Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The fallacy of clutch hitting

I have been reluctant to write this post, because most people who will read my blog could probably care less. For the few that do care, this is a debate that has raged on since "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis took the world by storm. I am not going to post stats here because that is boring, what I will do is post my angle on the debate, and why I think "Moneyball" works, especially in this case. 

I feel that clutch hitting does not exist because the idea of clutch hitting is an emotionally driven concept. Baseball more than any other sport is a numbers driven game. When fans argue baseball they talk about batting average, homeruns, slugging percentage, On Base Perecentage, etc. This is all easily quantifiable information. If David Wright hits 32 Homeruns in 2008, it would be pretty disappointing if he wasn't in the same neighborhood in 2009. 

With all the stats that fly around in a baseball debate, the idea of a hitter being clutch always enters the argument. Is David Wright clutch? This is the question being debated after the World Baseball Classic winning hit against Puerto Rico. A lot of sports writers in the past, have written Wright off, saying he is not clutch. My question is, what does that even mean?

My argument against clutch hitting is that it is a completely emotional concept. If you are watching a great game, and a guy comes up and belts a game winning homer, you are going to say, "Wow, what a clutch hit!" Now if you see a guy do that 3 or 4 times in a season, he is considered a "clutch hitter." But how do you really quantify that? I looked at David Wright's stats, and last year he had 79 "high pressure AB's" which I believe is defined as trailing after the 7th inning with runners in scoring position. 79 AB's is not really a lot of AB's and honestly how many of those games are really important or against division rivals? The idea of clutch hitting is based on such a small sampling of a baseball players season that I don't think you can judge a player based on those stats. 

79 AB's represents about 20 games worth of a player's season. Would you call David Wright a bad hitter if he hits .220 in his first 20 games? Probably not, but if he hits .220 in "clutch situations" then he is a bad clutch hitter. Logically that makes absolutely no sense, that is why clutch hitting isn't based on logic but the pure emotion of a spectator, that is why I believe clutching hitting does not exist. 

Lastly, baseball more than any other sport should be analyzed by logic and numbers. If you watcha  basketball game, it is possible for one star to take over a game and lead his team to victory. In football the same offensive players have a shot every down of making a big play. In baseball, you have to wait your turn to make a difference, and it is considered great to succeed 30% of the time. That is why "Moneyball" works so well. Fans love to pretend it is not about the numbers, they say Derek Jeter has "intangibles" or David Ortiz is "clutch." Those are emotional concepts, and it is not smart to mix emotion and baseball. 


Ryan said...

Time to disagree -

I hate the whole stat argument as sometimes it's makes it seem that players having a "clutch" preformance is more a random happenstance than what it is, a big at bat for his team which could be driving in a game winning run in the playoffs, world series what not. If it was random, you could in theory put a Jeter, a David Ortiz, a Manny, or a Ryan Howard anywhere in the line up and they'd get on base b/c their obp is so great and they can get on base or whatever but instead you put them in the heart of the order where they are going to have more of those "clutch" oppurtunites.

Money ball is a great book on how to build a decent franchise but it's not the entire answer - Billy Beane's A's went to the playoffs 4 times in the Moneyball era, and all 4 times were defeated in the DS by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. My biggest problem is the whole "I cannot account for the playoffs" non-sense, the reason is that sometimes clutch hitting happens - number crunching helps but let's not make baseball into rocket science - it's about dudes hitting balls far and where otherg guys aren't, who can throw so the other guy can't hit it, and all tht jazz. It's the 27 Yankees were the best team ever b/c they had Murders Row not b/c of the quadratic equation or some other sports-nerd talk.

theomegachrist said...

Moneyball can buy you wins but not a championship as has been seen.

But as I am arguing with you now on IM. My point is more that the word clutch assumes too much. It is an idea you can't quantify at all, and most of the time a player is going to make an out. I think a lot of people see clutch as some super power where a guy is now more likely to get a hit that it is the bottom of the 9th.

That is a silly idea. If it is just the ability to not buckle under the pressure, I think clutch implies an ability when maybe we should really be criticizing the nervous people.