Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dejan on the "C" word

Yep, the "C" word. Clutch. Dejan's got a long article in the PG today on clutch. I've talked about clutch and it's existence and stuff at length before, so you can search the archives if you really want that because I don't feel like going into it today. Charlie has also done a great post about the article which I think you should read. There's one part that he talks about in his post that I especially want to emphasize here. It's mostly reiteration at this point, but bear with me. From Dejan's article:

When his team wins, Jim Tracy invariably points to "big" hits that were delivered. When the team loses, he points to the lack of same. Even after the Pirates were blanked on three measly hits in their home opener April 9, Tracy lamented, "We had chances."

Tracy's view is reflected in how he forms his lineup, bucking the modern thinking that the highest on-base percentage players should be stacked at the top. Instead, he favors the more traditional approach of getting the runner on, moving him along and getting a "big" hit.

"Isn't that what makes teams good?" Tracy said when asked about his value of clutch. "It's what separates you from the pack, your ability to take the big at-bat. You don't expect somebody to hit 1.000 with runners in scoring position, but you have to get your share of hits in those situations. Look at the upper echelon of clubs, and that's what you look for. And if we can get to that point, we've got a chance to become a pretty decent team."

Ugh. Let's go back to the home opener. We had six base runners total and three hits in the game. Four of the runners reached second base and not one of them made it to third or scored. Despite that, in Tracy's mind we "had our chances." The Cardinals, who scored three runs, had eight hits and ten base runners. The problem in the game wasn't our lack of big hit, it was our lack of hitting, period.

Look at the first sentence in the last paragraph, "Isn't [clutch hitting] what makes teams good?" NO! IT'S NOT! My god, that comment is almost as bad as Dusty Baker's infamous "On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage. Clogging up the bases isn't that great to me," quote. What makes teams good is their ability to get people on base and to hit the ball enough to score them. You can do that by batting .100 points higher as a team with runners in scoring position, or you could just put a lot more people on base and get more hits. Let's play a fun game. Here's one set of numbers:

.321/.401, .322/.400, .327/.397

And here's a second:

.360/.472, .322/.425, .337/.431

What are they? The Pirates team OBP/SLG from 2004-2006 compared with the World Series champs from the same era (Red Sox, White Sox, and Cardinals, in order). Ten points of OPS or 25 points of SLG may not seem huge, but it is over 6,000 plate appearances. But yeah, clutch hitting. That's the difference.