Does ‘Clutch’ Really Exist?

October 12th, 2010 by Christian | Filed under General.

Living, Breathing Proof

Johnny G, Ryan and I have been going back and forth for a little while over whether or not ‘Clutch’ really exists.  For me there isn’t really a question.  I know it exists because I’ve witnessed it as a player, manager and spectator.  When I played football, basketball, baseball, hockey and managed softball, I knew which players I wanted in on the action when it counted most.  And I knew which guys were a little ‘shaky’ – to put it mildly.

But Johnny and Ryan are fans of Saber Metrics and a theory they subscribe to that they say ‘proves’ ‘Clutch’ doesn’t exist.  I beg to differ and offer the following evidence to eradicate any doubt whatsoever.  Clutch DOES  exist.  It’s a fact.

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To me, and most rational people, ‘Clutch’ means performing as well as or better than normal when the games and situations matter the most.  The easiest way to determine this is to compare how a player performs during the regular season versus how they perform during the post season, which is, as we all know when the games matter the most.  It’s also when you are facing the stiffest competition – which theoretically should push a player’s overall numbers down.  You don’t get to face doormats like the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals in the playoffs, get it?

My first evidence to Johnny that clutch does exist was when I compared my ‘best ever QB’ Joe Montana against his ‘best ever QB’ Peyton “Happy Feet” Manning.  Now, I had suspected Manning bitched up in quite a few big games, but I’m not a statistician, so I didn’t have any hard numbers to actually support my claims.  But when I did look up the numbers, I was more surprised by the disparity that I thought.

Happy Feet has played 18 post season games, the equivalent of more than a full NFL season.  He has a career record of 9-9 with 28 TDs and 19 INTs.  He is 1-1 in Super Bowl appearances.  All of these numbers are far below his regular season averages.  The post season, coincidentally happens to be played against the best competition, where you can’t rack up numbers against the Detroit Lions of the world.  Manning for his part makes terrific TV commercials – much better than Montana’s.

Comparatively, Joe Montana played in 23 post season games.  His record is 16-7, with 45 TDs and 21 INTs.  He is 4-0 in Super Bowl appearances.  An interesting side note is that Montana had ZERO interceptions in those Super Bowl games.  These numbers are slighty ‘better’ than Montana’s career regular season numbers.  So, in the post season, playing against the BEST teams in the NFL, Montana actually elevated his game, and performed BETTER than he normally does.  He faced the pressure, the bright lights, the best defenses and did not wilt in the face of these challenges.  They brought out the best in him.  He rose to the challenge and became better and obliterated these obstacles.  They didn’t call him ‘Joe Cool’ for nothing.

So, you would think that would have ended the argument.  Because how could you argue with that evidence.  But, when presented with this information, Johnny didn’t give ground, didn’t apologize, didn’t concede that Happy Feet has shriveled in big games, or back off at all!  In fact, Johnny simply changed course.  He tried to use distraction and subterfuge.  His argument that ‘clutch doesn’t exist’ suddenly became that clutch doesn’t exist ‘IN BASEBALL’ only!!

So after more back and forth, I again hit the web to look up some numbers.  What I found is that not only does clutch exist, it exists in almost precisely the players I thought were clutch, with the notable exception of one player.

I was 13 years old when the 1980 Phillies won the World Series, so I remember the ’76, ’77 & ’78 Phillies making the playoffs every year, winning 101 games in ’77 and then being eliminated easily in successive years by the Reds, Dodgers & Dodgers.  I was young, but I remember thinking the Phillies were chokers.  And I remember thinking that Mike Schmidt came up small in a lot of big situations in big games.  Then in 1979, the Phillies acquired Pete Rose.  Charlie Hustle had won two consecutive World Series with the Reds in ’75 & ’76 and was considered a ‘clutch’ player.  I remember thinking that now, with Rose, we finally had a chance to win the World Series.  Lo and behold, in 1980, the Phillies, with Rose as their first baseman, finally captured the first title in the team’s history.

