Clutch game thread: April 28, Cards at Braves

Thought of the day:

I do not believe that athletes are better people than us, I do not believe that athletic contests are tests of character, and I do not believe that there is any such thing as an ability to perform in clutch situations. It’s just a lot of poppycock.

Baseball men often like to attribute the success or failure of a team to clutch performances. Those of us who study baseball systematically know that this is largely untrue, that the number or runs a team scores is a predictable outcome of their hits, their walks, their home runs, and their other offensive accomplishments — and further, that the number of games the team wins is largely a predictable outcome of their runs scored and runs allowed. Clutch performance can increase or decrease a team’s wins, but clutch successes and failures generally even out over the course of a season, leaving most teams with about the won-lost record they deserve.

— Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: Free Press, 2001. 349.

209 thoughts on “Clutch game thread: April 28, Cards at Braves”

  1. Now see, as always, Bill James states it in a much more reasonable way. His fans turn that comment into “clutch doesn’t exist,” when that isn’t what he is saying at all.

    I’d agree that over time, especially when looking at an entire team over an entire season, these things will generally even out. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who tend to perform better in high pressure situations (he says that there aren’t, but then goes on to address a completely different argument.) Again, closers are the perfect example.

  2. @3: Haha, that has to be the funniest thing I’ve read in here in a while. Definitely failed in the clutch there Stu. You’re clearly not the David Ortiz of blog commenting.

    With that, I think I’ve avoided the rain enough for one afternoon…

  3. The thing is, the Braves don’t always even out “in the clutch.” You don’t go 11-30 in one-run games or underperform your Pythagorean expectation by 7 wins — as we did last year — without having some serious fingers on the scale.

  4. I have been persuaded by Mr. James that ‘clutch’ doesn’t exsist. However, is there an anti-clutch? In other words does choking exist, and is A-Rod the poster boy?

  5. Gadfly,

    I’m not arguing against the idea of clutch in general–maybe it exists especially for something like pitching or making putts where you can to a greater degree control the results of your action. But hitting is different–you can do everything right, be as cool as a cucumber and still fail if the pitcher executes. I’m sure some people perform better under pressure than others, but major league baseball players have already had to perform under enormous pressure just to reach the big leagues. And, in baseball, for one player to succeed, another has to fail, but both may be performing equally as well. Hitting is arbitrary in a sense anyway since hitters make outs far more than they reach base. The point is, if you are saying someone is a clutch hitter based on the results of certain at bats, how do you know that the result comes from the hitter’s skill or the pitcher’s mistake. If a guy hits a hanging curve for a home run to win the game, is that clutch hitting or choke pitching?

  6. Whether you believe in ‘clutch’ or not, you have to believe in a player’s mentality. Some ball players just have the right mindset for hitting in high-pressure situations and are relaxed. Others may be more nervous or even over-anxious to succeed, which would affect performance. Chipper can perform in high-leverage situations b/c he can stay calm and within himself. Others (i.e. the rest of this god foresaken team) just try to do too much (maybe over-anxious). But either way it results in what many think of as ‘clutch’. In reality, it just boils down to individual personalities.

  7. Chipper has an ability to perform in the clutch because he has an ability to perform, period.

    Career OPS – 955
    2Out w/RISP – 901
    Late & Close – 930
    Score Tied – 913

    IOW, yes, Chipper is somebody you want at the plate in a clutch situation. But it’s because he can freaking hit, not because he raises his level of play.

  8. I agree with Gadfly. I haven’t read the book, but James doesn’t explain here what he means by an “ability” to perform in clutch situations. Does he mean that teams as a whole generally cannot (validly) be characterized as clutch performing? What about individual players? If he means the latter, then I don’t see how a team W-L record supports or refutes his argument.

    More fundamentally, there seems to me to be a disconnect in arguing that RS and RA can accurately predict W-L records and, therefore, that success or failure is not due to clutch performances. Clutch performances result in superior RS and RA — definitionally so — and so are correlated with W-L records. James would argue that they are so closely (statistically significant) correlated that seasonal W-L records can be accurately predicted using RS and RA.

