“Clutch” Hitters: Part One

Proving whether or not an element of “clutch” exists in baseball is a tough statistical task. Though I will not take on that task today, I have ranked recent MVPs in three separate situations in order to identify elements of a potential “clutch” hitter. You may find some interesting results…

The three situations tested are plate appearances in which 1) runners are in scoring position (RISP); or 2) it is the 7th inning or later, and the score is within 3 runs (L/C); or 3) it is September or October, and teams are fighting for playoff berths (S/O). A player’s On-base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) in each of these situations is then compared to his career OPS in order to see if he performs significantly better in these “clutch situations.” *

Positive numbers represent above-average performance.

—————————————-Points Above Career OPS

Player                         RISP           L/C            S/O

Sammy Sosa

11.1

-52.8

-54.7

Albert Pujols

74.8

31.0

-5.7

Ichiro Suzuki

34.7

39.7

-34.8

Ken Griffey, Jr.

1.2

-8.5

-62.7

David Ortiz

-11.0

31.0

26.3

Vladimir Guerrero

-0.8

40.2

33.3

Derek Jeter

-25.1

1.9

39.3

Alex Rodriguez

-32.0

-12.5

-46.7

Barry Bonds

45.0

-21.3

3.3

Jimmy Rollins

58.8

44.0

81.2

Cal Ripken, Jr.

17.2

38.8

-39.8

Justin Morneau

45.5

-52.5

-94.7

Ryan Howard

33.2

-1.8

193.3

Chipper Jones

-26.7

13.0

28.3

Juan Gonzalez

-24.5

-35.8

-45.7

Ivan Rodriguez

-32.3

-1.3

-74.8

Jason Giambi

33.8

-29.8

2.3

Miguel Tejada

-4.3

27.7

-29.8

Larry Walker

-53.0

-22.5

13.3

Totals

3.5

1.1

-11.7

It would seem to me that if players have some hidden clutch rating, it would show itself in all “clutch situations.” However, there are examples like David Ortiz who performs better in both late, close games and later in the season, but not with runners in scoring position. Though it might make sense that a player who generally plays for non-playoff teams, like Griffey, to perform worse later in the season over the course of his career because it just doesn’t matter at that point.

These statistics are nowhere close to being able to argue whether clutch exists or not, but just enough to get you thinking. Perhaps certain players perform better in clutch situations because of natural fluctuations guaranteed by statistical randomness, and not so much because they have a special something.

*Since MLB hitters in general perform slightly better with RISP, and slightly worse in L/C situations, the players’ stats in this study were prorated for those biases.

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