Or, maybe Craig Hansen is indeed the answer sooner rather than later. Will Hernandez of the Norwich Bulletin has the account of last night’s showdown between the Portland Sea Dogs and Norwich Defenders, formally the Navigators, in which Hansen continued to mow down hitters, as he did all spring. Hansen pitched two hitless innings and struck out three. “Boston's plan for the righthander is to have him pitch two innings every outing with three to four days of rest in between,” Hernandez points out. “He's scheduled to pitch again Monday.”
If Hansen keeps proving his value in the minors, he’s going to put an abrupt end to this controversy before we know it.
Basking? Really, on April 7? Has it gotten that desperate?
“A battle of division front-runners at Camden Yards? What's not to love?” he asks. You want to know how good this Orioles team is? Pay attention these next three days.”
I'm a [Baseball Prospectus] columnist, but was not involved in [Baseball By the Numbers], so reading it was for me probably the same as it was for you. It interested me, it frustrated me, it made me question some of the things I was thinking, and it made me adjust some of those entrenched positions. Does Ortiz only have value if he's "clutch" (or Jeter or Vlad or any of the other guys you'd think of)? No. Will I take the Big Papi over Scott Fletcher or Jeromy Burnitz? Heck yeah, every time, clutch or not.
Everything you know is wrong, same as me. We're always learning something new. That's the beauty of baseball.
- Will Carroll
Right on, Will. It’s also undeniably the beauty of baseball that we can endlessly debate these findings. And perhaps it’s only fair based on my criticism yesterday to point out that another excerpt from the book is a top-notch look at how important pitching and defense really are in the playoffs. The BP guys will also be the focus of tonight’s Sportsplus on NESN.
Eric, Eric, Eric: I thought, after your nice plug last year for http://firejoemorgan.blogspot.com/, that you were beginning to "get it". But I see from today's column some evidence of serious backsliding. The scientific/objective/statistical evidence doesn't agree with your heartfelt sentiments about how great (and clutch) D. Ortiz is, so you advocate drawing and quartering those nasty sabermaticians, who are clearly out to undermine the great game of baseball. Joe would be so pleased.
Also, I wouldn't have thought it necessary to remind you that, yes indeed, a win in April counts just the same as a win in September so, sadly, a regular-season clutch hit doesn't carry any added value because it occurs after the break.
I usually enjoy your column, but PLEASE don't even consider a career switch into anything vaguely scientific.
Dave in California
It’s not so much that I don’t “get it” but pardon me for not necessarily taking the crunching of numbers as gospel 100 percent of the time. I think quantitative analysis obviously has a huge place in baseball, but let’s not decree that every single formula someone comes up has to be the end all for judging a player’s worth. I bet Julian Tavarez does OK when you add up the numbers, but it won’t tell you that the dude is nuts. I don’t understand the “You’re either with us, or without us,” nonsense.
And as for FireJoeMorgan.com, has anybody ever put so much accurate public sentiment into one URL?
I am tired of Bill James. If his contention is that "clutch" does not exist, he has never played a sport. Or, if he did, he finished winless for his lifetime. Furthermore, it can't be possible that he ever watched a sport.
Gliding through life with such an absence of passion, I feel sorry for his wife.
No name given
Of course, that’s another way to look at it.
Come on, dude... I know how trendy it is to rip on the stat nerds, but you write as though they think that their numbers are the end-all when it comes to player evaluation. Sabermetrics is a science, maybe not an exact one, but as far as I can tell, no one has ever claimed it to be so. Like any science, you try to use numbers to explain what has happened in the past and predict what will happen in the future. It works better in some cases than others (see, for example, their correlation of playoff success with teams that have high pitcher strikeout rates, closer performance, and defense -
With any scientific publication, you present your theory along with all of the assumptions you make, test it out, and then evaluate it based whether the results make sense. If they don't make sense, then you try to adjust the theory a bit. For example, you suggest weighing games in August and September more heavily than those in April or May. This is something that could probably be incorporated into the model, and maybe it will be in the future.
I don't think that anyone at BP would suggest that the Red Sox trade Big Papi for Jeromy Burnitz. That would be silly. In fact what they say is that "it's probably folly for a club to go looking for clutch
hitters -- the ability just isn't important enough in the bigger scheme of things". But then again, any single statistic is irrelevant all by itself. I don't think you would find people evaluating a player on batting average or W-L record alone, but that doesn't mean that these are useless statistics.