  9. Here’s a simple test — if you believe there are such things as clutch players, name one. If this ability exists, then surely somebody is famous for a career of raising his level of play in high pressure situations. So who is it?

  10. Underestimating the Fog.

    Not to put words in James’ mouth, but I think what he would argue is that there is no evidence that clutch performance is an “ability” — that some players perform better than expected in certain situations — but there is enough “noise” in the data that you can’t say, for certain, that there is no such ability. It is, of course, very hard to prove a negative.

  11. I’m comfortable with using the term “clutch” for players who perform well in the biggest games (i.e.—post-season).

    Whether it’s them far exceeding their career numbers or equaling already impressive career numbers, it works for me.

    It’s not that complicated.

  12. 15–I discount the clutch business–or more accurately think (a la 16 that there is too much noise)–but players often cited are Reggie, Jeter, and Schilling

    I tend to think these are just good players not particularly clutch ones.

  13. Does make one wonder if there is such a thing as unclutch baserunning? Or would that be non-clutch?

  14. Here’s the best write-up of the New And Improved Francoeur I’ve seen:

    “As Steven Goldman observed, the “new” Francoeur’s walk rate doesn’t mark him as a vastly different animal from the one who took a brief refresher course on the joys of Jackson, Mississippi, home of the Braves’ Double-A affiliate, last July. The Braves’ fourth-place finish saved the homegrown hacker from an appearance on last year’s list, but the team’s off-season rearmaments may have given him a better shot at cracking this year’s edition, even though he’s unlikely to plumb the depths to which he (and his BABIP) descended in 2008. Standard small-sample disclaimers apply, but Francoeur’s actually swinging at fewer pitches than he has at any point in his major league career, with most of the difference coming from a newfound tendency to lay off of balls outside the strike zone (and to strike them with greater frequency when he does commit). Despite the improvements, he still comes in well above the league rates in both categories, hardly a surprise given his former status as the personification of impatience.

    Francoeur has been hitting more balls in the air in 2009, which should translate to an increased incidence of extra-base hits. If he can maintain his career-high contact rate and career-low strikeout rate, he has a shot at a league-average OBP. Unfortunately, “league average” constitutes a problematically low ceiling for a corner outfielder, but unless Francoeur learns to stops swinging and love the walk (an increasingly remote prospect), he’ll continue to bump against it, with fluctuations in batting average determining how much headroom he has to spare.”
    – Ben Lindbergh

  15. @13 – Or someone who believes in this sort of thing could simply argue that Chipper isn’t a clutch hitter. Pujols:


    Career 1.050
    2 outs/RISP 1.167
    Late & Close 1.050

    His OBP with 2 outs/RISP is over 80 points higher than career (.510 compared to .426)! Great eye, no holes in his swing, and he cuts it down just to drive in the run.

  16. I would take a league-average OBP from Francoeur if he puts up a slugging percentage well above the league. Unfortunately, his OBP of .304 is 43 points below the league, and his slugging percentage of .440 only ten points above…

  17. #19

    Reggie — was certainly successful on the biggest stage several times, but was also unsuccessful several times. In 17 postseason series, he exceeded his normal production 9 times, and failed to reach it 8 times. IOW, any prediction prior to a postseason series that Reggie would shine had just as much chance of being wrong as right. His performance in high-leverage situations during the regular season was practically identical to all situations.

    Jeter — career regular season OPS, 845. Postseason, 846.

    Schilling — can’t argue with his postseason success, although his “clutch situation” performance in the regular season is in line with his overall numbers. I’m actually something of a believer in clutch pitchers, as they are the initiators of the action. Probably should have mentioned that.

    “His OBP with 2 outs/RISP is over 80 points higher than career (.510 compared to .426)! Great eye, no holes in his swing, and he cuts it down just to drive in the run.”

    Well yeah, that could have something to do with the 80 IBBs in 592 PAs in those situations.

