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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hittin' in the Clutch 

“Clutch hitting doesn’t exist…” Blah blah blah. Readers of this blog are familiar with some of the old standards that I come back and talk about from time-to-time, and clutch hitting is a favorite of mine mostly in the context that the Phillies are an outstanding illustration of how irrelevant clutch hitting really is to success on the baseball diamond. It is one of the shibboleths of baseball’s old school that clutch-hitting is one of those things that the truly great possess and you can’t win without. The old guard greeted the news that clutch hitting doesn’t exist, a discovery that erupted through the world of sabremetrics in the 1980’s, like a Born-Again Christian being told that God was a figment of their imagination. It is an article of faith that clutch hitting exists and that players like Reggie Jackson or … Derek Jeter … possess and that is what makes them great.

Well, I don’t doubt that God exists, but I am on-board with the sabremetrics crowd that clutch hitting doesn’t exist, and I further believe that if it does, then it doesn’t matter. Teams, in this modern era of the three-run home run, can score runs from anywhere on the diamond. How else do you explain why the Phillies had the most dangerous offense in the N.L. in 2006, and yet they couldn’t hit with runners in scoring position? They were terrible. They hit .255, fourteenth best in the National League.

This year the Phillies are hitting better in the clutch and they remain the best offense in the N.L. The power game, their old bread-and-butter, isn’t as strong as it was in 2006, a fact that I suspect was almost exclusively a product of Ryan Howard’s injuries and struggles at the start of the season. So who is hitting well in the clutch this season? … incidentally, I consider clutch hitting to be batting average with runners in scoring position … Well, let’s start with Aaron Rowand.

At the moment Rowand is hitting .362 BA/RISP, the best such percentage on the Phillies roster. Rowand’s sudden turn to clutch hitting is something of a fluke: he’s doing extremely well with putting the ball into play (.347 BA/BIP), so his success with runners in scoring position is partly due to that. Still, Rowand is a major, major reason why the Phillies offense is clicking on all cylinders. Rowand is actually second on the Phillies in Runs Created per 27 Outs at 7.3, just 0.1 behind Ryan Howard. He’s a more potent offensive force than such notables as Jimmy Rollins (5.7), Pat Burrell (6.3) and Chase Utley (7.1). If the Phillies do ultimately package Rowand in a deal to obtain another starting pitcher to replace Freddy Garcia in the rotation, they are making a wise decision to deal him at the top of his game.

Here are the Phillies top clutch hitters …

1. Rowand: .362
2. Dobbs: .353
3. Nunez: .314
4. Ruiz: .289
5. Burrell: .271

Burrell is sort of an interesting player to note. The knock against Burrell is that he doesn’t hit well in the clutch. Burrell’s BA/RISP has been a real yo-yo the last several years:

BA/RISP: Pat Burrell
2007: .271
2006: .222
2005: .313
2004: .263

Burrell is a good player, a real talent who has never gotten the respect he deserves because the expectations on him – nothing short of being the next Mike Schmidt would do for Phillies fans – have been so high. Okay, he’s not going to be the superstar Albert Pujols is. Lay off. He’s still a talented hitter. He is, in many respects, the perfect #5 hitter … he’s solid, generally consistent, has power to his swing, gets on base. If you put Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on, he’ll sting you.

So who excels in the clutch? I was wondering if anyone raised their game with the heat on. Here is what the numbers say for this season:

BA/RISP BA Plus/Minus
Dobbs: .353 / .285 / +.068
Burrell: .271 / .211 / +.060
Nunez: .314 / .270 / +.044
Rowand: .362 / .325 / +.037
Werth: .263 / .239 / +.024
Ruiz: .289 / .272 / +.015

Burrell is hitting sixty points better with runners in scoring position. Generally speaking, Burrell is someone who raises their game with the runners on:

Plus / Minus: Pat Burrell
2004: +.006
2005: +.032
2006: -.036
2007: +.060

Rowand is somewhat less consistent …

Plus / Minus: Aaron Rowand
2004: -.020 (Chicago White Sox)
2005: +.020 (Chicago White Sox)
2006: -.014
2007: +.037

