Small sample size clutch in the postseason is a factor of circumstance!

Overall, the amount of “clutch” we have seen in this postseason has to go to the pitching and defense and maybe even to fan interference. Last night’s Astros’ game practically started with an historic umpire call that negated a two-run home run in the first inning on fan interference and the game ended on an Alex Bregman bases loaded line drive that was caught by Andrew Benintendi with only a 21% Statcast™ catch probability. So far this postseason has seen numerous Web Gems as well as some key pitching performances. The debate can rage on if there is a “clutch” gene and whether or not that is even fair to say in small sample sizes. 

Maybe it’s defining the word “clutch” that causes so much debate. It’s very subjective what “clutch” is and    FanGraphs’ David Appleman believes that you can measure “clutch” and that it does exist. Appleman defines the statistic as:

“A measurement of how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.

“Unlike traditional clutch statistics (close and late), ‘clutch’ is a much more comprehensive statistic taking into account all situations that may or may not have been high leverage. Additionally, instead of comparing a player to the rest of the field, it compares a player to himself. A player who hits .300 in high leverage situations when he’s an overall .300 hitter is not considered clutch.”

Analysts for years have disputed what clutch is and mostly due to small sample sizes in the postseason.

“There’s such a thing as a clutch hit,” Keith Law of ESPN said. “What we can’t seem to find is the player who performs consistently in the clutch. I’ve never seen a study that shows a clear statistical difference. The problem with the postseason is that we run into such small samples. Two [regular] seasons of data tell us a ton about a hitter.”

A player who knows a lot about being in the postseason as a player is Derek Jeter who retired in 2014 with a career 734 plate appearances which is more than his Yankee teammate Francisco Cervelli put up in at-bats (688) over 7 seasons with the Yankees. His answer to those who question clutch is what defined Jeter also known as Mr. November.

“You can take those stats guys and throw them out the window,” Jeter said in Sports Illustrated. “I’ve always enjoyed the big spots. Especially in the postseason, your focus and concentration sharpen. Over a long season, early in games, your mind has a tendency to wander. But not with the game on the line. And once you’re successful in those spots, you know you can do it and look forward to it.

“With some guys you can tell by their expression and body language that they’d rather not be up there. It seems like they’re scared of the situation. I’ve seen it. They walk differently, carry themselves differently, look differently.”

So far in the 9 combined games of the League Championship Series, the overall batting with runners-in-scoring-position (RISP) batting average is an un-clutch .236, and for Milwaukee Brewers fans, their team is batting .143 with only 5 hits in 35 chances. At the other end of the spectrum, the Red Sox are batting .333 in RISP spots in the ALCS.

“I’m torn [on clutch],” Theo Epstein said. “I know what the numbers say [about clutch], yet I admit when we have meetings and talk about players as being clutch, I agree that there’s something to it. I admit it: I’ve got a foot in both camps.”

Circumstance always sets up the situation for the “clutch” moment. There is no walk-off by Cody Bellinger in the 13th inning on Tuesday night if there was not a runner on second base. If Christian Yelich throws out the runner at home plate the “clutch” moment shifts to Yelich. There is no Bellinger walk-off if he was intentionally walked. There is no walk-off if Jesus Aguilar fields the groundball. There is no walk-off if Junior Guerra strikes out Cody Bellinger. There is no walk-off if the game was finished in 9 innings if other players scored a decisive run. It also shows the impact of what one-run is worth.

Not all players are created the same. Some crave the biggest stage to show what they have and some wilt under the bright lights.

“Are you telling me that when you’re down to one shot, Michael Jordan is no different from anybody else?” Reggie Jackson said in Sports Illustrated. “How can you tell me Tiger Woods doesn’t play better under pressure? Jack Nicklaus was the same as anybody else? I’m not buying it. It’s the same with Derek Jeter. Maybe his numbers don’t go way up, but everybody else’s go down more. I’ve seen some great hitters, such as Wade Boggs and Rod Carew, who didn’t really like those spots.”

The difference between “champ” and “chump” is one letter and sometimes just one play, one shift, one throw, one swing, and one decision. The scouting that placed Benintendi in his spot in leftfield to be within a sprint of making the game-ending catch last night could be the same scouting that had Aguilar inches from gloving Bellinger’s grounder. BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is most time the explanation of the randomness of balls fielded or not. Just ask Alex Bregman who has been robbed already a few times in this ALCS. The Statcast™ on his game-ending line drive only had a 21% catch probability with a 79% hit probability, and most analysts felt that if the ball was not caught it would have resulted in a dramatic walk-off hit. In game 2 of the ALCS, it was Bregman who hit a flyball that looked like a possible home run above the “Green Monster” but the ball was caught at the wall. Game temperature at the time was 45°F at the time with a slight wind. Circumstance.

This entry was posted in Feature. Bookmark the permalink.