But I think that I would agree with the numbers that claim that Ortiz had a more "clutch" year in 2005 vs. 2004 or 2003, just from looking at his number of walk-off (or game winning in the top of the last inning) hits - 6 in 2005 vs. 2 in 2004 (regular season only of course)
This is the one thing that most sticks in our minds as a measure of "clutchness", and the reason why we have a perception of Ortiz as a clutch hitter, right? Well, BP just gave us some statistics to back
up anecdotal evidence or our gut feeling.
Brian L., Burlington, Vt.
I agree with your statement entirely that it’s “folly for a club to go looking for clutch hitters.” That doesn’t mean though that the tenacity in certain players to perform in the clutch isn’t important. Case in point: We’re all bragging about how Josh Beckett has that mental toughness to thrive in Boston. Where’s the statistical analysis on that then? Why can’t the same be true of a hitter? I don’t think it’s something you can mathematically analyze. That’s all.
Mr. Wilbur, To be frank, this is probably the most poorly reasoned article that I have ever read. Even if you disagree with BP's findings, the personal attacks are overdone and beneath you. Many baseball statistics are totaled using those frightening "calculators," or should we assume that you figure out players' batting averages and ERAs with a pen and paper?
You seem to have committed the fallacy of disbelieving statistical results because they don't mesh with your personal opinion. That type of thinking seriously hinders advancement of any kind, in sports or otherwise.
For your own sake, open your mind to the idea that other people, even those who you think are "geeks," may be able to teach you a thing or two about baseball.
Kind Regards, Ryan Fealey
That’s my point, Ryan. I am open. But when the results come out so ridiculous, I have to question what formula was used to arrive there.
Thanks for speaking up for common sense.
Seems to me that the Baseball Prospectus folks are just not being consistent. I often read that formulas for "clutch" relate to offense (BA, BA-RISP, RBI) in "close and late" situations, i.e. in the latter innings of a game. If the latter innings of a game are more important, shouldn't the latter weeks of a season also be weighted highly? In fact, I would argue that offense in the early innings of a September game against a playoff contender should count more than "close and late" in an April game, precisely because everybody knows much better how much of the season depends on the game's outcome. By the same argument, postseason games should be weighted most highly of all.
I bet if the formulas took the "seasonal" close-and-late into account, Ortiz would be at or near the top, just where he should be.
Tim W (Massachusetts expatriate, now living in central NY)
Right. Heck, this April you could consider Kevin Millar the most clutch hitter in the AL.
Remember when people who sounded just like you laughed at the sabermaticians who dared to say that OBP was more important -- and a better gauge of hitting ability -- than batting average?
Well, at least the sabermaticians attempt to apply an objective standard of measurement to the phenomenon. You're still happily applying the Felix Frankfurter standard: you know it when you see it.
In the first century AD, Ptolemy posited that the sun went around the earth, because it's what he saw with his own eyes. Over the next 1400+ years, an entire cottage industry sprung up attempting to uphold that theory, going so far as to postulate that planets up and changed direction in order to make sense with what people "saw".
Then Copernicus posited that the Earth went around the sun, in the process explaining why Mars appeared to go backwards at times and why the stars didn't exhibit parallax. His theory was ridiculed.
Just out of curiosity, who won that debate? The guy who went with his eyes, or the guy with the calculator, who questioned the conventional wisdom of the time?
You’ve rendered me speechless.
Eric, It was that same kind of thinking that gave A-Rod the MVP (2003) when his Rangers team was in the cellar of their division. Numbers are good, baseball likes numbers. But in this case, the quantitative doesn't work without the qualitative. Gotta put these things in context, people!
Does context include Ptolemy and Copernicus?
Eric, Fantastic overreaction to that item on ESPN. And, of course, way to make BP's argument for them. Putting your fingers in your ears and shouting "I know what I know" isn't exactly a very impressive way of engaging the subject, you know?
Your point about Sept. 20 games compared to April ones is gibberish. It doesn't matter if the first month involves players going through the motions, yawning every 30 seconds or so or scratching themselves
for nine innings. That game counts exactly as much in the standings as does the last series of the season, and just 'cause you say hits "down the stretch battling for the playoffs" are more important doesn't make it so. Plenty of people would say Trot Nixon's homer two nights ago was "clutch." Some folks might think hot hitting early in the season to establish a 15-game lead that crushes the spirit of your divisional rivals is more important (see: St. Louis). I don't know one way or the other. But let's not pretend like you're the authority on this.