  18. Pujols’ SLG% is also 32 points higher w/ 2 out/RISP (.657 compared to .625 career). Does that mean he’s getting those special 2-base IBB?

  19. 32 points of slugging (an extra base once every 30 ABs—fixed, thanks, sansho) doesn’t strike me as a huge difference in a not-huge sample size. Am I wrong about that?

  20. His SLG is also lower in late & close situations and in tie games. See, that’s the point — if he’s clutch, there should be no doubt.


    Actually, that’s one base every 30 ABs.

  21. I realize it’s annoying when people say “First!” when they lead off a thread, but why is Stu being ridiculed for lack of clutchness?

  22. Pitchers don’t have standard clutch statistics, but I decided to look at John Smoltz given his reputation as a post-season clutch performer. Remarkable, given that post-season performance is (of course) against the top performing teams each season. I think the reputation is well deserved.


    ERA 3.26
    W-L% .588
    WHIP 1.170
    SO/9 8.0


    ERA 2.65
    W-L% .789
    WHIP 1.135
    SO/9 8.4

  23. @32 – If you say so…it was the first post I read this thread.

    Plus, an unsuccessful leadoff attempt is only unclutch if it happens late. It’s not like two consecutive whiffs to end it a la the previous thread.

  24. In a nutshell, I just happen to think that hitting, being as reactive as it is, doesn’t really lend itself to clutchiness. Pitching might be another matter — the pitcher knows what he’s about to try to do, and it’s up to him to do it. He’s the stimulus, not the response.

    “@32 – If you say so…it was the first post I read this thread.”

    Now THAT’s funny stuff!

  25. Catz, he’s not and thats a good question. We are trying to buy about 4 weeks out of Reyes before they call up Hanson. Hopefully we’ll still be at .500 by then

  26. @27, 28 et al. — I think the point I’m trying to make is that players like Pujols (and Chipper for that matter) are rightly considered clutch players because they perform at as good or better levels when the opposing team is doing everything it can to get them out. Someone silly might be tempted to say that opposing teams are always trying their best to get every player out, but that’s not the case of course — starters having to go at least 6-7 innings, specialized relief, specialized defenses, etc.

  27. @38 — BS. Most hitters say they study pitchers and have a plan for every AB. The best hitters know what the pitcher is likely to do (or fail to do) before the pitcher does. And pitchers aren’t robots — skillfully executing their plans to pre-programmed perfection.

  28. Like sansho says, the guys we tend to think of most often as clutch are the guys who have had a whole lot of opportunities to do so. Dave Justice had a lot of wonderful moments — and 63 playoff RBI is a whole hell of a lot — but he had so damn many at bats that his overall playoff BA is .224. Cap’n Jetes and Papi have had a lot of incredible moments in October, but they’ve also had approximately a billion playoff at-bats.

    On the other hand, Mariano Rivera seems to be demonstrably clutch. How the hell else could he have a sub-1 ERA in more than 100 innings against the best teams in baseball?

  29. @41 – I say BS to that. You can’t plan for situations. You don’t know what it is going to be like with the bases loaded and you’re down a run in the 9th. You don’t know how you are going to react. These are human beings, not robots (as you so eloquently put it). Some people know how to react in those situations, and others don’t.

  30. “@32 – If you say so…it was the first post I read this thread.”

    Now THAT’s funny stuff!


  31. When you say it like that…”some people know how to react” in those situations, it makes it impossible to agree. If clutch was about knowing how to react, it would be a skill and not a quality or attribute.

    Unclutch players know they shouldn’t strike out with the bases loaded, they just do it anyway. Just like how everyone responds when Gadfly posts. Am I to say that you are all therefore unclutch because you don’t know how to act in that situation?

  32. I have already said that I don’t consider it ‘clutch’. I said I believe people handle those situations differently depending on who they are. Are they going up there thinking “I don’t want to be the one to screw this opportunity up” or are they going up there “I want this opportunity because I know I can deliver”. Those two mindsets can be the difference between succeeding and failing in those tight situations.

