I’ve always resisted the idea that clutch hitting exists, I guess because I don’t like the notion that baseball is something more than a game — that it brings out something heroic in an athlete.
I pretty much agree with Bill James’s early assessment on the topic, which was that what a batter hits in so-called “clutch” situations is close to what he hits in all other situations — and that if this wasn’t obvious, it’s merely because there hadn’t been enough of a sampling. In other words, if Willie Mays never hit a home run in 21 World Series games it was simply luck of the draw. Given, say, another two World Series and another 10 or 12 games, if he batted another 40 times and hit, say, six home runs, then he’d have 7 home runs in 114 at-bats, which would be almost the same ratio as his regular season average.
It’s unsettling to watch baseball as long as I have and suddenly have to entertain an entirely new concept, but after watching the Yankees play like deer caught in the headlights in game after game, I’m beginning to think I was wrong about clutch hitting. Or at least wrong about clutch hitting as it manifests itself in the postseason, which is about as clutch as I can think of.
Alex Rodriguez, of course, is taking the major share of the flak for his failure to deliver against the Orioles and now the Tigers, but it has seemed to me all along that Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira have been just as guilty, especially in this year’s postseason.
I decided to look at the playoff batting record of all four men,
which turns out to be a total of 166 games and 618 at-bats — just a
little over one full season. That seemed like a pretty substantial
sampling, one that would give us an idea of whether they were really
suffering from a bad case of playoff nerves or whether their performance
was just a statistical aberration.
Well, I still don’t know which it is, but in the 618 at-bats that
these four have accumulated in postseason play, they have a total of 132
hits for a batting average of just .214, pretty crappy no matter how
you look at it. Nor was that batting average redeemed by much power:
just 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. If you had a player who, over a period of
about 160 games and 600 at-bats hit .214 with those kind of power
numbers, would you try to replace him? I would.
Oh, and by the way, in their postseason history Granderson, Cano, Swisher, and Teixeira have accumulated 140 strikeouts.
Here’s the kicker: the best of the bunch turns out to be Alex
Rodriguez. I was surprised, as I expected him to be much worse than the
others. But after Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Tigers, he had played in 74
postseason games and come to bat 272 times with 72 hits for a batting
average of .266 – modest, but way above that of Cano (.226), Granderson
(.242), Swisher (.167), or Teixeira (.227). A-Rod had, by the way, just
13 home runs and 41 RBIs. Projected over the same 618 postseason
at-bats as the other four had combined, he would probably have come up
with 30 home runs and 93 RBIs. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible,
and his numbers were made a whole lot worse by his dreadful hitting in
the last two weeks.
I’m still not sure I believe in clutch hitting or that the
postseasons of all five of the Yankees’ regular season big boppers
really reflects that they can’t hit in the clutch. But it certainly
doesn’t provide any evidence that they are clutch hitters. At the
least, though, it suggests that the dreadful batting performances we’ve
endured over the last seven games aren’t that much different than what
the five of them have done over their entire postseason careers. Think
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 15, 2012