BP's larger point is that we've got lyin' eyes, and we see what we want to see from time to time. I saw Scott Podsednik, Joe Crede and Paul Konerko smack timely hits during the ChiSox's World Series winning run last year. Are they clutch hitters? Honestly, are they? What if Konerko had come up with two outs in the ninth inning of every single one of Chicago's playoff games, and hit absolute rockets right at fielders. Is that choking? What about Luis Gonzalez's flare over the drawn-in Yankee infield to decide Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Was that clutch, or more than a little lucky? It's a vague, imprecise thing. When you write "sorry, kids ... that's clutch hitting," as if you're some reincarnated combination of Ted Williams and Abner Doubleday, you come off as a complete idiot.
My eyes lie to me plenty of the time. They see Gabe Kapler and tell me, "This guy's going to be a monster!" And, in reality, he's nothing special. They see Jose Reyes sprinting around the bases for a triple and tell me "Any team would love to have this guy!" And, of course, he killed his team last year. They see Nick Johnson flub his way around the bag at first and Jorge Posada look like the underdog in a fight against a stiff breeze and Matt Stairs looking like he would kill for a hot dog and a beer mid-game. All of these guys are far better than they look, right?
Just because something looks good doesn't mean that it is. And if that good-looking thing (in this case, a clutch hit) isn't repeatable, well, then it's probably more related to luck then skill, or general skill then specific skill. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nobody can take Ortiz's moments away from him, just as nobody can take Crede's rope into the corner or Konerko's homer off K-Rod away from them. The tension between the specific and the general is what makes the game great.
As far as I can see, BP came up with a theory, tested it and published it. Shooting down straw men (nobody said anything about trading Ortiz for Jeremy Burnitz), coughing loudly and making calculator jokes is the mark of someone with nothing to say.
Best, Ben Fleming
Let me respond to your points individually. One, I haven’t put my fingers in my ears and screamed ever since they tried telling me that “Manimal” had been cancelled. Second, I understand it doesn’t matter when the game is played, it still matters the same in the standings and even made that concession. But if you’re arguing a game in September has just as much importance, well that’s just daft. Third, are the White Sox clutch hitters? I don’t watch (ah, there we go with my eyes again) on a daily basis, so I don’t know. But they did come up big in clutch situations last fall. Fourth, you say, “The tension between the specific and the general is what makes the game great.” Absolutely agree.
Eric, I totally agree with you about the curling issue. I never even knew the rules surrounding the sport until I watched religiously this past Olympic games. But c'mon, no link to a picture of Ulrika Bergman? I'm disappointed. I can relate, though, as I initially turned in to watch lovely Cassie and Jamie Johnson of the U.S. women's team. I have since learned the sport well. Keep up the good work!
Matt Nowak, Washington, D.C.
An egregious error. Here you go.
Hey Eric, I have to laugh at Ivan "the Insane" from Queens for being a complete whack job, but most people south of Albany are crazy anyway. My wife and I got our Red Sox vanity plates back in 2004 before they were banned and display them proudly! Although they discontinued all teams besides the Yanks, Mets, and Brooklyn Dodgers, I still think they did it just to get rid of the Sox. Once and awhile we get an odd look for the unusual combination of "New York" and "Red Sox" without any expletives involved, but mostly we get a thumbs up or someone telling us how brave we are for being "out of the dugout" so to speak. Our friend Ivan actually had a point that he would be running for the hills if he had a Yankee plate in Boston, but I'm not planning any trips to NYC (especially the Bronx) so we should be safe up here in Rochester or enjoying our vacation on the Cape. Go Sox!
Scott Morgan, Rochester, NY
Can we get someone from Congress to make a go at banning these atrocious pink team hats you think?
Hey Eric, I’m just wondering: If I write a book called, “George Steinbrenner and the Yankees: Destroying Baseball with Cash, Entitlement, and Arrogance,” will Bud Selig investigate? My goodness, there was no steroid problem until these pesky books started popping up.
Brian Wessels, Westminster
Wait until he launches an investigation into clutch hitting.