Interestingly, here are Rose and Schmidt’s career and post season numberss;

Pete Rose
Career:  BA  .303  SLG% .409   OB% .375
Post Season:  BA .321   SLG% .440   OB% .388
With a post season average 18 points higher and a slugging percentage 31 points higher and an on-base percentage 12 points higher than his regular season averages, my memories of Rose were accurate.  Rose was, without a doubt, CLUTCH.  Against the best teams in baseball, Rose got BETTER. (Side note: Not only did Rose bring better numbers to the team, he brought unflappable confidence that is borne of winners.  The rest of the Phillies fed off of Rose’s confidence.  That, I know, doesn’t show up on a Saber Metric chart, but it exists.)

Mike Schmidt
Career:  BA  .267   SLG% .527    OB% .380
Post Season:  BA .236   SLG% .386   OB% .304
Schmidt, on the other hand, had his batting average descend 31 points, his slugging percentage fall off a cliff by 141 points and his on-base percentage drop 76 points (ick!).  So, without looking up a stat, at age 13, I knew by watching the games what I have now seen on paper.  Was Schmitty clutch?   NOT SO MUCH.

In 1993, I remember Lenny Dykstra and Barry Bonds in a race for NL MVP that Bonds eventually won.  Dykstra was so pissed that after the season he said that when Bonds got to the biggest stage he didn’t do squat, while he, Dykstra, had excelled.  I remember thinking that Dykstra was right about that statement.  Dykstra, I thought, WAS pretty clutch, and Bonds, I thought, WASN’T.  So I looked up those numbers.

Lenny Dykstra
Career:  BA .285    SLG% .419    OB% .375
Post Season:  BA .321    SLG% .661   OB% .433
With a 36 point increase in batting average, a ridiculous 242 point increase in slugging percentage and 58 point increase in on-base percentage, even a blind man can see that The Dude was VERY CLUTCH.  Now, we all know that Dykstra was high on juice, but we are comparing him to Barry Bonds, after all.

Barry Bonds
Career:  BA .298   SLG%  .607   OB%  .444
Post Season:  BA .245   SLG%  .503   OB%  .433
A 53 point reduction in batting average, a 103 point slide in slugging percentage and a slight 11 point dip in on-base percentage show sharp, consistent declines in the playoffs  So, as Bonds’ head, body and ego inflated, his post season numbers deflated considerably.  Was Barry clutch?  NOT SO MUCH.

This was not surprising to me.  My memories of these players during crunch time was pretty accurate.

So I wondered if I had as accurate a view of the current Phillies.  Before looking at the numbers, I would have said the Phils’ best clutch hitters would be Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino.  Surprisingly, the only one of this trio who hasn’t been clutch, is Utley.

Chase Utley
Career:  BA  .293    SLG%  .514    OB%  .380
Post Season:  BA  .254    SLG%  .508   OB%  .395
With a 39 point drop off in average, and a 6 point dip in slugging percentage, Utley’s clutch production has been disappointing.  Has he been clutch?  According to the numbers, NOT SO MUCH.

The other two players, Ruiz and Victorino, did perform as well as or better in the post season:

Carlos Ruiz
Career:  BA  .260    SLG%  .396    OB%  .352
Post Season:  BA  .291    SLG%  .466   OB%  .425
Chooch’s numbers go up across the board, with an impressive 31 point increase in average, a big 71 point spike in slugging percentage and a 78 point increase in on-base percentage.  Those of us who watch the Phils already knew that Chooch is CLUUUTCH!

Shane Victorino
Career:  BA  .279    SLG%  .428    OB%  .342
Post Season:  BA  .276    SLG%  .504   OB%  .354
With a virtually identical average, Victorino’s huge increase in power (76 points) and 12 point increase in on-base percentage are clear indictators that he is a BETTER hitter in the post season.  Those who SAW his grand slam of CC Sabathia and his clutch dinger against the Dodgers in 2008 already knew that.  CLUTCH.

Another Phillie with good clutch numbers is Jayson Werth:

Jayson Werth
Career:  BA  .272    SLG%  .481    OB%  .367
Post Season:  BA  .282    SLG%  .626   OB%  .390
With increases across the board, 10 points higher in average, 145 point better slugging percentage (wow!) and getting on base at a 23 point better rate, Werth is VERY CLUTCH with some  Pop!

