For the next nine years, we’ll continue having the same debate over and over again: Is A-Rod clutch? Clearly, he’s not doing himself any favors this year. His lack of timely hitting is pretty indisputable this year, though he has brought his average with RISP up to .268, from .248 at the end of August.
Many people think that clutch is unquantifiable and/or a luck-prone stat and disregard it. That’s been a popular sentiment since Baseball Prospectus became relatively mainstream. While I’m not sure where I fall on the issue, I do know that there seems like a perfect stat to qualify clutch situations: Leverage Index.
We saw this stat last year, when we ran some WPA graphs after early-season games. I’ve linked to the definition of Leverage Index above, but the premise is that the higher the leverage index, the more critical the situation. This takes into consideration score differential, outs, runners on, and inning. Basically, it answers the question: How important is this at-bat to fate of my team?
Last week, Carl Bialik, The Wall Street Journal’s Numbers Guy, examined A-Rod’s clutchiness. He uses A-Rod’s OPS in high, medium, and low-leverage situations. He funs:
His career OPS in high-leverage situations is .975. In medium-leverage, it’s .960. And in low-leverage, it’s .972. That’s consistent with the American League as a whole during his career, when each year batters in high-leverage situations hit somewhere between 1% worse and 6% better than they did in low-leverage situations.
Since we’re talking about A-Rod’s failures this year, Bailik shows us that yes, A-Rod hasn’t been that clutch in 2008″
In 2004, he hit 19% better in high-leverage situations than in low-leverage ones. In 2005 and 2006, he hit 17% worse. Last year, he hit 15% better. And this year, he’d hit 32% worse, through Monday.
Bialik went to Jim Albert, Bowling Green State University statistician, for further findings.
The problem is small sample size: In a typical season with the Yankees, Mr. Rodriguez only gets about 130 plate appearances in clutch situations. That’s also why we can’t learn much from his 44 at bats in the last three postseasons, when his performance was abysmal.
Prof. Albert was apologetic about his findings: “Sorry for not giving you better news — no significance is generally not front-page stuff — but this illustrates the dangers of trying to make too much from this type of situational data.”
Take what you will from this. For me, it’s just more uncertainty in the perennial clutch debate.