Friday, May 20, 2011


“In sports terminology, "clutch" means performing well under extreme pressure. It often refers to high levels of production in a critical game, such as Game 7 of a best-of-seven series, the last hole of a Major Championship golf tournament, or the final minute(s) in a close match. Being "clutch" is often seen by sportswriters and fans as an innate skill which some players have while others do not”

There’s a lot made out of a player’s ability to hit, pitch or field their position in “clutch” situations. It’s pretty easy to track too. Did x player drop/hit the ball or run the bases effectively? Did he/she do this more than once over the course of the season? He/She is either “Clutch” or not.

I’m amazed that in the game of baseball, where statistical analysis can tell us everything from the pitch a player hits the hardest, to what his favourite ice cream flavor is that this touchy-feely, anecdotal type of thought process still exists.

The idea of “Clutch” as I see it with the game of baseball is that it’s perceived that certain players try harder when there’s more at stake. This implies that the other players try less hard and are more susceptible to failure. That is a complete crock of shit if you ask me. That would be like saying drivers try harder to not get in accidents when they’re closer to their destination, plumbers try harder to do a good job when they’re quickly approaching a deadline or classical musicians try harder to play the right notes when the critics are in the audience.

Perhaps the idea of “odds” is what’s perceived as “clutch”? If a manager plays the “odds” with a bunt, steal or sacrifice fly to move a runner into scoring position then he is lauded by the fans/press/pundits as doing the right thing. I call this results based criticism. This is where the concept of “clutch” comes from IMHO. By reflection, the player who executed this play is considered “clutchy” because he/she “got the job done”.

Baseball is a game that remains important in our society because every generation has stories and anecdotes that are passed down through generations. Whether you played, your father played, you have seasons tickets or bought, we all invest a little bit of ourselves into different teams and players. The idea of “clutch” gives us an emotional reaction to what we perceive as a big play at a big time. But really…when John McDonald hits a walk-off home-run was he trying to do anything different then he does during any other at bat? Or was the result just inherently more positive?

Was Michael Jordan trying any harder to make the baskets for all those NBA moment clips? No the goal is to do your job….his job was to hit the shot, just like McDonald’s was to get on base.

Does this discount the belief in clutch ability...probably not. But odds based solutions in key situations are easier to quantify than saying that John Farrell continues to let John McDonald hit in key situations because of his ability to hit in the 9th inning. There's either a good reason to let him hit or there's no other options on the bench. And that's a topic for another day completely.

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