"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

One for the Money


Benjamin Hoffman on David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and clutch hitting.

[Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/ USA TODAY Sports]


1 Dimelo   ~  Oct 15, 2013 9:28 am

Peoples perception of clutch, much like faith, is a hard thing to try and refute with facts and numbers because it is entirely based on emotion. I do remember Jeter's failures, a lot like I remember Eli Manning's failures - perfect example being his last drive last week against the bears. But, two minutes left in the super bowl and down by 4 points, I want Eli Manning behind the center. He's done it before and I can easily gloss over his failures because he's delivered on the big stage.

Same thing with Jeter. ARod is a bit of a conundrum for me, in 2009 he was so money, but before and after that he was pretty much a statue at the plate. He had one great post season, and could never deliver at anywhere near the same rate so I kind of feel like 2009 was more an anomaly.

Again, this is all based on emotions...Jordan used to have a great commercial that would list out all the times he's failed, but people only remember the time's he has succeeded.

Jordan captures clutch succinctly, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed."

2 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 15, 2013 9:45 am

1) Nice. And also, Rodriguez was a monster in that first series he played with the Yankees against the Twins in 2004. And he was a really good post season player with the Mariners. But that got washed away by all those years of poor performances in New York.

God, remember how poorly Biggio and Bagwell played in October? And yet I don't necessarily hear that mentioned when people talk about them--maybe they do in Texas, I don't know.

3 NoamSane   ~  Oct 15, 2013 10:01 am

I have seen many comparisons of supposedly clutch players' numbers, usually showing that they're about the same regardless of situation. Not once have I seen some sort of comparison to the "average" player in "clutch" and "non-clutch" situations. It's possible Jeter, et al are clutch because they don't wilt, rather than that they elevate their game.

4 RIYank   ~  Oct 15, 2013 10:40 am

Hm, the point is actually pretty simple, and squares with what sabermetric geeks have been saying since, you know, the beginning of time. It's not that David Ortiz isn't scary in a clutch situation, with the game on the line. It's that the reason he's scary isn't that he has some special clutch talent. The reason he's scary is that he's a really, really good hitter.
If you're looking for a guy who's great in the clutch, just look for a great hitter. Don't look for an intangible glamour, a magical mental make-up, or what the guy has done on Thursdays in October.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 15, 2013 10:43 am

4) What about the guys like Bagwell or A Rod at points who are great hitters but not especially great in big games? Or at least not consistently great? Or does this come down to perception? Because even the Gods of Clutch have had poor performances in "clutch" spots.

6 Dimelo   ~  Oct 15, 2013 10:47 am

[2] I think with ARod is how meek he looks at the plate. 2004 ALCS, Game 5, top of the 8th, Cairo hits a double, Jeter sacrifices and Cairo goes to 3rd, ARod comes up next and strikes out. Not even a fly ball. That is the one at-bat, for some reason, I remember most from ARod in that series.

I think ARod's failures are more about that he rarely, if ever, when things are going bad, can provide even slightest positive at-bat to help the team. He just fails meekly. Except for 2009.

7 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:05 am

6) That's what interesting is the memory part. Because he was really good in other games too. In other years. Even for the Yankees. And before the Yanks certainly.


Do you get a sense that Eli, who has ranged from being terrible to amazing will always be amazing in big games? Or even if he is never clutch again do you think he'll always be remembered as being clutch because of those two great Super Bowl performances?

8 Start Spreading the News   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:17 am

[8] If David Tyree doesn't make that unbelievable catch in the Super Bowl, the Eli Manning isn't so clutch. If the Pats didn't drop a surefire interception, Eli Manning isn't so clutch.

As a cowboys fan watching Romo all these years, I struggle with the issue of clutch all the time.

9 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:19 am

I've always thought this was at least partly a false argument. "Clutch"-ness is real, but it depends whether you're using it as a predictive term or a descriptive one.

Neyer convinced me a long time ago there's no such thing as a predictably "clutch" player in the sense that you can look forward in time and say he'll reliably rise to the occasion when things are at their toughest. The splits in Hoffman's blog today are only the latest example to bear that out.

