Reese Kaplan - Working the Clutch

Recently I got into a somewhat animated conversation with some fellow fans over the controversial subject of clutch hitting.  It’s detractors are many and for some valid reasons, too. 

For example, supposed Player A comes to bat with a 4-5 day during which he lines four solid bases-empty hits and the one time someone is on base in front of him he drives the ball to the wall where it is caught. 

In Player B’s 1st AB he hits a dribbler up the middle that the 2nd baseman bobbles and he winds up safe. The official scorer rules it a hit and with the runner on third in motion on contact it happens to drive in a run.   In Player B’s next four times up, he takes the Golden Sombrero, helping the opposing pitchers increase their K totals.

Now to the clutch-hitting advocates, Player B is more valuable to the team than is Player A because he happened to drive in a run on a lucky bounce, a defensive miscue and by luck of the draw had a runner on third when it happened.  To the people on the other side of the fence, Player A is more valuable because he had four hits and drove the ball hard the one time he had a man on base but it happened to get caught on the warning track.  The truth, as often is the case, probably resides somewhere between these opposite ends of the spectrum. 

Since the hitter cannot control how many runners are on base when he strides to the batter’s box, nor whether or not the baserunner(s) is in scoring position, looking at RBIs doesn’t necessarily seem to be a good way to quantify clutch hitting.  Batting average that spikes noticeably in that situation, however, might have some validity, as you could conclude that the player bears down more when the game is on the line. 

Towards that end I thought it would be fun to take a look at how various Mets hitters did in the ultimate high pressure situation – runners in scoring position with 2 men out – and see who fared as the most clutch batters you’d like to have in that particular situation.  While some names are expected, there did turn out to be some surprises, too.  For purposes of this exercise I arbitrarily chose 10 ABs as the minimum number of plate appearances so as to exclude the occasional pinch hitter or the relief pitcher who bats 1.000 for the season in his only clutch appearance (a hat tip to Jeurys Familia):

Matt den Dekker
While he was a latecomer to steady play in the Mets lineup, the slick fielding den Dekker managed to ring up 15 such ABs and hit .333 with a .467 Slugging Percentage and an .800 OPS. 

Lucas Duda
Not surprisingly, the Mets leader in HRs and RBIs came up big in these pressure situations.  He hit .318 but what really popped out was his .614 Slugging Percentage and 1.145 OPS.  That looks like the guy you really want up there when a run is needed.

Ruben Tejada
Yes, the man I deride with the nickname Honus, he of the 2013/2014 combined average of just .223, came up big in these pressure situations.  He posted a .304/.391/.858 slash line.  Way to go, little guy!

Juan Lagares
The man known more for his glove and his arm than for his bat, Juan Lagares nonetheless performed above his season norm with a .298/.383/.710.  Perhaps it bodes well for his continued offensive development.

Bobby Abreu
Though his career was long and impressive, Bobby Abreu’s short stint as a Met was anything but.  Still, in this ultimate clutch situation he responded with a .294/.353/.721.  The perception was he did better as a starter than as a pinch hitter, but maybe his specialization was even narrower – only when an RBI was needed. 

The rest of the Mets lineup performed at or below their seasonal averages in these situations.  The bench quartet of Anthony Recker, Eric Young, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Eric Campbell all performed well below the Mendoza line.  Joining them was last year’s starting right fielder and starter in the Queens outfield for the next three years, Curtis Granderson.   His .167/.236/.486 suggests he is the last regular from the lineup you’d want to see at the plate when a run is needed most.
So what do you think of the whole concept of clutch hitting?  How would you measure it if you feel it’s worth tracking at all?


Mack Ade said...

You're going to find it hard to stat up this kind of hitting...

I remember Tim Teufel teaching Josh Those to open up his stance and choke up on the bat when he had two strikes on him. Then, he asked him to practice 'punching' the ball into the opposite field.

This raised Thole's minor league average 20-30 points and eventually got him to Queens.

Clutch hitting doesn't always have to be a home run and the best example is a single hit behind the runners on base.

jshapps77 said...

I think you're misrepresenting the "clutch hitting" debate. I think everyone believes that a player who hits homers when the score is close and late is more valuable than a player who mostly hits homers when the game is no longer in the balance. The issue is that clutch hitting has not been shown to be a repeatable skill from year to year. This makes alleged clutch hitting more likely to be caused luck or aberration. It makes the stats on clutch hitting virtually useless. Just look at Duda, I have no stats to back this up, but he was known as a guy who never got the big hit. In 2014, he was one of the only regulars to get big hits. Fun to look at and discuss after the season, but impossible to use in any meaningful way to predict the future.

Reese Kaplan said...

Oh, I agree with you, hence we both used the same phrase, "fun to look at". I don't believe in Ruben Tejada in those situations more than Travis d'Arnaud or Wilmer Flores but the numbers (at least for 2014) suggest otherwise. You'd need to see if the pattern does indeed repeat from year to year.

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