  33. #42: Of course, one reaction would be to say that, since you have no idea what things will look like when you’re down to your last out in the 9th, you might as well try to score as many runs as you possibly can with your other 26 outs: hence, don’t do things like trying to bunt, make productive outs, or otherwise play for 1 run rather than for a big inning.

  34. No hitter can know the intended pitch, location, and velocity before the pitcher does, unless the pitcher is Kyle Farnsworth.

  35. No pitcher knows the pitch, location, and velocity either. Especially if you’re Niekro or Wakefield.

  36. They know the intended pitch, location, and velocity, which is what Sansho said.

    “Vision — you can’t play ball without it,” manager Bobby Cox said.

  37. I was able to read Sansho’s post — my point though, echoing my earlier post, is that hitters don’t hit intentions. At least good ones don’t anyway.

  38. A more recent Bill James article on Clutch hitting. By the way, we had a heck of a debate on this issue over at the AJC blog today:

    “A reader tells me that I have taken so many positions on the issue of clutch hitting that he has given up hope of following me. Well, for the sake of clarity, I have had only two positions on this issue. First, in following the lead of other researchers, I thought that there was no such thing as an ability to hit in clutch situations. Second, thinking more about the issue, I decided that we had jumped the gun in reaching that conclusion—thereby introducing bias into our research–and that we should haved waited and studied the issue more carefully.

    Whether any hitter has an ability to hit in clutch situations is a debatable issue on which I have no position. In any season, however, it is clear that some players come through more often in clutch situations, if only because of luck.”

    I’m still waiting for ONE scientific study that suggests that clutch hitting is a repeatable skill, that is, hitters possess an ability to preform better in pressure situations. Until then, I have no opinion.

  39. A quote from the Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus: “Producing wins at the plate is about 70 percent a matter of overall hitting ability, 27 percent dumb luck, and perhaps 3 percent clutch skill. It’s your choice what you do with that 3 percent.” Another quote: “Regressing clutch ratings in even seasons against clutch ratings in odd seasons results in an R-squared of .10. Simply put, it suggests that 10 percent of clutch-hitting performance can be explained by skill, with the remaining 90 percent a matter of luck. That’s a much higher skill quotient than other studies have identified. But to paraphrase Bill James, the observation that clutch-hitting performance is random is more true than false.”

  40. lineup per DOB

    1. Omar Infante, 2B
    2. Escobar, SS
    3. Chipper, 3B
    4. Kotchman, 1B
    5. Francoeur, RF
    6. Diaz, LF
    7. Schafer, CF
    8. Ross, C
    9. Reyes, LH

  41. ‘Clutch’ hitting is kind of a misnomer.

    Hitters that take a good approach to the plate, swing at good pitches and GET PITCHES to hit, tend to execute in ANY situation. Executing is not just getting a hit, it is also making an out that moves runners over or in.

    A personal example: I get frustrated with Chipper because IMO he doesn’t come through in the ‘cluth’. That said, he had NO PROTECTION. He is having to go after pitcher’s pitches or walk in many situations. After reading this discussion and WATCHING games, I am beginning to change my opinion. (He still could be better.)

    Those facts, I feel, tend to support 55 and 56 as far as percentages. If a pitcher makes his pitch he usually has a high percentage of success on a given day.

    That said, percentages and stats are one thing, but there is still something to be said for WATCHING the games. As a fan, we know who we feel like will come through and who will not come through.

    Colin Cowheard (and I hate the guy) made a point one day, he said “I don’t need stats to know Derek Jeter is a gamer, I can SEE that”. There is some truth in that. Stats and fielding/hitting zones are useful tools, but eyeballs still have a place in the game.

    Watch the game tonight, especially late if the braves are behind 1 or 2 runs late. Notice the what the braves take and what they swing at. See if they have good approaches tonight. If they succeed I bet they lay off the junk and drive the hittable stuff, or they will execute and get a bunt down or ground ball to the right.

    However, after watching this same core group for 2-3 years, I bet they will swing at stuff diving away from them or up in their eyes. They will hit the ball in the air too much and make unproductive outs.

