Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Now with a title like that, more than a few of you will suspect the worst (but, then, you do that anyway:  consider it the "conditioned reflex of post-modernism", or post-neo sabe serial sanctimony, or whatevah). Fear not, we are not taking this stuff all that seriously: we recognize that the data below is still strictly in the pocket with the maxim "clutch hitting exists but there are no clutch hitters."

And yet, it's still fun to fulminate with small samples, if only for their tendency to transit toward two types of extremity--numerical (unsustainably high or low performance levels) and sociological (the range of reaction to the numbers, from naive awe to sophisticated disdain).

So let's push a "clutch gods" chart right "in yo face," as the quaint old ghetto parlance used to prescribe. In today's new, abbreviable lingo, this rates at least half a WTF?, now don't it...there are a few big names on this list, which is ordered by...WTF? TOPS+?? WTF is TOPS+???

This is a list of the twenty-five hitters who had the highest performance gain relative to their season-level performance while batting in "late and close" situations. (We know that there are many quibbles with this stat: we would like to see "early and close" and "middle innings and close" added to the breakouts used at Forman et fils--who, coincidentally, were the ones who coined "TOPS+" to measure this performance differential.)

[Note that we're using 100 PAs as the minimum for being on this list.] about that Bob Aspromonte, anyhow? For the year of 1967, the man with the unprintable (and that's saying something for this here blog...) nickname (coined by Brock J. Hanke, who would do it again in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself...) was a holy terror in "late and close" situations.

The top three guys on this list are clearly not household names (unless you are an avid reader of Jim Bouton's Ball Four, where Wayne Comer's clubhouse exploits are colorful enough to keep him on the periphery of semi-consciousness). It's interesting that as we travel down the list, getting closer to the more expected match between "late and close" and the full-season stat line, we see more and more familiar names, more starts and superstars, sometimes in lesser seasons, sometimes not.

Perhaps now we can see the flukish glory that turned 1970 into such a stellar one-shot season for the Dodger's Billy Grabarkewitz (whatever else one wants to say about Billy, you've gotta hand it to someone who can hit .440 with a 1.222 OPS in a season's worth of "late and close" situations).

But how far away from the norm are the very best "late and close" performances? Which of the ones in the above list would appear on that list?

Well, hell, that's what the next table is supposed to tell ya, pod'ner.

The average gain for the players with the best OPS in "late and close" situations is about 50% as measured by TOPS+ (it works out to 151 for the top 25 here; that figure drops in every group of 25 as you move away from the top--it's 148 for guys who are 26-50 on the list, 136 for those ranked 51-75, 134 for the 76-100 group, and 123 for the folk in the second hundred).

Interestingly, the two greatest raw OPS seasons in "late and close" are held by guys who don't have all that much performance gain at all--Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. As vilified as these guys have become for their purported "exploits," the fact is that they performed spectacularly in all situations during their record-setting HR seasons--and the "late and close" snapshot is no exception.

Forty percent of our first list makes an appearance here, or ten out of the top 25 (they are shown in red). Most noteworthy, however, is the fact that Willie McCovey makes this list three times, for "late and close" supremacy in 1966, 1969 and 1970. Now it's true that we don't (and may never) have PBP data for seasons earlier than the 1950s, so we don't know how the great hitters of the more distant past would rank on these lists, but it's still damned impressive to see Willie Mac occupying slots #3, #6, and #14 on all-time "late and close" seasonal breakouts. (Barry Bonds and Harmon Killebrew are the only other hitters to make this list twice.)

Staying with that "great hitters of the more distant past" conceit as we wrap things up, here's a final table that might just put everything into its proper perspective. We added up the "late and close" numbers for the Top 100 players on the list and came up with their aggregate performance:

That aggregate is represented in the top line above. Those of you who have spent more than a little time looking at baseball statistics may instantly figure out what the numbers in the bottom line represent; in fact, we suspect that "714" will prove to be a dead giveaway.

Interesting to see that the top 100 "late and close" performances by our "Clutch Gods" are not all that different from the career stats of--that's right--Babe Ruth. All of which proves that there should very likely be one Hall of Fame for the Babe, and another for everyone else.