"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Color By Numbers: In the Clutch

Before the 2009 post season, Alex Rodriguez was frequently vilified for his alleged inability to get a hit when it really mattered. Following a historic clutch performance that October, which included three game tying homeruns in the seventh inning or later, many of the skeptics were quieted. Since then, however, some of the doubters have gradually started to re-emerge, with many emboldened by Arod’s extended slump earlier this season.

The debate over Arod’s “clutchability” has involved a countless number of hours over the last eight years, so perhaps it’s time to settle the issue once and for all? Off the bat, let’s circle back to Win Probability Added (WPA), and see what that metric says about Arod’s context-based contribution to victory.

WPA Leaders, Yankees and MLB, 2004-2011
Player WPA PA
Alex Rodriguez 25.6 4727
Derek Jeter 12.7 5262
Jason Giambi 10.4 2314
Hideki Matsui 9.6 3121
Gary Sheffield 9.1 1525
Player WPA PA
Albert Pujols 44.1 4986
Lance Berkman 31.8 4464
Miguel Cabrera 30.8 4970
David Ortiz 28.6 4676
Alex Rodriguez 25.6 4727

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Since Arod joined the team in 2004, he has easily been the Yankees’ most productive player in terms of WPA. In fact, his total of 25.6 wins added is not only greater than the next two closest Yankees combined, but also fifth best among all major leaguers. So, if Arod really has been a failure in the clutch, his production in low leverage situations would have to be off the charts.

Because there isn’t one statistic* that can help us settle the debate, we have no choice but to take a closer look at every HR and RBI Arod has accumulated as a Yankee.

*There is a WPA-based stat called “clutch”, but it is a relative metric that essentially penalizes a player for performing well in lower leverage situations. Therefore, it isn’t useful for our purposes (click here for a more detailed explanation of “clutch”).

Arod’s HR and RBI Breakdown, 2004-2011

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011. Outer circle displays RBIs; inner circle displays HRs. Colors get lighter as score differential increases.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The donut chart above helps to dispel that myth that Arod does most of his damage “when the team has a 10-run lead” (he only has six home runs when the Yankees have been ahead or behind by 10 runs).  In fact, almost 50% of his HRs and RBIs have come with the score either tied or within one run, rates that are not only above the team average during Arod’s tenure, but either in line with or better than a selection of comps from the recent dynasty era.

Percentage of HRs and RBIs When Score is Tied or Within 1-Run, Team and Select Players, 2004-2011
Player HR Player RBI
Derek Jeter 61.0% Jason Giambi 53%
Paul O’Neill
Paul O’Neill
Jason Giambi 54.1%
Alex Rodriguez
Tino Martinez
Tino Martinez
Bernie Williams
Bernie Williams
Alex Rodriguez
48.7% Mark Teixeira 48%
2004-Present 48.1% Jorge Posada 46%
Mark Teixeira 46.6% 2004-Present 45%
Jorge Posada 46.4% Derek Jeter 45%
Hideki Matsui 43.6% Hideki Matsui 43%
Robinson Cano 41.3% Robinson Cano 41%

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

A tie game in the first inning isn’t quite the same as a knotted score in the ninth, so another way we can break down Arod’s performance is by leverage. Based on this comparison, Rodriguez once again compares favorably to both the team average during his time in pinstripes as well as our select group of Yankees’ standouts.

Leverage-Based Performance, Team and Select Players, 2004-2011

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Leverage can be an abstract concept, so perhaps the misconception about Arod stems from a lack of high profile moments? Once again, however, that theory fails when confronted by facts. Since 2004, the Yankees’ have hit 58 homeruns in the ninth inning or later that either tied the game or gave the team a lead/walk off. Of that total, Arod has accounted for 15, or over one-quarter. Not only is that twice as many as Jason Giambi’s seven over the same span, but it’s also the fourth highest amount in franchise history since 1950. What’s more, the Yankees have hit 20 such home runs in their post season history and Arod has two of them (both occurring in 2009).

Clutch HRs/Hits in the Ninth Inning or Later, Since 1950

Player HR PA Player Hits PA
Mickey Mantle
27 9909
Mickey Mantle
40 9909
Yogi Berra 19 7086 Yogi Berra 35 7086
Graig Nettles 18 6247 Graig Nettles 30 6247
Alex Rodriguez 15 4727 Bernie Williams 28 9053
Bernie Williams 11 9053 Don Mattingly 26 7721
Don Mattingly 11 7721 Elston Howard 24 5485
Jason Giambi 11 3693 Bobby Murcer 24 4997
Elston Howard 8 5485 Alex Rodriguez 20 4727
Bobby Murcer 8 4997 Roy White 19 7735
Jorge Posada 8 6921 Dave Winfield 17 5021

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011. Includes all HRs/hits that either tied the game or gave the Yankees a lead/walkoff.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Over the last eight years, so many great Yankee moments have been punctuated by Alex Rodriguez. However, because of the expectations inspired by both his immense talent and enormous contract, the myth about Arod’s inability to hit in clutch will likely persist. Although the debate can be grating, it really doesn’t matter anyway. Those with a firmer grasp of reality know full well just how potent Rodriguez has been in pinstripes. Everyone else is just clutching at straws.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 2, 2011 10:53 am

Terrific job, William. Really great stuff.

2 The Hawk   ~  Jun 2, 2011 1:35 pm

Very nice but yeah the debate will persist and I don't think settling the issue for once and all is going to happen. Also since these stats are cumulative, it doesn't really account for his ups and downs. He's had periods of being very clutch and periods of cherry-picking.But as far as I can tell since 2009 he's been more clutch than not.

But being clutch is kind of subjective. From where I sit it basically means "comes through when you really really want them to".

3 rleen4   ~  Jun 2, 2011 11:36 pm

This is an absolutely excellent analysis. Really enjoyed it. Thanks for the time and information.

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