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Thread: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

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    Little Reds BandWagon Reds Nd2's Avatar
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    Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?...news&fext=.jsp

    Nobody knew hitting better than Ted Williams, and it was Williams who famously said that hitting a pitched baseball is "the single most difficult thing to do in sport." That applies whether it's Game 7 of the World Series or a Tuesday night in June.

    Hitting is hitting, and hitting is hard. It requires both talent and concentration to thwart a pitcher who is trying to get you out.

    That's why the notion of the "clutch hitter" is such a tough one to figure out. The task of hitting requires 100 percent focus and dedication, and you can't go higher than 100 percent. The idea that some hitters, especially already great hitters, get better in big spots or momentous games seems counterintuitive.

    Yet the concept remains strong. Ask a fan, or even an opponent, about Derek Jeter, and "clutch" is one of the first words you'll hear. The same goes for David Ortiz. Pesky little guys can earn the label too -- players such as Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein and Brewers infielder Craig Counsell.

    To analysts, a clutch hitter is simply a good hitter who has performed well in magnified situations. The appellation is all about history, what you have done. It tells you nothing about what you're going to do.

    But in others' eyes, the word clutch carries an almost mystical glint.

    "Absolutely," said D-backs manager Bob Melvin, when asked if the clutch hitter really exists. "And sometimes it's not the guy that's hitting .330. Sometimes it's the guy that's hitting .250 that rises to that occasion."

    In-depth examinations have revealed that a player's past performance in key situations holds very little predictive value. Just because a player has come up short in the World Series before, it doesn't mean he'll do it again.

    At the very least, though, in a given postseason game, or at a pivotal moment in the pennant race, a hitter will succeed or not. And talent alone will not determine the outcome of the at-bat.

    "It's all about distractions," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Some guys can't hit in a blowout game. Some guys are not clutch hitters. It's about distractions. They're distracted by the consequences -- the game is over and we lose if you don't get a hit. Part of how you become a clutch hitter is you learn how to clean out distractions and concentrate on the process."

    Many players and managers believe that the ability to perform when pressure is at its highest is not an innate talent, but a learned skill.

    "It's not a skill you can't learn if you're willing to keep an open mind and learn," La Russa said. "Guys who are good hitters can be clutch hitters if they care enough about being the go-to guy."

    If hitting in the clutch is truly any different from hitting in any other game, that's the difference. One fundamental in hitting is clearing out everything but the essentials.

    When Crash Davis, the catcher in "Bull Durham," realized he was thinking more about Annie Savoy than about swinging the bat, he stepped out of the box. It's an extreme example, but true. The more often you can concentrate on pitch at hand, and that pitch only, the more often you can maximize your physical hitting ability.

    "You might have to weed out some extra things to concentrate and focus," said Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen. "To concentrate and focus, that means something very specific."

    Whatever it is that goes into hitting in big games and big situations, some players have done it again and again. Jeter, a lifetime .314 hitter, may be the best known.

    Yet the Yankees shortstop has been virtually the same hitter in October that he's been at all other times. He's hit .317 with a .388 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage in 6,790 career big-league at-bats. The numbers are .314/.384/.479 in the playoffs.

    Jeter has the sheen, though. He has the perception.

    "I've had players who have come here from different teams," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "And [they've] said, 'I've always known Derek was a good player, but after watching him for two months, I never knew how good he was.' It's just the sense you get when you're around him."

    Ortiz has become known for one specific kind of highlight -- the late-inning home run. It's not a myth. He does it again and again. Over the past three years, Ortiz has 27 home runs in 235 "close and late" situations, defined as at-bats in the seventh inning or later with the hitter's team either ahead by one run, tied, or with the potential tying run at least on deck. Then again, Albert Pujols has gone deep 24 times in 231 close-and-late at-bats in that same span.

    Those numbers are real, and they're impressive. But they're not necessarily predictive.

    Sometimes Derek Jeter falls short in the clutch. Meanwhile, if the Giants had beaten the Angels in the 2002 World Series, Barry Bonds would likely have been the series MVP. Bonds hit an absurd eight home runs in 45 at-bats in the '02 postseason.

