument ... just as an example:

Jeter has a career 834 OPS. Let's suppose he's 5% better in the clutch. So he's about a 875 OPS.

AROD has a career 958 OPS. Let's suppose he's 5% worse in the clutch. So he's about a 910 OPS.

Which of these two players do you want up in a clutch situation, the clutch one with the 875 OPS or the non-clutch one with the 910 OPS? (Yes, yes, it depends on the context, whether you need a single or a HR, etc.)

Clutch relative to one's normal performance level might be an interesting psychological phenomenon but it doesn't tell you squat about who's going to perform best in critical situations. Trust me, I might be the clutchiest bastard on the planet but, if you're playing a baseball game you, depressingly, would rather have Aaron Miles out there than me.

A similar aspect is that, in the above scenario, boy does AROD kick Jeter's ass in the non-clutch situations. Performance by (some of) a team in the non-clutch situations is what creates the clutch situation to begin with. Some days, without AROD's 3-run HR, the Yanks are down 4-0 instead of 4-3 and Jeter never gets to drive in the "clutch" run. So, again, if your organization's goal is to win ballgames, you might prefer the great unclutch guy to the good clutch one.

And not to pick on Jeter but, y'know there he is, one can also easily imagine the scenario where he doesn't get to a ground ball in top of the 9th (due to lack of talent or due to choking), leading to the tying run (and the reliever being "non-clutch") then "winning" the game in the bottom of the 9th.

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