  42. #18
    I can’t totally agree, Sansho.

    There are plenty of “good” players like who don’t come through in the post-season. Does it matter what we call them?

    As for the “good” ones who have done it for, let’s say, more than one PS series—Rivera, Rose, Smoltz, Jeter, Koufax, Molitor, Bob Gibson, Brock, Schilling, etc.—I have no problem bestowing them with glittery classifications—clutch, special, bad-ass, king of the ultra-pressurized small sample size, whatever.

    I’m not going to attempt to explain it with, “Well, that’s what they do.” For those situations, IMO, they deserve more credit than that.

  43. Part of the problem of determining clutch is simply defining it. Situations other than late and close can be clutch; consider the AB by Kotchman and Reyes.

  44. 68–I guess the critics are no longer silenced–nor should they be since Frenchy’s ops is now around .740

    JoJo will probably collapse but I thought he was unlucky giving up the run the first. The hbp was cheap and the grounder deflected by chipper might not have scored Rasmus.

  45. so we have four 1B showing good numbers with small samples in our system

    Barbaro (who must love AAA by now)
    Greg Creek in Mississippi (never heard of him)
    Gerardo Rodriguez in Rome (5hr in 70AB)
    Freddy Freeman in Mrytle Beach

  46. sit him. do something. he doesn’t understand.

    we all loved it back when he’d take 2 bases on a walk… but we knew this kind of recklessness comes with it.

  47. What is up with Escobar? That’s at least three stupid outs on the bases already this year.

  48. Dr. James does arms–anyone know a doc that Esco can see to get his head out of his a$$?

  49. Kotchman hit another weak grounder with men on base, looked like a regular DP ball, but maybe it was too slow. Anyways, Pujols fielded it and lollipopped a backhand to Greene at second, way too slow to turn the DP. Escobar was running home since he assumed the throw was going to go to first. Greene threw home and they got Escobar going back to third.

  50. “Casey Kotchman grounds into double play, first baseman Albert Pujols to shortstop Khalil Greene to catcher Yadier Molina to third baseman Brian Barton. Yunel Escobar out at third, Chipper Jones out at second. Three out.”

    Edit: Oh, I see.

  51. Yeah, that’s better. The “Prado” can go back to its original meaning.

    BTW, reason #425309745092 to hate Chip Caray. Given a half-inning to come up with an answer to “what park did Ernie Johnson, Sr. make his major league debut in 59 years ago”, he comes up with Jarry Park. In Montreal. In 1950.

  52. Yay. That’s the first time this year I’ve heard Chip’s “the game will soon be all about speed” speech.

  53. This does not include:

    1. Caught stealing (unless it’s one of those things where a blunder is labeled a CS);
    2. Picked off first;
    3. Failed sac flies (unless it’s a popup to the shortstop or something);
    4. Things that are clearly Snitker’s fault.

  54. I didn’t care for the proposed Peavy trade. I’m beginning to wonder if I was wrong … don’t think so, but …

    The 6 year olds on my kid’s little league team are smarter baserunners than Esco.

  55. Will the chisox give us Lillibridge back in exchange for Esco?

    [Not intended as a serious question]

    Edit–Poor JoJo has put together a good start but will likely lose yet again.

  56. I stand corrected–you’re right b/c the offense can’t seem to get even a single run

  57. at least we are showing our flaws in April instead of playing good and Wren thinking this team can compete. Its either get a bat now or play close to .500 ball with good pitching

  58. I thought Francoeur was still hitting over .300, but he’s at .269 now.

    Is it the Reyes meltdown inning now?

  59. Not to belabor the point of ‘clutch vs. luck’, but in a way teams make their own luck in this game by throwing strikes and putting the ball in play with something on it.

    The braves don’t put it in play hard at all and that is why the are the most ‘unlucky’ team in the league.

  60. repeat after me–Diaz doesn’t hit RH pitchers

    Jones might not either but maybe we could find out.