On the other hand, you can look backward in time and describe something that's already happened as clutch, and you'd be right. Ortiz was clutch the other night. Jeter really has been clutch in a number of high-profile situations that burned themselves on our brains forever. Luis motherfucking goddammit aarrgggh Gonzalez was clutch on a November night long ago.

It's like "stats vs. intangibles." They're both right.

10 Start Spreading the News   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:30 am

[9] Luis Gonzalez ain't clutch because he got a broken bat hit. I consider that luck. But then I am a sore loser.... :)

11 Dimelo   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:32 am

[8] That logic makes absolutely no sense to me. Eli avoided a 4th down sack before he threw that ball to Tyree, so he gets no credit for that? He gets no credit for being able to throw that ball?

What about the receiver, isn't he an NFL player too? He's only supposed to make catches that don't require him to use his athletic ability whatsoever. You want to diminish one, by giving all the credit to the other. Therefore the inverse must also apply. No?

What about the throw Eli made to Plaxico to give the Giants the lead? Was that a great throw? Or was that just a throw Plaxico had to make because any QB could have made that throw?

How about the throw to Manningham? Let me guess, a lucky throw but a great catch?

12 Dimelo   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:34 am

[11] Edit*
Or was that just a catch Plaxico had to make because any QB could have made that throw?

13 Ben   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:41 am

I love this kind of discussion. I think it gets right to the heart of the game.

I think part of feeling if a player is clutch is not just based on how they perform but on how their performance affects the game. So if Ortiz hits a GS in the first inning and the Sox go on to lose, not so clutch. If he hits a GS late in the game and Sox still lose, he might be money, but he ain't clutch. But when he hits a GS late in the game, its done. The Sox win. The momentum has swung, cause he's so clutch. You might be able to weedle out the numbers if you look at performance late in game and associated it to actual victories.

I think that's the biggest beef on Arod. Not that he didn't hit important home runs, but they more often than not didn't change the momentum of the game. It's because he's so selfish ;) and everything is his fault.

14 Dimelo   ~  Oct 15, 2013 11:57 am

[13] Interesting point!

Changing the momentum of the game is a visceral feeling. If he changes it for the positive, the fan-base feels empowered and in control. Thereby changing/swinging the balance of power in favor of the Yanks - stepping on the other team's throat. That might be the root of how we might perceive clutch - the number of times that said player has empowered the fan-base by his "clutch-ness."

I think that might make it easier to ignore the times they didn't empower (were not clutch) the rabid fan-base. You can fail twenty times out of thirty, but the fan-base will probably weigh the ten times they were clutch more heavily if they happened: a.) during the playoffs b.) against a division rival c.) getting a win while defeat was almost guaranteed (e.g. losing by 10 in the 2nd inning, and coming back and taking the lead in 8th inning).

I think that's a really good point, Ben.

15 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 15, 2013 12:24 pm

14) True. Because we get caught up in moments, in drama, in story. And it's easier to forget that a touchdown thrown in the 2nd quarter, or a strikeout with the bases loaded in the 3rd inning could be the pivotal or deciding moment of a game. But that's not when our attention is sharpest, or our memories.

I also think that once you are labeled as clutch it is hard to lose it--though Mets fans won't forgive Beltan's strikeout to end the 2006 NLCS--just like once you are branded a choker it's hard to overcome that too.

16 Ben   ~  Oct 15, 2013 1:57 pm

Yeah, the end of game IS most important. I can see that. It's where momentum shifts are most important because they can go unanswered. A walk-off home run is more thrilling that a save, for instance.

But it's because all the emotions are higher, and the end, the end, we're almost at the end!, is on everyone's mind, its so much harder to be regular.

I mean, the closer is the best example. Maybe does or doesn't get the most important outs in terms of run threats, but always gets the most important outs cause they're the last ones! It's all over after that. No way for those moments to get eclipsed. So it's not that the final outs are harder than any other objectively... it's just the the final outs are harder than all the others because everyone acts that way, so they actually are.

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