Jan 23, 2007

Is Arod 'clutch'?

Using Baseball Musings’ excellent day-by-day database.

I would classify ‘clutch’ hitting as what the player does when his team is down by 3 runs to up by 1. So, from 2004-06, (Arod’s Yankee tenure) he has an overall OPS of .945.

trailing by 3 = .764 OPS

-2 = .774

-1 = 1.090

Tied = .941

Leading by 1 = .926

Trailing .905 (-40)
Tied (-4)
Leading .980 (+35)

Not quite as bad as I would have thought. The discrepancy between leading and trailing hitting could exist because opposing teams generally use their best pitchers when they’re ahead or tied. But to really understand, we have to compare him to his peers.

First, The Captain.
2004-06 OPS .854

-3 = .822

-2 = 1.064

-1 = .870

Tied = .883

+1 = .811

Trailing .896 (+42)
Tied (+29)

Leading .793 (-61)

Other than trailing by 2 or 3 runs, Arod has performed better. Even though Arod hits better when ahead, and Jeter hits better when behind, his trailing stats are still better than Jeter’s. The difference in perception comes from the fact that Jeter hits better (than normal) when trailing and tied, as opposed to Arod who hits worse (than normal) when trailing and tied.

Now let’s look at Adrian Beltre, who is right in the middle of the OPS rankings for the 131 hitters who had at least 300 plate appearances in 2006. He’s also a third-baseman so he will make a good comparison.

2004-06 OPS .841

-3 = .815

-2 = .837

-1 = .878

Tied = .889

+1 = .906

Trailing .850 (+9)
Tied (+48)

Leading .788 (-53)

Beltre is a very nice clutch hitter. He hits better when trailing, and much better in tie games.

And finally David Ortiz, who is supposedly the best clutch hitter in baseball.

2004-06 OPS 1.011

-3 = .945

-2 = 1.158

-1 = 1.057

Tied = 1.084

+1 = 1.012

Trailing 1.023 (+12)
Tied (+73)
Leading .940 (-71)

In conclusion, Arod is the only player among these four who hits worse when trailing and better when leading (over the last three years). Assuming trailing hitting is more important, I certainly wouldn’t call Arod ‘unclutch,’ because he does hit about his normal in tie games, but he is clearly not as ‘clutch’ as Jeter, Beltre or Ortiz. Is there a discernible reason for this? Did Arod hit this way before joining the Yanks? That could let us know if it’s consistent with his career, or whether it’s a New York thing.

Arod 1994-03 OPS 1.014

-3 = 1.105

-2 = .828

-1 = 1.050

Tied = 1.113

+1 = 1.029

Leading .984 (-30)
Tied (+99)
Trailing .967 (-47)

Rather interesting. The biggest difference is Arod's tied OPS. Before New York, it was 99 points higher than his overall OPS. Since joining New York, it is 4 points lower than his overall OPS. Meanwhile, his 'trailing' OPS has been lower than his overall OPS throughout his career. But the only area where he improved since joing New York is his 'leading' OPS. This is why some critics say Arod does all his production when the Yanks are already ahead.

Arod has never been a better hitter when trailing, but was a better hitter with the score tied (while his leading hitting is actually better in New York). Perhaps this explains people’s view that Arod does most of his damage early in the game (when the score is most often tied), as opposed to the ‘clutch’ innings of 7-9 (when a tie is less likely). Some people say that an RBI in the 1st inning is just as important as an RBI in the 9th inning. It’s true that a run is a run, but ‘clutch’ hits in late innings are more likely to ensure a win only because there are fewer innings to play: when a team takes a lead in inning 1, it probably has about a 60-70% chance of winning - when it takes a lead in innings 7-9, that probability must go up to 80-100%. I don’t have the exact data, but it’s easy to understand this idea. Late, close RBIs are more important than early RBIs.

Fan Graphs has equations for ‘clutchiness,’ and it’s pretty clear where Arod (and Jeter) stand. In 2006, Jeter was the 4th best clutch hitter, while Arod was the 158th best (or 5th worst, among the 162 qualified hitters). However, in 2005 (Arod’s MVP year), he was 54th in ‘clutchiness’ (barely in the positive), while Jeter was 78th (actually a negative clutch hitter). And in 2004, Jeter was 19th and Arod was 23rd. Over the last 3 years, Jeter is clearly the better clutch hitter. Arod has not necessarily been ‘unclutch,’ but throw in that he’s always compared to Derek ‘Superman’ Jeter (as I am guilty of doing), and that Arod is the highest paid player in baseball, it’s easy to see why he is considered ‘unclutch,’ which is an unfair sentiment. He’s just not as clutch as Jeter or Ortiz.

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