  61. The ball was catchable and he made a nice catch. We didn’t get “robbed”. You guys want to talk about a word that doesn’t exist (like clutch) why don’t you look at the word “robbed” in baseball. There is no such thing, good defensive players make plays, you don’t get robbed of a hit. If it was meant to be a hit then it wouldn’t be even remotely close to a defender.

  62. Tony LaRussa OWNS the braves.

    He has the perfect game plan to beat Atlanta. The OF plays so far back that it takes an absolute shot to get past the OF, saving the D bases and baserunners.

    It is the opposite of what most people do. The Cards know that the braves are not going to dink and dunk them to death. They know the braves hit the ball in the air way too much. The Ankiel catch is an obvious highlight, but the hit Schaffer had would have been a double if they had been at normal depth.

    He also is absolutely not going to give Chipper anything to hit. He knows Chipper is the only legitimate run producer in the lineup.

    Get used to this. Anyone playing the braves should use this strategy.

  63. #127 – good point, however you could be robbed if you’re called out on a play and you were obviously safe. Or if a ball is called a strike.

  64. cant wait for Bowman’s recap. It will be “hit batsman cost the braves” when it should say “this offense sucks”

  65. What does Cox see in Norton? Why must he come out of the dugout in every close-and-late game to kill any rally?

  66. Reyes and Jurrjens should be waiting in the clubhouse after the game with nunchucks.

    Dan, Norton hit the ball really well. Ankiel made a great play, or the game is tied and the go-ahead runner’s at second.

  67. I hate Bowman’s vocabulary. His game headline tonight was “Reyes goes for inaugural win”

    Who in the world uses the word inaugural in that context?

  68. haha did I just hear “the offense has yet to awaken”… like your talking about a sleeping dragon or something. This is like a sleepying bunny… and not the bunny from Monty Python and the holy grail haha

  69. Things are getting a little heated in here…hopefully Gadfly will stop by soon to calm everyone down and remind us how foolish it would have been to waive “our best outfielder.”

    But seriously, Reyes looked legit tonight. At the risk of sounding like a Homer, I have the feeling he is turning the corner.

  70. maybe he’s bunting to avoid making a Yunel–though one should never underestimate his capacity to do so

    now for another Chipper walk

  71. Even if Esocbar gets Infante to second, they are going to walk Chipper with 1B open.

    If they don’t, I will be shocked.

  72. Hey, at least he got the bunt down. BTW, the second baseman was about a foot off the first base bag when he took the throw, not that the umpires care.

  73. haha this team is so easy to beat. Walk Chipper… and pitch to everyone else. That’s the game plan to beat the braves, it works everytime

  74. Bobby Cox. What a moron. That is the one time you don’t bunt. Knowing that it will just take the bat out of the hands of your only decent hitter. Hopefully this time it works out.

  75. I really hate sac, but with Chip coming up, it’s probably the right thing to do. Tie it up first…

  76. hahaha maybe the only remedy for this is to laugh. I don’t think you can have a worst 9 man lineup

  77. I wouldn’t throw Diaz one strike… diaz will either strikeout swinging at balls, or will ground out or pop out swinging on a terrible pitch

  78. Again, referencing my earlier post, if you take good, patient ABs, get bunts down, you make some ‘luck’ like Diaz did just there. Quality AB with a positive result.

    In a word, that was clutch!!!!!!!!!!!!


  79. We almost got Kyle McClellan yesterday too, but we got the two out hit today and not yesterday. That’s the difference.

  80. ” rel=”nofollow”>Kaman

    ” rel=”nofollow”>Khalil

    I think I have something here.

  81. Chris Guccione has a serious ego. not just based on that last call, but every game i have seen him umpire.

  82. i mean when moylan, sori and gonzo are healthy and pitching as well as they have shown they are the 3 best in the majors (meaning the combo of the 3)

  83. That was fun to watch and fun to chat about.

    I am going to go lift to burn off some energy.

    Good night everyone.

  84. later folks… I can’t wait to read the post game blog about the CLUTCH performance haha

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