CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Happy Thanksgiving! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume Monday, December 1

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (03/01)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Tur... (02/22)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Usi... (03/08)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: 2007 Dra... (03/01)

March 1, 2007

Schrodinger's Bat

Clutch Performers, 2006

by Dan Fox

"[J.P.] Ricciardi also had the best line of the day when asked about clutch hitting. He talked about how there are players who don't panic in certain situations, who can 'slow the game down.' He mentioned how David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were like that and added, 'I've known Manny since he was 15, and I don't think he knows the game is on the line.' The Boston crowd loved it."
--David Pinto of Baseball Musings on the Blue Jays GM and his comments at the MIT Sloan Sports Business Conference in early February.

Clutch hitting is one of those issues that just won't go away. Ever since Dick Cramer's famous study titled "Do Clutch Hitters Exist?" was published in the 1977 Baseball Research Journal there has been no end to the discussion of just what is and what isn't clutch hitting, and how it can or can't be measured.

The controversy was never more in evidence than in the spring and summer of 2005 when, in the wake of the Bill James piece "Underestimating the Fog" (warning: pdf) published in Volume 33 of the Baseball Research Journal, there was plenty of point-counterpoint in the analysis community.

BP's own James Click got in on the act with two interesting articles in the fall of 2005, where he used Keith Woolner's Win Expectancy (WX) framework combined with first VORP and then Marginal Lineup Value (MLV) to generate measures he termed PrjWINS and Clutch. He concluded that the correlation for Clutch from year to year, and even over halves of a career, indicated that the measure was "nearly completely random."

The issue was again resurrected after the publication of Tom M. Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin's The Book in early 2006, wherein the authors noted that there is indeed a small player-to-player variation in clutch skill, and measured that one in six players increase--and a comparable number of players decrease--their on base percentage by eight points or more when faced with pressure situations (defined as any situation in which the batter's team is trailing by one, two, or three runs in the eighth inning or later). The spread decreases to six points when using their weighted on base average (wOBA) metric, and when regressed to the mean the wOBA skill maxes out at around two points.

Around the same time Nate Silver (with his chapter "Is David Ortiz a Clutch Hitter?" in Baseball Between the Numbers, get your copy in paperback today) used a similar approach to Click with WX and a modified version of MLV, but also included Leverage to create a measure also termed Clutch. After crunching the numbers, he found that players with higher walk and lower strikeout rates do perform slightly better than would otherwise be expected. Overall, he concluded, clutch hitting accounts for something on the order of two percent of what it takes to produce wins at the plate.

That pretty much sums up where we are at this point. While earlier attempts at measuring clutch hitting suffered from various definitions of just what a clutch situation is, versions that use WX can be more fluid since in reality pressure situations probably manifest themselves more as a continuum than as discrete instances. This also then has the effect of allowing a larger sample size, properly weighted, to be included. Even so, it would appear that for the vast majority of players most of the time the effects are so small that perceived clutch hitting ability should generally not drive either strategic or personnel decisions.

So of course that means our topic today is clutch hitting. More precisely, it is a discussion of the best and worst clutch performers of 2006.

Who's the Clutchest of Them All?

Will Carroll and I had a friendly discussion of WX and clutch hitting in the wake of "the game of the century" which I posted on my blog. In that conversation I largely agreed with Carroll, who compared WX at the level of an individual game to a fancy form of game winning RBI. While I think that's an apt analogy, since WX at that level is so heavily influenced by the vagaries of opportunity and chance, I do think that WX is valuable at the seasonal level at least in retrospect.

Viewing WX at the level of the game records clutch performances, while at the level of a season, it is simply the total contribution of a player towards winning and losing given the situations they found themselves in. In other words, we can use it to discover who contributed most and least (at least in the realm of pure offensive output) from an aggregate perspective in moving their team towards wins, and as we'll see, who outperformed or underperformed their 2006 level. What we can't do--as the previous research has taught us--is use this information as a basis for predicting how they'll do in the future.

So let's begin with a look at the leaders and trailers in WX for 2006.