    Either he suddenly learned to be a clutch hitter, or this stuff isn't as set-in-stone as some people believe.

    "Typically, players that hit best in clutch or high-leverage situations are the same hitters that perform better in the lower-leverage at-bats as well," said Chris Antonetti, assistant general manager for the Indians. "There may be a select few hitters that have higher-quality at-bats in clutch situations than non-clutch situations, but they are most likely the exceptions rather than the rule."

    Not that that's a universal view. Braves general manager John Schuerholz knows a clutch hitter when he sees one.

    "They grow up early and are imprinted early in an environment of success, competition and determination," Schuerholz said. "A lot of that is impacted by their life environment, whether it's at home or by an impactful coach or impactful person. When all of that is formed, I don't know, but it's there. There's no training manual for that."

    Rangers shortstop Michael Young is beginning to enter the Jeter-Ortiz pantheon, though a player who toils in Arlington, Texas, likely won't ever be celebrated like those two. Young hit a ludicrous .412 with runners in scoring position in 2006 -- and .356 in close-and-late situations.

    "Michael Young is the most clutch hitter in baseball," said Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. "When you hit .412 with runners in scoring position, that's clutch, and nobody does it better. He has a lot of trust in himself and a great mental approach. There's no fear. He just believes he's going to get the job done."

    Jaramillo's assertion brings to light another issue in assessing "clutchness." Performance in RBI situations is often cited, but plenty of RBI situations occur in blowout games. Postseason performance is another measure. September numbers count to some people, while others look at the close-and-late metric.

    Conventional wisdom states that the same traits help a hitter in all those situations. And a true clutch hitter should excel in all of them. But over large samples, the numbers bear out that you're better off with good hitters than with clutch hitters at critical junctures.

    It's possible to acknowledge that notion while still having a nagging feeling in your gut that it's hard to accept. Just ask the man who recently signed Young to a new five-year deal.

    "There are certain guys I'd rather have up at the plate in big situations," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, "but could I prove that with numbers? Probably not."
    I didn't see this posted anywhere, but wow, I mean just wow. Now a hitter just has to "care enough", or be somehow nurtured, into performing better in high leverage situations than he does in low level ones.
    "...You just have a wider lens than one game."
    --Former Reds GM Wayne Krivsky, on why he didn't fly Josh Hamilton to Colorado for one game.

    "...its money well-spent. Don't screw around with your freedom."
    --Roy Tucker, on why you need to lawyer up when you find yourself swimming with sharks.

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  3. #2
    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Gotta love the instinct for humans to find patterns where random chance is at work.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

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    Churlish Johnny Footstool's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    Gotta love the instinct for humans to find patterns where random chance is at work.
    And project some mystical abilities onto those who are fortunate enough to succeed at opportune times.

    We loves us some heroes.
    "I prefer books and movies where the conflict isn't of the extreme cannibal apocalypse variety I guess." Redsfaithful

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    Vavasor TRF's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Clutch hitting exists.

    Clutch anything exists. pitching, pizza making, coloring in the lines.

    Clutch hitters? dunno about that. Because the definition is so varied is one reason to say clutch hitters do not exist. But even if they do, what if that clutch hitter is facing a clutch pitcher? So the skillset is even harder to quantify. I do believe that the skillset exists though. Here is why.

    I used to be a television director. Every night, Monday through Friday I directed the 6:00 and 10:00 newscasts. These got to be pretty routine. In the fall, we did a Friday night football show. The pace was frantic. scripts came back during the open, tapes would come in in the intro to that particular tape. During this show, my crew really shined. Election shows were the same way. High pressure, high performance.

    What makes baseball different is that your direct opponent, in this case the pitcher, can also be feeling the moment and stepping up his game.

    It may be we cannot track clutch hitting because it would also require tracking clutch pitching. Plus you have to take into account that at any given moment, any player can deliver in the clutch.

    Whatever clutch actually is.
    Suck it up cupcake.

