The staff at JFtC had an interesting discussion regarding the Blue Jays and whether a player can actually be called “clutch”
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The Toronto Blue Jays are in the middle of an exciting playoff push and every performance matters. The margin for error is rather slim and there will be situations where big time hits, pitches, plays could mean the difference between winning and not, playoffs and not. This brings up the notion that some players are more “clutch” than others. This mostly intangible, and perhaps fictional, quality is at the center of a recent chat among JFtC staff. Check it out:
Steve Fek: Clutch is a thing if you are a coach, scout or teammate
Jason MacDonald: Steve, agree 100%. But so difficult to define. I remember Keith Law many years ago trying to disprove with numbers. Can’t be done. To me it’s the ability to perform under pressure, to remain calm, focus, and stay in the moment. Clear distractions from your mind. Don’t let the moment overwhelm you. The numbers don’t always show it, but it is there.
Jim Scott: I think a lot of “clutch” is human bias. We see a Dave Winfield double winning the World Series and think “what a clutch player!”, forgetting that up to that point he was 0-for-4, leaving runners in scoring position in three of those PAs. We naturally remember the game-winning homers and forget (or give lesser value to) the strikeouts. But irrationality is the best part of being human!
Bob Ritchie: Further to your Dave Winfield comment and some people forgetting the 0-for-4, it reminded me of a quote from Patrick Stewart, the actor from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was once asked if Picard and his crew ever visited planets that were not inhabited by life. Stewart replied, “Yes, but we didn’t bring the cameras to those planets.”
Jim: To me, many of these terms are definitional. If you define clutch as “he sometimes gets hits in important situations” then I agree that numbers are largely irrelevant. But if you define clutch as “he has hit better over his career in high-leverage situations than low-leverage ones” – a definition that is clearly testable, mathematically – then don’t be surprised if someone decides to test it, mathematically.
Steve: I have always looked at clutch as a sense of confidence in a player’s ability to come through at critical times than strictly historical. Teammates and coaches develop a sense of “I’m happy this guy is at the plate or is on the mound” When you watch a team and a player on a regular basis, you develop a comfort level with what the player COULD do to positively impact an outcome. For example, I watched Corey Dickerson play everyday for 2 years in Pittsburgh and watched games when he was in Philly and Miami. If there were runners on base in a close game, I anticipated a positive outcome. I do now that he plays in Toronto. Does not mean he WILL come through, but I am more comfortable with him driving in a run or keeping a rally alive with a walk.
As hot as Lourdes Gurriel Jr.has been or productive as Teoscar Hernandez has been, I do not instinctively have that same positivity when they are up at a critical time. If it is Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. I do feel something good is going to happen. Conditioned responses. Players feel the same sense. I was hardly a star goaltender or pitcher, but I knew in my heart I was capable of making a timely save in close games or could set any hitter up. I know my coaches had same confidence and despite my small stature my teammates felt the same way. I had become conditioned to expect I would get job done.
This is the biggest difference between Guerrero in 2021 and the Vlad of 2020. He experienced early in the year the type of successes at the plate and at first base on a regular basis. So now he, his teammates and we fans expect him to be successful in big time situations Statistics and mathematical analysis may disprove a players level of performance over a short-term or career. But the sense coaches, players and fans experience when a player is in the spotlight at critical moments almost negates the “facts”. Robbie Ray can get hammered in every appearance the rest of the year-what he has done in 2021 will still leave us with a sense of “Thank Heavens Ray is pitching this game”
Bob: I will weigh in on the is subject.
- Clutch cannot be measured directly.
- However, to say that numbers cannot show whether it exists or not is not valid in my opinion.
- Why? Because people who say that clutch exists will point to on-field performance as evidence. “He got the big hit” or “look at his RISP numbers.”
- Therefore, we can attempt to measure “clutch” indirectly with numbers be it batting average, RBIs, etc.
- Another issue I have is that to strictly focus upon what the batter does ignores that there is a pitcher and fielders experiencing the same emotions, the same pressures in that high-leverage situation. Isn’t the opposition trying to come up big? Is it really only a matter of what the batter does? Is it not possible that the “clutchiness” of the pitcher and fielders will cancel out the batter’s “clutchiness”?
- As Jim noted, one has to first define what clutch is.
- The batters who do best in clutch situations are the batters who do best overall—that is, the best hitters are the best in all situations. Since 1988, there have been five batters with a career OPS above 1.000 in high-leverage plate appearances (defined as leverage index greater than 1.5, minimum 500 high-leverage plate appearances): Barry Bonds, Joey Votto, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols. They ranked first, sixth, third, second, and 12th in overall OPS during the same time frame. Good clutch hitters are hitters who are good, period.
- Clutch hitting is not a repeatable skill. In 2014, the year after (Allen) Craig’s big season with runners in scoring position, he hit .216/.306/.319 in the same situations. Clutch hero David Ortiz‘s batting averages in at-bats with a leverage index over 2.0 over his final six seasons were, chronologically, .229, .316, .196, .397, .208, and .273.”
Jim: I like this discussion! It reminds me of the discussion of the existence of “luck”. It is very unlikely to win the lottery, or to spin red on a roulette wheel 10 times in a row. But these things do happen, and statistically they should happen. So statistically, out of thousands of major league players, there should be some who have abnormally high tOPS+ and some whose stat is abnormally low. And to Steve’s point – it is absolutely true that there are players who see themselves or others as “clutch”. And it is likely critical to their own performance that they believe in themselves. But if two opposing goaltenders each tell their teammates “I will not be the one to let in the overtime goal”, one of them has to be disappointed.
Feel free to weigh in on this conversation. Do you believe in a player being “clutch”? Is there a Blue Jay you would define as such? Let us know below!
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.