Name                  PA      WX
Albert Pujols        634    9.30
Ryan Howard          704    8.17
David Ortiz          686    7.98
Lance Berkman        646    5.66
Derek Jeter          715    5.42
Carlos Beltran       617    5.25
Miguel Cabrera       676    5.15
Jermaine Dye         611    4.61
Travis Hafner        563    4.58
Jason Giambi         579    4.55
Barry Bonds          493    4.36
David Wright         661    4.33
Chase Utley          739    4.30
Ryan Zimmerman       682    4.19
Andruw Jones         669    3.97
Justin Morneau       661    3.93
Bobby Abreu          686    3.81
Todd Helton          649    3.71
Garrett Atkins       695    3.54
Jim Thome            610    3.51
--------------------------------
Ronny Cedeno         572   -4.53
Angel Berroa         503   -4.28
Adam Everett         566   -3.31
Jose Castillo        562   -2.97
Brad Ausmus          502   -2.59
Clint Barmes         535   -2.49
Cory Sullivan        443   -2.48
Javy Lopez           364   -2.48
Shea Hillenbrand     566   -2.44
Royce Clayton        502   -2.42
Craig Biggio         607   -2.39
Neifi Perez          316   -2.36
Alex Gonzalez        429   -2.36
Coco Crisp           452   -2.34
Yuniesky Betancourt  584   -2.33
Jose Lopez           655   -2.33
Ron Belliard         590   -2.23
Jorge Cantu          448   -2.22
Abraham Nunez        369   -2.18
Brian N. Anderson    405   -2.15

From an overall perspective Albert Pujols comes out on top at +9.30 wins, followed by Ryan Howard (+8.17) and David Ortiz (+7.98), while Ronny Cedeno brings up the rear at -4.53 with Angel Berroa (-4.28) close behind. While it is not surprising that most of the MVP candidates made their way onto the top 20 with AL MVP Justin Morneau coming in 16th overall and sixth in his league, both Bobby Abreu (+3.81) and Todd Helton (+3.71), both of whom hit just 15 home runs and turned in remarkably similar seasons, made the list.

Rookie Ryan Zimmerman (+4.19) may have been beaten in the Rookie of the Year vote by the Marlins Hanley Ramirez, but he breaks the top 20 by coming in 14th. Not surprisingly, Neifi Perez (-2.36) shows his unique ability by cracking the bottom 20 with by far the fewest number of plate appearances of any of the 40 players, while a pair of Rockies in Clint Barmes (-2.49) and Cory Sullivan (-2.48) help explain why the Rockies were -13.1 runs below replacement up the middle in 2006 (see the Rockies team essay in the 2007 Baseball Prospectus for more of the gory details).

These lists largely reflect what we know already: Albert Pujols is good, and Neifi Perez isn't. To level the playing field, we can use a technique I discussed in a column almost a year ago titled "Wins and the Quantum." There, we used the formula Woolner provided in an article in the 2006 Baseball Prospectus to estimate the WX value of various offensive events by run environment, and then applied them to the entire history of baseball. Using that same approach, we can apply the formula to the 2006 season and produce a table which shows us the players who would be expected to contribute the most in terms of WX under a measure called WX1.

Name                  PA     WX1
Albert Pujols        634    5.73
Ryan Howard          704    5.04
Travis Hafner        563    4.59
Lance Berkman        646    4.33
Miguel Cabrera       676    4.32
Carlos Beltran       617    4.18
David Ortiz          686    4.14
Manny Ramirez        558    3.79
Chipper Jones        477    3.48
Garrett Atkins       695    3.24
Derek Jeter          715    3.21
Nick Johnson         628    3.19
Jim Thome            610    3.18
Jermaine Dye         611    3.10
David Wright         661    3.07
Jason Bay            689    3.00
Jason Giambi         579    2.90
Bobby Abreu          686    2.86
Vladimir Guerrero    665    2.86
Brian McCann         492    2.82
--------------------------------
Angel Berroa         503   -3.59
Clint Barmes         535   -3.59
Ronny Cedeno         572   -3.51
Yadier Molina        461   -2.71
Brad Ausmus          502   -2.71
Adam Everett         566   -2.68
Joey Gathright       445   -2.40
Brian N. Anderson    405   -2.29
Tomas Perez          254   -2.26
Abraham Nunez        369   -2.23
Neifi Perez          316   -2.12
Scott Podsednik      592   -2.03
Royce Clayton        502   -2.01
Juan Uribe           495   -2.00
Jose Castillo        562   -1.94
John McDonald        286   -1.88
Mark Loretta         703   -1.87
John Buck            409   -1.80
Rondell White        355   -1.79
Willy Taveras        587   -1.76

These lists are very similar to the previous ones, primarily being just a reshuffling of the same guys, since good players tend to get hits in all situations, while bad players do not. The correlation in 2006 between WX and WX1 is a robust 0.86, testifying to that fact.

Where it gets more interesting is to subtract WX from WX1 to give us the number of wins over or under what would be expected on the basis of the raw offensive numbers (WX Clutch or WXC). While we're at it we'll also include the Leverage score for each of the hitters.


