Thursday, January 17, 2008

C-dubb thinks I am Clutch

Earlier in my Perceptions post, my good friend from high school, C-Dubb and I had the following exchange.

C-Dubb said...

Wouldnt you agree that the best teams make it to the playoffs? Wouldn't you also agree that most teams that make the playoffs have above average pitching? Wouldnt you also agree that there is more pressure to perform in the playoffs (i.e. you lose and you are done; you are in more of a national spotlight)? Doesn't it make sense then that postseason numbers may drop some from the regular season? Lets see a comparison between the average player's regular season vs postseason to see if Jeter truly is "clutch"!

Don Evans said...

C-dubb, Good to see you are reading my blog !!! haha I do agree with your points ( if you read my comment a couple above yours) that in the postseason the pitching is generally better so it is impressive that Jeter's batting line is basically the same as his regular season. I am not saying clutch performances don't exist. I will def give you that a player doing something great like pitching a shutout in a post season could be considered clutch, if you want to think of it in that terms. Where this discussion irks me is where you will often hear fans or the media give Jeter or others that mythical Clutch God label that he raises his game to another level when the chips are on the line. its just not true. There have been many studies, that you could easily look, up that show that consistently performing better in "clutch" situations is not a skill that a player is capable of repeating like other skills such as hitting for power, plate discipline, even running speed. Those things are skills. Performing well in clutch situations is not. Its mostly a product of what we seem to remember the easiest(big time performances stick out in our minds more,we place more significance to them) For ever post season serious where Jeter was a clutch beast, there are also series where he stunk up the joint. Same for all players. its a product of statistical fluctuation, not players having a magical ability to play better than there natural level of ability because the calender says October rather then May.

I would like to comment a little more on this topic because it is quite interesting. I would like to start off that I am open minded about this. I have no incentive to believe that the "clutch god" does or does not exist. I am sort of taking the luster off Jeter's clutchy shine, and even C-dubb knows how much I like the Yankees. We spoke on the phone after this exchange, and while he definitely understood my position I think he and I still had different views on the subject. And that's OK. Healthy debate and intelligent discussion only enhance the flow of good ideas about the subject, and that is good for both parties involved, no matter the outcome. I just want to know the truth when it comes to clutch. I would just like to say a few more things on the subject and give C-dubb and others a chance to offer their thoughts. This could be considered more of a discussion of psychology than baseball (keep in mind I know NOTHING about psychology). How's this for a theory C-dubb. I suspect from your playing days in high school, or even now, that it sure feels like some players are clutch and some are not. That some kids just got too nervous in big situations and were sure to choke. And I believe that. I think at most lower levels of sports, that the situation maybe can influence player performance. I have ZERO proof to this theory but it sounds logical to me. Maybe at lower levels of athletics some kids do thrive from the the spotlight of the big lights, while others wilt when the pressure is on. However we are talking about the elite of the elite. This is an excerpt from an article by Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus that you really, really, really need to read on the subject of the clutch player.

All major-league players have a demonstrated ability to perform under pressure. They've proven that by rising to the top of an enormous pyramid of players, tens of thousands of them, all trying to be one of the top 0.1% that gets to call themselves "major leaguers." Within this group of elite, who have proven themselves to be the best in the world at their jobs, there is no discernable change in their abilities when runners are on base, or when the game is tied in extra innings, or when candy and costumes and pumpkins decorate the local GigaMart. The guys who are good enough to be in the majors are all capable of succeeding and failing in these situations, and they're as likely to do one or the other in the clutch as they are at any other time. Over the course of a game, a month, a season or a career, there is virtually no evidence that any player or group of players possesses an ability to outperform his established level of ability in clutch situations, however defined.

I totally agree. The players that can't play to the best of their ability, no matter the situation, are weeded out of professional baseball well before you or I are paying $100 dollars a seat to watch them.The article also links to some statistical studies that are worth checking out too. Interesting stuff. I must say I am sold to the idea that there is no such thing as a clutch hitter. To me , when it passes the common sense test and the stats seem to back it up, thats pretty convincing. I really think the idea of clutch is more a product of the mind than a reality. Not trying to sound snobbish about that, but I just don't get the argument for the other side. C-Dubb brought up Josh Beckett as an example of clutchiness. He and his 1.73 ERA in 72.2 innings, including slaying down the mighty Yankees in 2003. Sounds like stuff of legend. Me? I think he is just a statistical outlier. I would be willing to bet his performance in next 72.2 innings in the playoffs even out closer to his career norms. That regress toward the mean kind of stuff. Sounds boring I know. Calling Josh Beckett a human outlier won't sell nearly as many papers as Josh Bechett the brash, gusty, bad ass World Series Hero

C-dubb and others, looking forward to your response.

PS: Please read that article too because Joe is much more elegant about the subject than I am. Its a quick, easy read, unlike my blog.

PPS: despite me proclaiming my position about clutch, I am open to new ideas.

16 comments:

Sweedishkid14 said...

Donald,

Define Clutch in your eyes.