Now let’s move on to those who sucking things up in the clutch …

BA/RISP BA Plus/Minus
Bourn: .250 / .263 / -.013
Howard: .250 / .232 / -.018
Rollins: .242 / .278 / -.036
Helms: .208 / .248 / -.040
Victorino: .233 / .278 / -.045
Utley: .262 / .320 / -.058
Barajas: .136 / .205 / -.069

Michael Bourn ought to be stricken because he hits so rarely with players in scoring position. He’s a speed demon, a subject I’ll expand upon a little later in the week. You’ll notice the Phillies three big bats here: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, as well as Victorino. I’ll focus a little on Ryan Howard here:

BA/RISP BA Plus/Minus
2007: .242 / .232 / +.010
2006: .256 / .313 / -.057
2005: .242 / .289 / -.048

In 2005 he was the Rookie of the Year and in 2006 he was the N.L. MVP. And yet he was horrifically terrible hitting in the clutch in years where he was recognized for his brilliance at the plate. Just goes to show you how irrelevant clutch hitting is when you have the capacity to slam the ball 450 feet with a single swing of the bat. Since Ryan Howard joined the Phillies late in 2005 he’s gotten 222 Runs Created. That’s the product of hitting 94 Home Runs in that time period.

It’s sort of interesting how successful Howard has been despite hitting so badly with runners on. Albert Pujols, Howard’s arch nemesis, is a monster with runners on:

2004: .343
2005: .329
2006: .397
2007: .310


Chase Utley is struggling quite a bit in the clutch this season – his .259 is terrible in context of the .308 and .309 he hit with runners on second and third in 2005 and 2006 – which is a surprise given how successful he’s been this season. Perhaps Ryan Howard’s struggles at the start of the season are to blame here: without Ryan Howard lurking on-deck, pitchers threw around Chase Utley with impunity.

Quickly I’ll turn my attention to the Phillies pinch-hitters. Hitting well with runners in scoring position is – or ought to be – a prerequisite to being an effective pinch-hitter. Thus far this season the Phillies are utilizing Greg Dobbs as their primary pinch-hitter, and Dobbs has had some success: going 7-for-27 (.259) with three doubles and a home run along with nine RBIs as a pinch-hitter. As you can see above, Dobbs is doing pretty well with runners in scoring position, hitting .353, second-best on the team after Rowand.

Following Dobbs is Jayson Werth, the team’s fourth outfielder, who has gone 5-for-16 (.313) as a pinch-hitter with a home run and two RBIs. Werth, like Dobbs, is hitting well with runners on (.263 BA/RISP). Wes Helms, who seems to have abdicated his spot as the Phillies primary bat off the bench is just 2-for-11 as a pinch-hitter (.182) with a pair of RBI. Helms .208 BA/RISP is second-worst on the team after Rod Barajas. The less said, the better.

Dobbs is a major improvement over the Phillies primary pinch-hitter in 2006, David Dellucci, who hit well as a pinch-hitter (16-for-60, .267), but hit badly with runners in scoring position: .182. It is a remarkable, and underappreciated, aspect of Pat Gillick’s management that he’s found terrific role-players to join the Phillies roster and give them a slight edge here and there. Dobbs certainly qualifies, as does Werth.

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Hi Michael,

First of all, God doesn't exist. Or, at least there's no evidence for God. You are a smart guy - why not get rid of outdated and evidence-less iron-age superstitions? Read Harris "End of Faith" or at the very least whywontgodhealamputees.com.

That said, on to more important topics. Maybe I missed the point you were trying to make, but how do you reconcile "I am on-board with the sabremetrics crowd that clutch hitting doesn’t exist" with then going through a list of statistics about clutch hitting and trying to add personality and commentary to what you (and I) agree is more or less random phenomena? If clutch hitting doesn't exist, what exactly is the point of claiming that "some people suck things up in the clutch?"

More to the point, I have a question: shouldn't every batter be, on average, be a better batter with runners on base or in scoring position? I mean, besides the adjustments that the defense has to make (holding runners on, etc), with runners on base as I understand an out that would ordinary count against your batting average could go down as a harmless (and statistically uncounted) sacrifice, which, i believe (and perhaps I am wrong) does not hurt your average. This fact alone should keep averages up, no?
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