Name                  PA     WX1     WX      WXC  Leverage
David Ortiz          686    4.14    7.98    3.84    1.02
Albert Pujols        634    5.73    9.30    3.57    1.07
Ryan Zimmerman       682    0.90    4.19    3.28    1.07
Geoff Jenkins        555   -0.03    3.22    3.25    1.06
Ryan Howard          704    5.04    8.17    3.13    1.05
Melvin Mora          705   -1.07    1.90    2.97    1.00
Marcus Giles         626   -0.63    2.34    2.96    1.08
Mark Loretta         703   -1.87    0.79    2.66    1.02
Ken Griffey          472   -0.37    1.93    2.31    1.10
Todd Helton          649    1.41    3.71    2.30    1.05
Derek Jeter          715    3.21    5.42    2.21    0.99
Brian Schneider      455   -1.68    0.43    2.11    1.08
Jay Payton           588   -0.69    1.39    2.08    1.00
Jeff Francoeur       686   -1.32    0.64    1.97    0.99
Chase Utley          739    2.42    4.30    1.88    1.07
Andruw Jones         669    2.17    3.97    1.80    1.00
Barry Bonds          493    2.62    4.36    1.74    1.03
Frank Catalanotto    499    0.17    1.89    1.72    1.01
Jacque Jones         577    0.47    2.14    1.66    1.01
Jason Giambi         579    2.90    4.55    1.65    1.01
--------------------------------------------------------
Chipper Jones        477    3.48    0.98   -2.50    1.01
Dave Roberts         566    1.01   -1.18   -2.19    1.04
Troy Glaus           634    0.81   -1.35   -2.16    0.96
Alex Rodriguez       674    2.77    0.85   -1.92    0.97
Jason Bay            689    3.00    1.11   -1.88    1.12
Victor Martinez      652    1.60   -0.26   -1.86    0.93
Juan Rivera          494    1.41   -0.23   -1.64    0.97
Tim Salmon           244    0.17   -1.37   -1.53    1.03
Marco Scutaro        423   -0.13   -1.65   -1.53    0.96
Shea Hillenbrand     566   -0.93   -2.44   -1.51    0.99
Scott Rolen          594    1.79    0.36   -1.43    1.00
Chone Figgins        683   -0.66   -2.03   -1.38    1.00
Scott Hatteberg      539    0.53   -0.84   -1.37    1.02
Casey Blake          456    0.70   -0.66   -1.37    0.92
Andre Ethier         441    0.56   -0.81   -1.37    1.00
Cory Sullivan        443   -1.19   -2.48   -1.29    1.13
Adam Melhuse         139   -0.68   -1.97   -1.29    1.00
Hideki Matsui        201    0.78   -0.48   -1.26    0.84
Henry Blanco         261   -0.58   -1.83   -1.25    0.94
Carl Crawford        652    0.98   -0.26   -1.23    1.05

The players in the first group can truly be called the best clutch performers of 2006, while those in the latter group you can use for scapegoating if they happen to have played for your favorite team. David Ortiz (+3.84) comes out on top essentially repeating his performance of 2005 while Geoff Jenkins (+3.25) and Marcus Giles (+2.96), look good despite otherwise poor seasons, as does Jeff Francoeur (+1.97). Chipper Jones (-2.50) lead the trailers, and while not wanting to add any fuel to the fire for patrons of Yankee Stadium, I couldn't in all honesty omit Alex Rodriguez (-1.92) even though both his teammates Derek Jeter (+2.21) and Jason Giambi (+1.65) make the top 20.

You'll notice that the Leverage scores--the ratio of the impact of one additional run at a point in time to the impact of one additional run at the beginning of the game, and averaged over all plate appearances--don't vary much, since the situations that players who garner this many plate appearances find themselves in tend to even out. This is illustrated by the graph below, which shows the distribution of Leverage scores for hitters with 150 plate appearances or more. You'll notice that the scores have a fairly compact distribution centered in the 1.00 to 1.05 range.

image 1

The highest Leverage score belongs to Ken Griffey Jr. at 1.10, and the lowest is Hideki Matsui at 0.84. The highest score for any player with more than 50 plate appearances went to Reggie Willits of the Angels, who recorded a Leverage of 1.38 in 58 plate appearances. As you can imagine, pitchers more heavily populate the bottom of the Leverage list, although left fielder Josh Rabe of the Twins had a Leverage score of just 0.65 in 51 plate appearances.

It's also important to keep in mind that a high Leverage score doesn't necessarily mean a hitter will do better in terms of WX. It does mean that if they take advantage of their opportunities that they will score higher; more risk, more reward. By the same token, they also have the opportunity to score more poorly if they don't succeed.

Finally, let's wrap this up by taking the WXC measure and scaling it to 650 plate appearances to see who were the best and worst clutch performers of 2006 on a per-plate-appearance basis (including players with 200 or more plate appearances).