Adam Vinatari was called clutch when he beat the Raiders in the 'Snow Bowl' even though he missed 2 (I believe it's 2, but you will not find anything in the media saying he missed any) Field Goals earlier that game. To me, that's not clutch. That's making up for what you did wrong earlier in the game. If he hit the earlier Field Goals, he would never have been in that position in the first place.

Baseball players are often called 'Clutch' when they hit a walkoff homerun even though they went O-FOR in the last 2 games.

Or, is clutch over the long term like having 2 huge series in the Baseball playoffs? Or, hit every field goal attempt in the NFL Playoffs?

Clutch has such a vague usage to me. Whats it mean to you?

Don Evans said...

Luke,

interesting question. I think the true answer, is that the defination of clutch is different to everybody. There is no defination that you could say is the true meaning of clutch. It could be performing well when the national spot light is on you in one game winning at bat. To some one it could be consistently performing better in one specific set of situations than he does in all over situations. Its really a difficult thing to pin down. To me, I think their are clutch performances but not clutch players. They are two very different things to me. To me a clutch performance could be defined as major game changing in an important situation, play or something to that effect. I guess you could call that clutch and I would be OK with it... but honestly .. to me its just players making plays brother .. why the need to label ?

Anonymous said...

Do some work Don

C-Dubb said...

Don,

Once again another well written blog. I read the article that you strongly recommended I read. Some interesting points. Maybe statistically we cannot define clutch. But just some food for thought... there has been only mention of offensive numbers but I would say the most televised "clutch" play on fox is the infamous jeter "flip"....I dont think there is a statistic to measure extraordinary defensive plays like that one...I know your response will be that that is just a good defensive player doing what he normally does....but how do you know that an equally good player wouldnt have gotten caught up in the moment and not made that play and the yankees lose? One last question..... Statistically A-Rod is better than Jeter in the regular season...now I am not sure about the postseason but if I were to listen to the media A-Rod's numbers arent as good as Jeter's in the postseason. Let's for arguments sake say that in the postseason A-Rod's numbers arent as good as Jeter's. According to your theory (if I am reading it correctly) given enough opportunities this should correct itself and A-Rod would eventually have better numbers than Jeter in the postseason. RIGHT NOW - who you sending to the plate in the bottom of the ninth 2 outs world series on the line Jeter or A-Rod?

Don Evans said...

Craig,

Thanks for the compliment. You raise some good points. About the Jeter flip. There is no doubt that play was amazing. Very much an example of a clutch "performance" if you want to call it that. You could also cite it as an example of Jeter having a sence of awareness of what is happening on the field around him or exceptional concentration to not mentally take him self out of the play by not being prepared. To me that isn't clutch in the sence that the media will try to normally portray it. And you yourself mentionn that FOX and other media outlets played the crap out of that play and used it for fuel for the clutch fire. That 5 second clip of Jeter making a great game saving play is certainly very memorable. I just don't think it proves that he or any one else is clutch. I think we just philosphically disagree. Also Arod Vs Jeter post season .. interesting topic. Would you believe Jeter is only 2 points ahead of AROD in OPS. From memory I think jeter has roughly 350 more at bats in the post season than AROD. If you give AROD 350 more at bats to catch up to Jeter I would be willing to nearly Guarentee he would have better offensive numbers. He is just a better hitter. RIGHT NOW bottom of the th who do i want at bat? Well you can micro analyse this to death; and really break down the particular pitching match up,or really need to avoid a strike out, but that may be splitting hairs ...in general if you need a positive offensive outcome at the plate(when don't you right?), I want AROD at bat.

Josh said...

Just something to ponder for those who believe in clutch ability... When speaking about Derek Jeter (for example) and saying his numbers in the post season mirror his numbers in the regular season against better competition thus it means he is clutch... couldn't you argue the opposite that if he is that good... then against inferior competition in the regular season he should be better than he is in the post season... does this mean he takes days off in the regular season.. doesn't try his best... isn't motivated playing the D-Rays on May 2nd...

Josh said...

On a side note I agree with Don in that certain images, games, and postseason series stick with us... thus people think Jack Morris was clutch/ a big game pitcher... when in reality he had one great game (game 7 1991) and the rest of his postseason career was nothing special..

As it has been written about on countless sites/blogs Bery Blyleven was significantly better in the post season than Jack Morris but almost no one would think of that if asked which was better in the post season/big game...

Don Evans said...

Great points Josh. Isn't it reasonable to assume that most/all of the time players are trying to play to the best of their abilities. If Jeter's or other had this clutch switch they could just turn on, why wouldn't they leave it on all the time and be better players which you think they obviously would ..... and I always pondered the Morris/Blyleven phenomenon. I mean Morris did have that one sweet game ... but I've read on some blog recently but can't remember what one, that this one voter rationalized Morris for the Hall by saying he was the big game pitcher on 3 world series winning teams. Says nothing of the fact that in the 92 Series he posted a sexy 8.44 ERA .... The voter that tries to give Morris HOF credit for that should have his vote taken away

Josh said...

