Mains: Clutch hitting on a curve

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on April 26, 2018:

Last month, I presented to the SABR Analytics Conference research that sabermetric pioneer Pete Palmer and I did on clutch hitting. Our presentation (you can read about it here and here, or listen to it here with the slideshow here) concluded that while every season features players who hit well or poorly in high-leverage situations, the data (comprising nearly 9,000 player seasons since World War II) indicates that clutch hitting doesn’t exist as a replicable skill.

There simply isn’t evidence that some players consistently hit better in clutch situations than in others. In fact, we found 120 instances of players who ranked in the top five percent of clutch hitters in one or more seasons in their careers and the bottom five percent at least once. That’s the equivalent of Clayton Kershaw mixing in a 5.00-plus ERA with his sub-2.00 ERA seasons, or Billy Hamilton going 2-for-6 as a basestealer over a full season, or Joey Votto walking 24 times over 600 plate appearances.

Amplifying the point, we found 12 players (Garret Anderson, Dwight Evans, Tony Gwynn, Joe Morgan, David Ortiz, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Gary Sheffield, Miguel Tejada, Bobby Thomson, Larry Walker, and Carl Yastrzemski) who ranked in the top five percent of clutch hitters and in the bottom five percent at least twice each over their careers. Walker, for example, was in the top five percent in 1993, the bottom five percent in 1995 and 1998, and back in the top five percent in 2002. That amounts to damning counter-evidence of clutch hitting as a replicable skill.

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Originally published: April 26, 2018. Last Updated: April 26, 2018.