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David Ortiz isn’t clutch, he’s just good

Jun 22, 2014, 10:48 PM EDT

David Ortiz, Derek Norris David Ortiz, Derek Norris

Red Sox manager John Farrell says DH David Ortiz has a “knack for the moment”, as Sean McAdam reports in a column for CSN New England. Ortiz hit a go-ahead solo home run in the 10th inning after Koji Uehara blew his first save of the season in Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Athletics.

The concept of Ortiz as clutch isn’t a new one. He’s a three-time World Series champion and is coming off of a post-season in which he posted a 1.206 OPS with five home runs and 13 RBI in 16 games. He had a similarly otherworldly post-season run in 2004 as well.

But if you dig into the numbers, one finds that Ortiz is just as good in “clutch” moments as he is overall:

  • Career: .926 OPS
  • Post-season: .962
  • 2 outs, RISP: .950
  • “Late & Close”: .871
  • High leverage: .936

He is very slightly better in “clutch” situations but the difference isn’t so large as to be explained by factors unrelated to Ortiz, including simple statistical variance.

A career .926 OPS is really, really good. He’s one of 28 players since 1901 to post a .925 OPS or better in at least 8,000 career plate appearances, according to Baseball Reference. Ortiz may not be clutch, but he is quite a productive hitter. We don’t need to exaggerate his prowess when citing his everyday performance does the job.

  1. historiophiliac - Jun 22, 2014 at 10:58 PM

    He is a hitting machine in the body of a pro bowler.

    • infieldhit - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:42 AM

      What does that make Prince?

      • zs123 - Jun 23, 2014 at 1:45 AM

        Overpaid

      • unclemosesgreen - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:08 AM

        Funky

  2. renaado - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:03 PM

    If only he can steal homeplate too.

  3. tc4306 - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:05 PM

    Jack Morris had a good take on the concept of “clutch.”

    He said that players noted for being able to perform on the big stage
    did not elevate their performance in those situations.
    Rather, they were individuals who could block out all of the noise,
    distractions etc. and keep their concentration and their heart rate normal.

    This, he felt, enabled them to maintain their normal production
    in clutch situations, where many others could not.

    • Bill Baer - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:09 PM

      Then about half the league is clutch. The AL average OPS this season is .714. The AL average OPS in high leverage situations is .712.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:17 PM

        I take that to mean you concede that the AL is superior, Bill.

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 24, 2014 at 11:56 AM

        really?

        The A.L. with DH’s is ONLY at .714 to the N.L.’s .712 while their PITCHERS are hitting…

        This shows that the N.L. is actually superior…

    • dan1111 - Jun 23, 2014 at 1:45 AM

      This is just as unsupported by the evidence as the traditional idea of clutch. If it were true, we would expect to see most players hitting worse in big situations, but the stats don’t back that up.

      Well, it may be that some players can’t perform under pressure. But those players hardly ever make it to the big leagues in the first place.

  4. jrob23 - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:21 PM

    just awful. Just because the numbers are similar across the board does not make his production in high stress pressure situations not clutch. The term is to describe a player who performs under pressure. He does. Therefore he is clutch. All the other players throughout history who don’t perform under pressure (Bagwell, Bonds, Maddux) are NOT clutch. Is this article for real? Makes zero sense

    • Bill Baer - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:25 PM

      Barry Bonds wasn’t “unclutch”.

      Career OPS: 1.051
      High leverage: 1.052

      Neither was Jeff Bagwell.

      Career OPS: .948
      High leverage: .981

      • buddaley - Jun 23, 2014 at 7:51 AM

        Or the other maligned “choker”, Alex Rodriguez:

        Career OPS: .942
        High Leverage OPS: .960

    • dan1111 - Jun 23, 2014 at 6:23 AM

      Maddux had a 3.27 ERA in the postseason, compared to a 3.16 ERA in the regular season. Considering the postseason is against a higher level of competition, that is an excellent performance.

      Most people’s definitions of “clutch” and “un-clutch” are completely faulty: based on one or two high-profile moments they remember, rather than a player’s overall performance under pressure.

      • jwbiii - Jun 23, 2014 at 10:13 AM

        Absolutely. We all remember that fantastic game Jack Morris pitched in the World Series, but his postseason ERA was 0.10 lower than his regular season ERA. That was just Jack being Jack. He had some good days in May, too. We just remember the one in October.

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 23, 2014 at 4:34 PM

        jwbiii

        Jack Morris career ERA+ 105

        A.J. Burnett career ERA+ 105

        darn, it was coming into this season but now A.J.’s career ERA+ has dropped to 104 with his stats from this season so far… dang it.

        I used A.J. as my reason for why Jack did not deserve to be in the HOF.

        Oh well, he still doesn’t.

    • gmfw7 - Jun 23, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      did you purposefully choose three guys whose numbers prove your point to be wrong, or are you just bad at life?

      • uwsptke - Jun 23, 2014 at 11:32 AM

        He didn’t even do that. He picked three guys who he assumed had numbers to back up his gut feeling and was quickly corrected by Bill with actual statistics.

  5. rayala3 - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:52 PM

    He’s clutch because he comes through when the pressure is on. Absolutely clutch.

    • Caught Looking - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:25 AM

      Now blend it together and what’s his average in High Leverage, Late & Close and in the Post-Season? He’s clutch. Just ask the 2004 Yankees and 2013 Tigers among others.

      • zs123 - Jun 23, 2014 at 1:49 AM

        You’re not grasping the difference between “good” and “clutch”… Ask those same teams if Ortiz was just as good in all other situations.