Name                  PA     WXC WXC/650  Leverage
Geoff Jenkins        555    3.25    3.80    1.06
Albert Pujols        634    3.57    3.66    1.07
David Ortiz          686    3.84    3.64    1.02
Gabe Gross           252    1.28    3.30    1.09
Mike Sweeney         252    1.27    3.28    1.09
Ken Griffey          472    2.31    3.17    1.10
Ryan Zimmerman       682    3.28    3.13    1.07
Marcus Giles         626    2.96    3.08    1.08
Brian Schneider      455    2.11    3.02    1.08
Ryan Howard          704    3.13    2.89    1.05
Melvin Mora          705    2.97    2.73    1.00
Ryan Shealy          219    0.90    2.67    1.03
Mark Loretta         703    2.66    2.46    1.02
Scott Spiezio        321    1.15    2.33    0.97
Todd Helton          649    2.30    2.31    1.05
Jay Payton           588    2.08    2.30    1.00
Barry Bonds          493    1.74    2.29    1.03
Frank Catalanotto    499    1.72    2.24    1.01
Mark Teahen          439    1.46    2.16    1.02
Jason Tyner          232    0.77    2.14    0.91
------------------------------------------------
Tim Salmon           244   -1.53   -4.08    1.03
Hideki Matsui        201   -1.26   -4.08    0.84
Chipper Jones        477   -2.50   -3.41    1.01
Henry Blanco         261   -1.25   -3.11    0.94
Kendry Morales       215   -0.91   -2.76    0.97
Jose Cruz            273   -1.13   -2.68    1.02
Omar Infante         245   -0.98   -2.61    0.97
Gerald Laird         260   -1.04   -2.60    0.95
Kazuo Matsui         265   -1.05   -2.57    1.15
Dave Roberts         566   -2.19   -2.51    1.04
Marco Scutaro        423   -1.53   -2.35    0.96
Joe Randa            227   -0.79   -2.25    1.28
Troy Glaus           634   -2.16   -2.22    0.96
Jeremy Reed          229   -0.77   -2.17    1.01
Juan Rivera          494   -1.64   -2.16    0.97
Jason Lane           345   -1.12   -2.11    1.10
Eric Hinske          312   -0.99   -2.06    0.93
Hector Luna          379   -1.20   -2.05    1.01
Javy Lopez           364   -1.13   -2.02    0.99
Andre Ethier         441   -1.37   -2.01    1.00

These lists include many of the same players we've seen before, with the addition of some who had fewer plate appearances, such as Mike Sweeney (+3.28) and Gabe Gross (+3.30), while Tim Salmon takes the bottom spot at -4.08.

And the Beat Goes On

The performance analysis community has made a number of strides in developing metrics to quantify clutch hitting, and then using those tools to measure its magnitude and persistence. As evidenced by the question put to Mr. Ricciardi, I've no doubt that it will be a topic of discussion for quite some time. For what it's worth, Manny Ramirez in 2006 recorded a WX of +2.97, although his offensive stats alone should have yielded him a +3.79. That puts him on the negative side of the ledger at -0.81 and -0.95 over 650 plate appearances.

0 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (03/01)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Tur... (02/22)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Usi... (03/08)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: 2007 Dra... (03/01)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article Fantasy Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: The Ace Chase, the Rays' Face...
Premium Article Daisy Cutter: Jon Lester's New Peers
Premium Article Prospect Mechanics
Moonshot: A New View of Plate Discipline, Pa...
The Lineup Card: Nine of the Worst Baseball ...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Yasmany Tomas is a Dia...

MORE FROM MARCH 1, 2007
Premium Article Lies, Damned Lies: PECOTA Takes on Shortstop...
Premium Article Hope and Faith: How the Arizona Diamondbacks...
Premium Article Future Shock: 2007 Draft Notebook
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: February 21-28, 2007

MORE BY DAN FOX
2007-03-13 - Schrodinger's Bat: Spring Training
2007-03-08 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Using Your Leverage
2007-03-02 - Premium Article Hope and Faith: How the Cleveland Indians Ca...
2007-03-01 - Schrodinger's Bat: Clutch Performers, 2006
2007-02-22 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Turning the Page
2007-02-15 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Age Before Beauty
2007-02-08 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: The Burgess Shale and Oth...
More...

MORE SCHRODINGER'S BAT
2007-03-22 - Schrodinger's Bat: Double Steals And More
2007-03-13 - Schrodinger's Bat: Spring Training
2007-03-08 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Using Your Leverage
2007-03-01 - Schrodinger's Bat: Clutch Performers, 2006
2007-02-22 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Turning the Page
2007-02-15 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Age Before Beauty
2007-02-08 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: The Burgess Shale and Oth...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2008-04-17 - Schrodinger's Bat: Opus 100
2007-08-16 - Schrodinger's Bat: Putting the Pedal to the ...
2007-03-08 - Premium Article Schrodinger's Bat: Using Your Leverage