  6. #5
    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    If you have sports media covering the event, there has to be a REASON for everything.

    The players practiced too much this week and lost - they were on tired legs. They players practiced too lightly this week and lost - they were a bit rusty/not sharp.

    I think the problem with clutch is that the media wants you to think the players are "elevating their game" when what they are truely doing is maintaining their games under pressure better than the rest of the players. Thats a kind of clutch I'll believe in.

    GL

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    Haunted by walks
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Quote Originally Posted by gonelong View Post
    I think the problem with clutch is that the media wants you to think the players are "elevating their game" when what they are truely doing is maintaining their games under pressure better than the rest of the players. Thats a kind of clutch I'll believe in.

    GL
    I agree. Clutch is just the absence of choke.

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    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Better off leaving the horse for dead.
    Talent is God Given: be humble.
    Fame is man given: be thankful.
    Conceit is self given: be careful.

    John Wooden

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    Rally Onion! Chip R's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Quote Originally Posted by gonelong View Post
    I think the problem with clutch is that the media wants you to think the players are "elevating their game" when what they are truely doing is maintaining their games under pressure better than the rest of the players. Thats a kind of clutch I'll believe in.

    GL

    I can buy that. I'm sure there are some players when it's pressure time, get too uptight to function like normal. But I don't think the "clutch" players try harder in those type situations. Not many more players are more clutch than David Ortiz. But if he pops up with a runner on 2nd in the 3rd inning in a game in May, does that mean he wasn't trying as hard as he would have in a similar situation in the 9th inning?
    The Rally Onion wants 150 fans before Opening Day.

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  10. #9
    Score Early, Score Often gonelong's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Quote Originally Posted by RANDY IN CHAR NC View Post
    Better off leaving the horse for dead.
    Probably, but we have new members rolling in all the time who might bring a fresh perspective or idea to the discussion.

    I did a quick search for the "abscense of clutch" and found a few threads that I posted in that I don't even remember. At least I was consistent.

    GL

  11. #10
    Passion for the game Team Clark's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    If clutch hitting Does Not exist then why are we talking about it?
    It's absolutely pathetic that people can't have an opinion from actually watching games and supplementing that with stats. If you voice an opinion that doesn't fit into a black/white box you will get completely misrepresented and basically called a tobacco chewing traditionalist...
    Cedric 3/24/08

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    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Quote Originally Posted by Team Clark View Post
    If clutch hitting Does Not exist then why are we talking about it?
    Now that's a loaded question.
    Talent is God Given: be humble.
    Fame is man given: be thankful.
    Conceit is self given: be careful.

    John Wooden

  13. #12
    Haunted by walks
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Quote Originally Posted by Team Clark View Post
    If clutch hitting Does Not exist then why are we talking about it?
    Fantasy baseball.

  14. #13
    Matt's Dad RANDY IN INDY's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Quote Originally Posted by BCubb2003 View Post
    Fantasy baseball.
    A lot of people live there.
    Talent is God Given: be humble.
    Fame is man given: be thankful.
    Conceit is self given: be careful.

    John Wooden

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    Member 15fan's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Reggie Sanders.

    Regular season career numbers:

    .266 / .342 / .487 over 6,168 ABs in 1,753 regular season games.

    Post-season career numbers:

    .195 / .283 / .326 in 221 ABs in 62 post-season games.

    Reggie Sanders is quite possibly one of the most unclutch players in the history of baseball. He's so bad when the post-season lights are on that he's anti-clutch.

    In order to have anti-matter, you must first have matter.

    Similarly, if there is anti-clutch as demonstrated by R Laverne Sanders, then by definition there must also be clutch.
    Last edited by 15fan; 03-19-2007 at 03:32 PM.

  16. #15
    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: Art of clutch hitting: Or wait, I think that dead horse just moved

    Baseball is hard, myths live on about just about everything in the game

    Like Tony Perez, Clutch hitter

    .279 .341 .463 - Career
    .284 .364 .469 - Career RISP
    .273 .280 .318 - Playoffs RISP
    .179 .226 .393 - World Series RISP


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