Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Clutch Hitting: Another Look At An Old Problem 

There is no such thing as clutch hitting. Or at least that is an article of faith amongst sabremetricians – countless people have run the numbers and come back with the following response: clutch hitting is fictitious. Players don’t magically elevate their game and become supermen.

You can’t tell that to your average baseball fan or to a Yankees / Derek Jeter partisan, but that is one of the divides in baseball’s split between its Catholic and Protestant factions, between the old-schoolers and the numbers crowd.

The Phillies are doing a lousy job at hitting in the clutch – that is, hitting with runners in scoring position. Here is how badly they are doing:

Los Angeles: .287
New York: .279
Atlanta: .278
San Francisco: .278
St. Louis: .276
Pittsburgh: .270
Colorado: .267
San Diego: .265
Arizona: .264
Florida: .264
Milwaukee: .262
Chicago: .260
Philadelphia: .252
Houston: .252
Washington: .250
Cincinnati: .247

While predictably the Atlanta Braves, the L.A. Dodgers and the New York Mets have some of the best offenses in the N.L., not-so-predictably the Phillies – thirteenth in BA/RISP – have the second-best offense in the N.L., scoring 5.29 runs a game (0.01 behind the Mets). The Reds, worst in the N.L., are above-average at 4.79 a game, compared to the league average of 4.76. Being successful at hitting in the clutch, with runners in scoring position, is not essential to a team being successful and not predictive of success either. The Giants, for example, are very good at hitting with runners in scoring position, but they have a below average offense: 4.65. Their problem is that they don’t get many runners on (.328 OBP, fourteenth in the N.L.) and they don’t hit for much power (.160 ISO, .003 off the league average).

So the Phillies are more than getting by without hitting with runners in scoring position. It doesn’t even appear that hitting well with runners in scoring position is a perquisite for success in baseball. It is hard to argue with the results: after all the Phillies are scoring nearly a half-run more than the league average every game despite being one of the worst teams in BA/ RISP. Can’t argue with that … The Mets hit twenty-seven points better than the Phillies with runners on second and/or third, but they score pretty much the same number of runs.

So which of the Phillies is struggling? Check it out:

Conine: .389
Coste: .375
Rollins: .308
Utley: .289
Lieberthal: .267
Victorino: .266
Rowand: .248
Howard: .243
Burrell: .225
Ruiz: .211
Dellucci: .193
Nunez: .193

And the departed …
Abreu: .320
Bell: .247
Fasano: .083

See this another way: “Clutch”, The Hardball Times analysis for how a player is hitting in clutch situations.

Rollins: +4
Coste: +3.4
Conine: +2.0
Ruiz: 0.0
Nunez: -0.5
Victorino: -2.0
Burrell: -3.6
Rowand: -4.0
Utley: -4.8
Dellucci: -4.8
Howard: -9.0

And the departed …
Abreu: +7.2
Bell: -1.2
Fasano: -4.5

A few things I want to touch on. First off, is there anyone more valuable to their team than Ryan Howard? I submit there isn’t and as you can see, Ryan has done a bad job hitting in the clutch. But will this impact the MVP voters? I doubt it, because Ryan Howard is valuable to the Phillies for his ability to blast mammoth home runs. This is the reason why the Phillies Big Bang offense is surviving their struggles in the clutch: they can score a run or two instantly with the swing of a bat. The Dodgers, a team that relies on their ability to advance runners and score with singles and doubles, are prone to slumps that the Phillies can ride out. This is the reason why the Reds did so well too despite struggling in the clutch.

This is a topic I discussed earlier in the year and I want to put to bed now. There is no such thing as clutch hitting, and – assuming for the sake of argument that it does exist – it isn’t vital or important for a team or a player to be good at it in order to be successful in baseball. Forget about clutch hitting. The Phillies can do without it.

Wildcard Watch! … What a big day yesterday was. With the Phillies winning against the Cubs and the Dodgers losing to the Pirates (the PIRATES?) again, the Phillies make the jump into a tie for the wildcard. If the season were to end today, the Phillies and Dodgers would have a one-game playoff … Today the Phillies have their final day off before they start on their stretch run to the playoffs. Ten games in ten days … Next up for the Phillies: three games against the Florida Marlins at Citizens.

1. Los Angeles: 79-73
1. Philadelphia: 79-73
3. San Francisco: 75-76 (3.5)
4. Florida: 75-77 (4.0)
5. Cincinnati: 74-78 (5.0)
6. Atlanta: 74-78 (5.0)

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