A Phillie who isn’t so clutch (not surprisingly to me) is Ryan Howard:

Ryan Howard
Career:  BA  .279    SLG%  .572    OB%  .372
Post Season:  BA  .264    SLG%  .520   OB%  .376
Howard’s average is 15 points lower, his slugging percentage drops 52 points and his on-base percentage is about the same.  So, in the post season, when the better pitchers start feeding him a steady diet of curve balls away, the Big Piece can’t lay off and he’s not the same slugger that he is during the regular season.  Clutch?  NOT SO MUCH.

I sampled (I know you Saber metric guys love that word) three other top players of this era – Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols –  to see if they were ‘clutch.’  I’d say all three maintained their level of hitting against better pitching, so I will give all three the ‘Clutch’ label, while none of the three has set the world on fire in the post season.  Of these three, Jeter stands out due to a handful of incredible defensive plays he has made at crunch time through the years.

Derek Jeter
Career:  BA .314   SLG% .452    OB% .385
Post Season:  BA .312   SLG% .475  OB% .381
Jeter maintains his average, hits with a little more power and gets on base at about the same clip – against better pitching.  CLUTCH

Alex Rodriguez
Career:  BA  .303    SLG%  .571    OB%  .387
Post Season:  BA .300   SLG% .552  OB%  .400
Arod maintains his average, hits for less power and gets on base a little more frequently.  Clutch?  Not the best I’ve ever seen, but still a good hitter in the post season.  CLUTCH.

Albert Pujols
Career:  BA  .331    SLG%  .624    OB%  .426
Post Season:  BA  .322    SLG%  .578   OB%  .431
‘The Machine’ has drop-offs in average and slugging percentage.  But look at those numbers!  Even with his numbers going down, he’s still better than anyone else!  Clutch?  Maybe not, but I’ll take him over anyone.

In conclusion, I realize that Johnny, Ryan and the rest of the new Saber Metric cult will not adjust your position in the face of obvious (to the rest of us) facts.  You will take those stats on a rocket ship to the moon.  But that’s human nature.  It’s hard to argue a point for a long time, and then say to the other party, “You are right, I am wrong.”  So I don’t expect that.  But it’s also human nature for each player to process and handle pressure differently.  These are not robots out there.  Some will be better and others will be worse.  Some will be ‘Clutch’ while some ‘Not So Much.’  And fans usually know who handles the pressure better – and who doesn’t.  That’s why you see a guy in Scott Rolen who committed 7 errors in 162 games, then commit 3 errors in 3 games in the post season.  He did not handle the post season pressure very well.

Anyone who watches baseball doesn’t need a bean counter to tell them that.  They also know that ‘Clutch’ is alive and well in many of the players still competing in this year’s post season.

As always, Go Phils!!

28 Responses to “Does ‘Clutch’ Really Exist?”

  1. livelybrowsers says:

    Thanks for good stuff

  2. Vinny says:

    Cliff lee is definitely a clutch player 8 post season starts hasn’t lost let but he does loose during regular season. Andy petite I wouldn’t say is clutch. Yea he has the most post season wins but he also has about one hundred starts really like 40 but he only won I think 19. Manny ramirez has as many at bats in the post season as a player has in regular season and has an average of almost 300 with 28 dingers and 80 RBI I would say he is pretty clutch.

    • Johnny G says:

      Jesus this was painful to read. Cliff Lee loses during the regular season so he is clutch? Andy Pettite isn’t clutch because even though he has the most post season wins ever, hes had a lot of starts. Manny is clutch because he has an avg of almost .300 with 28 homeruns and 80 rbis, actually all well below his career numbers.

  3. ChrisLeo33 says:

    Well I believe in clutch play but I don’t believe a player will always be clutch, just consistently clutch, but there can be clutch anomalies like that of CC Sabathia.

    CK has valid points and argument as well as a well put together article. I can’t comment on Johnny’s and Ryan’s belief in Saber Metrics as I don’t know enough about it to leave an educated opinion.

    • Johnny G says:

      You don’t need to know sabermetrics for this one, Leo. The studies measured if anyone in the game can consistently perform better in “clutch” situations and the answer was a resounding no.

      Like i said, a walk off homerun is clutch but is the person who hit it, clutch? Will he always be clutch? I don’t think so.

