Mets will need to be clutch against Dodgers Aces
By Brian Farrell
The Mets offense led the charge up the standings to first place in the NL East in the second half of 2015. A couple of underwhelming series (and one no-hitter) to end the year aside, the team got contributions up and down the lineup. A different bat seemed to come through each game with the big hit. This was never more evident than during a magical August and even for most of September. But it’s October now.
With games against Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on tap in Los Angeles, the Mets’ scoring opportunities figure to come less often. Assuming Mets pitchers keep the games close, Mets hitters will need to be clutch. So, are the Mets a clutch hitting team?
The concept of being ‘clutch’ is much debated within baseball circles. Purists love to label a hitter as clutch for delivering ‘when it matters most’. On the other side of the coin, as much as statisticians have worked to debunk the concept of ‘clutch’, they have also developed stats to measure the phenomenon. And they call it… ‘clutch’. Over the past decade it has become generally accepted that it is possible to evaluate past performance, but past performance in clutch situations is not a good predictor of future success of failure.
David Appelman defines the ‘clutch’ metric as an attempt to measure “how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment’. Generally, a player will have a ‘clutch’ result between -1.00 and +1.00, and their high leverage results will not deviate greatly from their normal results over an extended period of time.
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Team stats can vary more widely, but follow the same general guideline. A trip over to FanGraphs will allow you to slice and dice this metric it to your heart’s content. Let’s start with the outliers.
Top ‘clutch’ teams in 2015:
A couple of genuine outliers here. The Royals’ clutch number is downright silly, especially when you consider that they rank 11th in on-base percentage. The Twins performance in high leverage situations may help explain why they out-performed expectations.
Worst ‘clutch’ teams in 2015:
Red Sox -6.39
The Astros sure do seem to score plenty of runs, so how do they do it if they’re not coming through more often than the average team in the clutch? In a word – aggression. Their OBP is middle-of-the-road, but they hit home runs in bunches. They also do work on the bases, so it’s not a team that just sits back and waits for the home run. It’s an all-around aggressive offensive team.
By contrast, the Red Sox actually rank 5th in OBP, meaning they get on base often but leave too many men on base. They don’t stand out with their power and they don’t run often enough to be considered an aggressive base running team.
So, how about our Mets? The Mets rank 21st in clutch (-3.17) and 21st in OBP. Nothing special. Of course, we all know this team’s offense is a tail of two halves, so the breakdown:
1st Half: #26 OBP, #6 clutch, #28 runs scored
2nd Half #7 in OPB, #26 clutch, #3 runs scored
What does it mean? The Mets have been ‘less clutch’ in the 2nd half of the year, while at the same time ranking in the top three in runs scored because they’ve had more run-scoring opportunities. They also rank #4 in slugging and #5 in home runs in the second half. The Mets offense has not been particularly ‘clutch’ in the second half, but they are a more dynamic offense capable of scoring more runs.
If you’re wondering how individual Mets hitters stack up, consider the top three clutch hitters on the team:
None of these numbers jumps out at you, but Granderson’s results are even more impressive considering they do not include his 7 lead off home runs. ‘Grandy’ is having a year.
The Mets least clutch hitters:
If you’re curious, Cespedes comes in at -0.36. With a clutch result relatively close to 0.0, Cespedes’ performance does not deviate greatly from low to high leverage situations.
You can debate who you want up bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, two outs based on these numbers, but the key to me is that the Mets have a core of hitters whose numbers are consistent from low to high leverage situations. The three Mets hitters whose clutch numbers deviate the least from their norm:
Each of these three hitters takes a line drive approach to the plate and the results would indicate they do not deviate in high leverage situations. They are pure hitters who do not try to swing for the fences or muscle up in the big moment. Is this clutch? Not according to the intent of the metric, but in my mind that’s exactly what clutch is.
For fun, here the top 5 clutch hitters in MLB in 2015:
And the bottom 5:
J. Upton -2.29
There are very good hitters in both groups. The top five clutch hitters may not be the best hitters in the game (x-Bryant), but they’ve come through more often when it matters most. I’m sure Mets fans will point to Harper’s clutch stats and scream ‘I told you so’ – he doesn’t hit when it matters most. Who would you rather have on your team, Harper or Hosmer?
If you’d like a historical example of the phenomenon of clutch hitting, consider that Barry Bonds fluctuated between a -1.59 and +1.20 clutch over his career (-9.33 cumulative). Keith Hernandez was between -1.15 and +1.25 (4.58 cumulative). The more explosive player struggles to maintain the overall pace in high leverage situations, while the cold-blooded assassin with the line drive stroke seems to come through more often when it counts. Does that make Hernandez the better player?
Another historical view for fun:
1986 Mets: #3 OBP, #1 clutch, #7 runs scored
2006 Mets: #17 OBP, #1 clutch, #7 runs scored
Both teams finished with the same ranking in runs scored, and both were clutch. However, the 2006 Mets had to be clutch since they had less opportunity to score, while the 1986 Mets seemingly knocked in every duck on the pond. And there were a lot of ducks on that pond in 1986.
Looking back at the Mets 2015 1st and 2nd half splits, it’s interesting to see that their hitters were actually more clutch given their limited opportunities in the 1st half. Combine with great hitting, they got enough big hits to stay in the race. Moves were made and the 2nd half offense becomes a different team, giving itself many more opportunities to score, reducing the relative importance of high leverage situations.
With Kershaw and Greinke on the mound the Mets can’t count on the long ball alone to get it done. The Mets don’t steal bases or hit and run often, so the hits need to come in bunches. And when runners get into scoring position, let’s hope one of our ‘Steady Eddies’ is at the plate.
While the clutch stat is fine for looking back, it is important to stress again that it is not a good predictor of future performance. I’ll put my money on the team that fills the bases regularly and sends up consistent hitter after consistent hitter to take advantage of those baserunners. Oh, and a first inning two-run homer may not be considered ‘clutch’, but I wouldn’t be opposed.