  6. mattymatty2000 - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:23 AM

    By FanGraphs WPA (win probability added, for which 1 is “Average,” 3 is “Great,” and 6 is “Excellent”) Ortiz has averaged 3.28 over his 11 seasons in Boston. He’s had some seasons as high as 7 and 8 and never had a negative season. You can see the data here:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=745&position=DH#winprobability

    That also doesn’t take into account what he has done in the post-season, particularly in 2004 and in the 2013 World Series.

    • Detroit Michael - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:14 AM

      Ortiz has performed better in the clutch than overall during the regular season of his career. You can see this by looking at the career “clutch” statistic on Fangraphs.com, which is greater than 0.00. It’s at the link in matty’s post. (Furthermore, most power hitters tend to do worse in the clutch (believe it or not) so Ortiz is bucking that trend too.) That doesn’t include his post-season performance.

      However, that does not (1) tell us anything about Ortiz’ character or (2) indicate whether this is a trait of Ortiz or merely random variation.

  7. norvturnersneck - Jun 23, 2014 at 1:41 AM

    He knows how to “clear the mechanism”

  8. nvl004 - Jun 23, 2014 at 6:30 AM

    he is a clutch guy to go to when you need a bullpen phone smashed up.

    • dan1111 - Jun 23, 2014 at 6:35 AM

      Actually, he smashes phones equally well in low-leverage and high-leverage situations.

    • jwbiii - Jun 23, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      The score of that game was 7-2 at the time, so he’s a low leverage phone smasher.

      • dan1111 - Jun 23, 2014 at 3:29 PM

        Kudos to you for looking that up. That’s commitment to the joke. I mailed it in by comparison.

  9. SBoy - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    Life long Yankee fan and have been critical of Ortiz… you can call it whatever you want, the dude is clutch, and is on a very shortlist of people I’d want up with 2 outs in game 7 of the world-series, (if he was on my team) and was down… or conversely would not want to see him up when against my team.

    • aceshigh11 - Jun 23, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      That’s how I feel.

      Yeah, it’s fairly impossible to quantify “clutch”, but Ortiz has so many of those nearly-impossible, late inning heroics on his resume that you simply can’t deny the guy comes through in key moments. He literally has a highlight reel of “HOLY BLEEP” magical moments.

  10. rbj1 - Jun 23, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    So is Andy Pettitte clutch?
    Career winning %: .626
    Post season winning%: .633

    • sportsfan18 - Jun 24, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      yes, he is and I’m NOT a Yankees fan or even close…

      Now, the Yanks had great teams so much of his regular season winning percentage came from the Yanks just being and having great teams…

      BUT, when pitching in the post season, he was going up against other good teams…

      Impressive post season stats…

  11. Jack Marshall - Jun 23, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    There are two problems with this kind of argument against clutch hitters:

    I have seen no statistic that accurately measures what really is “clutch,” which varies according to the flow of particular games. Runners on base in late innings doesn’t define clutch very precisely, or pressure, or importance. “Late inning game-winning home runs in do or die play-off games against the Yankees in Fenway Park in front of a national audience doesn’t have a stat attached to it.” Yesterday’s homer wasn’t just clutch. It might have saved the season.

    The other is that it only measures hits. How often does Ortiz hit the ball hard when it matters, as opposed to striking out? He doesn’t have control over the fielders. His homerun in the play-offs against the Tigers was a clutch hit even if Hunter had caught it.

  12. jchaiss - Jun 23, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    In extra innings against the twins Big Papi hits a home run to tie the game. In less then a week period Big Papi again in extra innings hits the game winning home run, this is after a dominate pitching by Lester and run support by the offense, then the relief pitching gave up 5 runs. Everything looked as if the A were going to steal the game away then Big Papi came up clutch again.

  13. uwsptke - Jun 23, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    I think the overall point Bill is trying to make is this: It’s not like Ortiz goes 0-3 with 2 K’s every night and then comes up with the game winning HR in his last at bat. He’s not “Clark Kent” during the regular season and suddenly becomes “Superman” during the playoffs. He’s a good hitter no matter what the circumstances. He’s had the good fortune of being placed in several high-leverage situations (especially in the post-season), where he continues to be a good hitter. This creates the “clutch” perceptions, when in reality he’s just good no matter what the circumstance is.

  14. adeedothatswho - Jun 23, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    Don’t you need to compare a player’s numbers to the league average over that time to determine how clutch someone is? Any player could see a decline in numbers in a clutch situation than non clutch one, but that’s doesn’t mean they’re aren’t still one of the best in the league in those spots.

  15. sportsfan18 - Jun 23, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    Papi’s OPS this season is .823 right now.

    Papi will not end up as one of those players since 1901 with a career OPS of .925 as his has been going down.

    3 of past 6 seasons it’s been below .900 and one of those seasons it was below .800 even when he finished at .794 in 2009.

    He’ll be below .900 this season too.

    Now Edgar Martinez IS one of those players with a career OPS above .925 as Edgar retired with a .933

    Edgar also retired as one of only 23 players with a slash line of .300/.400/.500

    Papi is well under the .300 career batting average (.285 and going down).

    Papi is well under the .400 career on base percentage (.380 and going down).

    Now, Papi has a .546 career slugging percentage and will end up above .500, but it’s going down still.

    Edgar finished with a .515 slugging percentage.

  16. sidelineshot - Jun 23, 2014 at 9:52 PM

    Rice and beans, man.

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