Grasping at Clutch (NYT)

Bochean had an interesting question about clutch situations in an overflow post-game thread after Romo got lit up by the Braves.

It comes down to your definition of clutch. I’m not aware of any analysis that shows whether or not some players perform better or worse in those ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL MOMENTS of their entire lives.

I’m not talking about avg. with RISP and two outs over the course of a season. I’m talking about situations like Romo has faced the last two games. Playoff baseball. Everything on the line.

By the time I responded, everyone had moved on to the next. So I'm reposting it as a fanshot. Maybe this way the flamewar that discussions of Clutch seem to make inevitable can be contained here.

You are quite literally correct that it comes down to one's definition of clutch.

There’s no analysis of those moments for precisely the reason that they are moments. They are so rare that there’s no way to tell whether the information produced by them is valuable or just SSS statistical noise.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle seems to apply here. We the scientists can observe the speed of the particle (i.e. the player’s overall ability based on career numbers) or observe the particle itself by stopping it and zooming in (i.e., your absolutely critical moments). But you can’t use one to determine the other.

Was Barry Bonds Not Clutch before 2002? Or did he just have bad luck in the comparatively miniscule number of postseason games he’d played up to that point? Ted Williams had one postseason appearance; he hit .200/.333/.200 in 25 PAs. Can we really determine anything from that, or Willie Mays’ .247/.323/.337 line in 99 career PAs?

I do, as it so happens, think that there’s such a thing as clutch. I think that the situation does influence players. Just as some are able to raise their game, doubtless others wilt under pressure. But most research indicates that the only time this becomes statistically significant is when there’s a disparity in interest or effort; basically when only one party sees the situation as Clutch.

This article in the NY Times would seem to bear that out. Basically, as the season winds down, batters on the verge of a .300 avg will step up their game to reach that round-number plateau. But that only works because those crucial at-bats often come during “garbage time,” after one or both teams have been eliminated. So while the at-bat is of no particular import to the pitcher, it becomes Very Important to the hitter.

You can see what I mean in this graph from the article:

But in the playoffs, that interest disparity is eliminated, as each at-bat is of equal importance to both teams. Which leaves us right back where we started, of not being able to know how those situations will play out. It is, as they say, “why you play the game.”

All a manager can do is dance with the girl that brought him, avoid any knee-jerk reactions, and hope for the best. Usually it plays out as expected; sometimes you get Byung-Hyun Kim or Rick Ankiel (the pitcher). We as humans just happen to better remember the disasters.

This FanPost is reader-generated, and it does not necessarily reflect the views of McCovey Chronicles. If the author uses filler to achieve the minimum word requirement, a moderator may edit the FanPost for his or her own amusement.

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