  4. Steve says:

    In 2009, CC Sabathia had a 1.98 ERA. Was the clutch that year?

    For the rest of his career, including this year, his post-season ERA is over 7. Was he clutch in ’09, but not the rest of his career? Did he learn how to be clutch last year, but forget so far this year?

  5. Steve says:

    The problem with trying to define players as \clutch\, particularly in baseball, is that the sample size is so small, and the nature of the game lends toward players having streaks of good and bad. I mean, just think about how a little grounder to the left side that never left the infield could have dropped Ruiz’ AVG something like 40 or 50 points if it had been fielded cleanly and he’d been thrown out.

    • Christian says:

      If I hear another one of you Saber Metric cult members use the term ‘sample size’ I’m gonna jump off a bridge.

      I you have one championship fight and lose it, then you missed your shot. That’s life. If you win you’re the champ. That’s how it works.

      You can speculate all you want about what have been IF you have more opportunities, but that’s where you depart from reality and delve into theory, and if you ask me, jibberish.

      • Steve says:

        Whoa whoa whoa there big guy, I am torn on this subject, hardly a “saber metric cult member” by any stretch. However, sample size is very important to consider for any statistical analysis to be meaningful in any way. Think of it this way- if we look at a player’s at bats in rain delays, he might only have 3 or 4 games in those situations for a year. Now, in those 3 games, if he goes 6-9 or 2-9, does it mean that he is a worse hitter because of the rain delay? Are you going to pull him out of the lineup next time there is a rain delay because he doesn’t perform well in them? Or, are you going to say that there isn’t enough data to really know anything?

        • Christian says:

          That’s it! You said ‘sample size’ again!! I am off to the Walt Whitman Bridge!!!

          • Johnny G says:

            This is a solid way to combat something you either don’t understand or are too stubborn to accept.

            Sample size is the new vogue word? Are you kidding me? You are arguing about statistics and don’t want to hear the word sample size? Get a clue.

      • Johnny G says:

        Obviously if you have once chance and lose you blew it but did you blow it because you couldn’t deal with pressure or choked? Thats what the argument is. People lose, people fail, people make mistakes. Is it always because they can’t deal with pressure? Of course not. Players go through 0 for 12 slumps all the time but if it happens in the playoffs…..CHOKER!

  6. Steve says:

    Christian, how can you say that A-Rod is clutch in your article based on the stats that you’re using to support your assertions, and then in the comments say that A-rod “bitched-up” in 2005 & 2006 with the pressure of being “the man”, and only performed well in the postseason when they brought in Tex? If you believe what you said in the comments, then how can you call him clutch? Especially if you’re in agreement TomK’s definition of clutch, which you seem to be?

    I’d really like to read Ryan’s rebuttal article to this, if he has time to write one.

    • Christian says:

      I say his overall post season numbers are almost as good as his regular season numbers. If you perform as well as, or better than the regular season, in the post season, then that is clutch. Arod wasn’t clutch in 2005 & 2006. He has improved. Is that hard to understand? And why does every player you talk to refer to ‘Clutch’ but you don’t believe it exists? You know more than them?

      • Steve says:

        But in your comment you said that the reason he performed better was that they got Tex to take the pressure off of him. So, if he only produced due to reduced pressure, does that mean that he isn’t clutch? Or is he moderately clutch?

        What about his “clutch stats” per Baseball-reference.com?

        2 out, RISP: .274 AVG.
        Late & Close: .277

        In ’05 he hit .302 & .293 in these situations; .313 & .237 in ’06. Was he clutch with 2 out RISP, but not in late & close games? Clutch during the regular season, but not post-season?

        • Christian says:

          I’d say he’s moderately clutch. Not the best I’ve ever seen, but he doesn’t completely choke under pressure anymore.

          From those numbers you presented, it looks like he was pretty consistent except for a moderate dropoff in Late & Close in ’06. Was there a point in your question?

          • Christian says:

            And if someone is considered a good clutch hitter, they still fail 7 times out of ten. So is it an exact science? Of course not. But you know you’re gonna get a quality at-bat, game, performance from them.

          • Johnny G says:

            Everybody wants clutch to exist because it makes a good story line. There are clutch performances but there are no clutch hitters/ fielders. It doesn’t work that way.