Don-

I think you saw the on www.firejoemorgan.com (great site by the way)... but basically this voter said that for all intents and purposes Morris deserved to be in the hall of fame based on that one game... which is the same as saying Bucky Dent, Bobby Thompson, Don Larson, etc should be in the hall of fame for what amonuts to one great game/moment in a lifetime... it blows my mind... Almost as bad as Woody Paige saying he would vote for Goose Gossage because he was nice to him once during an interview even if he didn't deserve to be voted in... ugh

Don Evans said...

Yeah that Woody Paige article was amazing. Words can not describe that one. Neyer is defiantly not worthy to be in THAT exclusive club. Neyer doesn't go to enough games so he can't possibly know as much about the game than Mr. Paige........

Brian said...

Sorry for the late reply don, but i promised to voice my opinion on the subject. In my opinion, there is such thing as a "clutch player" and a clutch performance is the thing that is the product of statistical fluctuation.

First of all, to the comment above about Jeter haveing a 'clutch switch' that he can turn on in the post season, I really do think that most of the time players aren't playing to the best of their abilities. I'm not too keen on baseball so I'm not going to act like an expert, but haven't you ever noticed the difference in regular and post season hockey? The increase in intensity is as evident as the reason for it, the games mean more. However, everyone is stepping it up in the playoffs, which is why you can't find the clutch statistics you are looking for. I'm not sure what Jeter did earn his clutch title. But obviously from your statistical analyzation of his career playoff play it is not from that.

It seems to me like players get the clutch label not for playing good in the post season, not even for having a few good games in the post season, but for having a few great plays at the end of an important game to change the outcome. If a player does this a couple times in a career they they'll probably get that disputed clutch stamp.

So why can't we celebrate these players for those special plays? One player that randomly sticks out in my mind is Steve Kerr of the '90s Bulls team. I cant recall the specific plays he made in certain playoff games but I know it was only that, a few plays. It doesn't matter to me if he went 1 for 5 in the game, if he hit the buzzer beater to win it at the end, thats clutch. No one is gunna remember the guy if he goes 4 for 5 but misses the buzzer beater at the end and they lose. I don't care what his playoff stats were compared to his regular season. It doesn't matter, because he made a great play at the end to win it, and in sports winning is everything.

Don Evans said...

Brian, I see we agree on a lot of points basically. You are right clutch is largely a product of being game changer in big play off games. And I have no problem celebrating or enjoying the big plays these players make. That is part of the fun. I mean when Jeter has a big hit in the play offs, I love it man. Its what makes baseball entertaining to watch and the moments memorable. Lets not lose sight of this.

At the same time lets still put it in perspective. I am simply trying to say that the players don't change no matter what the situation. I know the games are more intense, and their is more pressure, because playoff games do have quite a bit more buzz. I have no doubt the players really do feel more excited and pumped for the game. The only thing is, there is no concrete proof that any of these things actually lead to a noticeable increase or decrease in the players performance. Thats all I am saying. Its not that I don't get excited by such moments or think the players deserve credit for it. They definitely do. But lets not give them phony labels ok ?

Lil B said...

Donald,

I think everyone left out a huge factor that plays into "clutch" performance and why we tend to put more emphasis on clutch "playoff" or big game performances. Just look at Espn's Espy for best play of last year. It didn't go to any regular season play or any professional sport play for that matter. It went to the amazing sitting down shot that the high school kid basketall player made in the state championship game to send the game to overtime or double overtime whatever it was.I personally don't think anyone would have ever heard of this play if it just happened in a regular season high school game. The media puts way more hype into the big game/playoff clutch performances which is why I think they are much more memorable in the sport fan's mind. Typically during postseason play the media experts/writers have much less to report on and therefore spend much more time emphasizing/reasearching player's stats.

Also I think that another thing that we have left out is the effect that a crowd/hype over a game has on a player's performance. When the fans are much more into the game and rooting hard for every single play, do you not think that a player's adrenaline levels are through the roof? Did you not play harder in your high school basketball playoff games? What reason does any outfielder have to sacrifice and lay out his body for a shallow fly ball in the regular season when they have already clinched their division? But I am sure no outfielder would hesitate to lay out to save the game in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series.

Don Evans said...

Lil B man ...

Thanks for the feedback. I am not quite sure that we forgot to mention the media hype to account for the clutch label/myth, The was heavily discussed.

also as for your example about adrenaline pumping you up in a highschool game and maybe making you player better... ehhh i just don't, maybe that can happen, but regardless when we are talking at MAJOR LEAGUE players, i don't think a factor like that is going to alter player performance at all. or even if it can, certainly not to a point where that difference is significant.

Jaybird said...

Don,

I got a great topic for you that's not directly related to this one, but I saw C-Dubb's name and it made me think of something. In college you whined and pouted to me, C-Dubb, Brandon, and anybody else that would listen to you about how pitching was not a part of the defense in baseball. I expect a well written blog entry in defense of your point of view. Your ERA+ stats aren't going to save you on this one nerd.

Don Evans said...

ok Jay you are on .. with in a day or two, you got it