I'm not sure about you, but when I think of the most clutch players in baseball since 1972, Bobby Higginson has to be near the top of the list.
Shouldn’t the folks at Baseball Prospectus have readjusted their formula or something? You know, carry a one somewhere else, something so that the results don’t appear so utterly ridiculous? How can you create such a list, end up with Toby Harrah as the second-best rated clutch hitter, and say, 'OK, run with this'? Scott Fletcher is No. 7. Scott Fletcher, are you people kidding me? I can only assume Billy Hatcher finished just outside the Top 25.
There’s an excerpt on ESPN.com this week from Baseball Prospectus’ newly released book, “Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong," in which the stat geeks try to debunk the theory that David Ortiz is a clutch hitter, something that based on their special cocktail of numbers they somehow accomplish. David Ortiz wasn’t a clutch hitter in 2004. Did you know that? Don’t base it on what you saw. He wasn’t. BP says so.
“When we analyze play-by-play data, David Ortiz does rate as a clutch hitter overall, but most of the damage was limited to just two seasons, 2000 and 2005. Take those two years away, and his lifetime clutch rating is essentially zero. He didn't rate as a clutch hitter in 2004 -- at least not during the regular season -- or in 2002. It isn't a bad track record, but if clutch hitting really exists, one would expect more consistency out of the ‘greatest clutch hitter in the history of the Boston Red Sox.’”
These folks have obviously lost their marbles in their constant attempt to prove to the rest of the baseball world how much smarter they are. This list reeks of something desperate, a theory gone wrong with counterproductive results.
There is a prevalent theory among sabermetricians that there is no such thing as clutch hitting, more likely it should be defined as situational hitting, moments in the game over the course of a 162-game season when a player exploits “small advantages over the long haul.” BP reasons that, “the answer to the question of who the best clutch hitters are is that they're usually just the best hitters, period.” Sure. That must be why Leroy Stanton makes an appearance at No. 21.
The list is embarrassing. Von Hayes? Rusty Staub? Since when did Mike Gimbel start working for Baseball Prospectus? Take a calculator away from some of these guys and they might go into shock, but that’s exactly what they need. Look, some things can’t be judged with numbers and formulas. I don’t need a slide rule to tell me that Jessica Alba is easy on the eyes. Nor do I need one to show me who comes through in those pivotal moments, a difficult to explain trait that certain players most definitely have.
I’m not sure – maybe the folks at BP can tell me since everything I know is wrong – how it is that you measure personality and tenacity with a bunch of digits? Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big as the next guy in discovering new ways to look at the game, but if we base it entirely on sabermetrics, it all feels a little hollow, doesn’t it? What the numbers can’t judge is how a player reacts to certain situations, what his make up is. That is why Ortiz thrives in clutch situations, even if BP concludes that because he didn’t do it last night against the Rangers in Game 3 of the season, he’s not a clutch player.
But when a game counts, really counts, do I really want Mark Grace up to bat in lieu of David Ortiz? Notice that Kirby Puckett is mired on the list at No. 9. I sent three copies of the 1991 World Series to the BP offices just to reiterate the quite obvious point.
I understand much of this theory is predicated on the regular season, but how much clutch hitting – I mean, honest to goodness, wow, can’t believe he pulled it off – clutch hitting, moments that change the path of a season, take place before August? I’d give it maybe 30 percent, a number that the sabermetricians will certainly dispute with their own, proven percentage. That would mean a large portion of BP’s sampling portion happened when the games were still in the season’s infancy stage. The conclusion here then is that a game in April should carry just as much weight as one on Sept. 20. Sure, that makes sense.
In the grand scheme, a win in April is just as important as one in September. But teams are just sort of going through the motions in the season’s first month, everybody on a mostly even playing field. It’s when your team’s back is to the wall, and you step up and deliver important hit after important hit down the stretch battling for the playoffs...sorry kids, that’s clutch hitting. Defined, if not methodically proven how.
Even BP seems uncomfortable with Mark Grace as the top dog, concluding this makes “certain sense.” Then, they maddeningly end the excerpt by admitting, “Sometimes a hitter like David Ortiz gets a bunch of big hits down the stretch, and it makes the difference in a pennant race.”
So, wait...then he is clutch? Then what's the point?
Unless you want to deal Ortiz for Jeromy Burnitz (No. 8) straight up, I’d still feel comfortable with him up in those pivotal situations. Jeromy Burnitz, by the way for all his memorable moments, has never been to the playoffs. Apparently though, he's one of the top clutch hitters of this generation. Makes sense.