  7. TomK says:

    I describe “clutch” this way. Most of us get nervous when it matters most. We think of the downside of failing, we try too hard, we get the shakes whatever it is, we can’t perform at our best.

    By contrast, guys who are clutch actually relax in those situations and it’s like things slow down. Like when you’re practicing with friends, and you can hit the ball 500 feet, you can make that jump shot from 50 feet, you can kick the ball 50 yards. But only when you’re playing in the game and it matters.

    People who are clutch have the opposite reaction to a situation that most people. It gives them the edge.

  8. Christian says:

    What it proves more than anything is you can’t admit when you’re wrong.

    • Johnny G says:

      I am the one with scientifc studies to support my argument and that completely agree with me and you are judging based on your eyes. Last week you would have told me Chase Utley is clutch and now you are saying he is unclutch. Same for Arod. You would have said he was unclutch but in this article you call him clutch.

      You are purely guessing as to why people are not performing as well as you think they should and you assume that makes your right? Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds.

  9. Johnny G says:

    2002 Barry Bonds was 17 for 30 in the MLB PLayoffs. Was he clutch for one post season? Did he forget how to be clutch?

    2005 Arod hit .133 and in 2006 he hit .071. Was he unclutch just those years? Did he learn how to be clutch? If so, how do you teach that?

    as you can see i can go on for days with questions that you can’t possibly answer and that is pretty weird for something that you call a “fact”.

    As far as the pressure getting to Scott Rolen, you didn’t respond to my comment on the side bar so i’ll post it here.

    Scott Rolen hit .421 when winning a world series in 2006. Was he not nervous in the world series but too nervous in the divisional series? Seems to me, if pressure were the issue, he would be consistently bad in the playoffs, especially the WORLD SERIES.

    Did Scott forget how to be clutch this year? I’m really curious.

    • Christian says:

      1. Players can have good streaks, good at-bats, perform well against certain pitchers, etc. I don’t know why he did well in a certain year. Maybe they had such a better team that he didn’t feel as pressured. But when you look at his career numbers, against better competition, the numbers go DOWN. That, my friend is an indisputable FACT. Over Bons’s career, his numbers go DOWN in the playoffs. Fact. Same thing for Schmidt. Fact. That seems especially true of A-rod. When he was supposed to be ‘the man’ on those teams in 2005 & 2006, he bitched up. So the Yankees had to bring in Texiera to take some pressure off.

      Same thing with Rolen. No Pujols on the Reds. Rolen is supposed to be the rock solid third baseman.

      Give me your explanation of how a guy who made 7 errors in 162 games made 3 errors in 3 games. I am dying to hear that one.

      And I don’t hear you mentioning Manning, Rose, Schmidt, Montana…

      • Johnny G says:

        I quoted Schmidt below and Rose hit consistently well throughout the playoffs but he was also a great hitter.

        Alot of maybe’s in your answers and alot of jumping to conclusions. No Pujols on the Reds? How about Joey Votto who had a better season than Pujols?

        There is not an explanation for why a player has a bad defensive series all the time. As i said, he had a bad back and he made some errors. Why you automatically attribute that to someone choking is really strange.

  10. Johnny G says:

    There is so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to start.

    1. I never backed off the statement that Manning is better than Montana and i never said clutch only applies to baseball. What i did say is, I haven’t studied the numbers in football to say you are 100% wrong, even though I’m pretty positive you are. Especially considering how much of a team game football is. Joe Montana had one of the best coaches in the history of the game, a great defense, a running game, and Jerry Rice. He also did not have the responsibility to throw the ball nearly as much as Manning does or control the entire offense.

    2. When i told you to show me players who “consistently” elevate their game in pressure situations, I told you there needed to be a sufficient sample size. You didn’t list number of atbats or number of games so those numbers are meaningless.

    Heres why you are wrong. Schmidt hit .381 in the 1980 World Series with 2 homeruns. Was he all of a sudden clutch? Did he suddenly become clutch? Please explain how someone could hit .381 with 2 bombs with what seemingly is the most pressure, but they are “not clutch”. There is no thing as clutch and it doesn’t matter how much softball managerial experience you think you have to prove it does. This article proved less than nothing.