The depths of unclutchitude

For the second straight April, talk is developing that the Mets can’t hit in the clutch. They’re batting .189 with runners in scoring position, after all.

It’s Monday morning and I’m only one coffee deep into my workweek, so I’m not yet prepared to go to battle over whether the abstract concept of clutchness even really exists. I’ll say it’s a hotly contested issue, to be sure, and there’s little statistical evidence to show that, given a large enough sample size, players will perform significantly better or worse in clutch situations than they would in others.

And I’ll add that practicing group psychology on professional baseball players based only on what little of their emotions they choose to disclose to us seems a bit silly — if not downright foolish — especially when we’re doing it after only six games worth of evidence.

But I will ask this of anyone who is certain the Mets can’t hit in the clutch:

Have you considered the possibility that too many of the Mets simply can’t hit?

Not all of them, for sure. David Wright and Jason Bay and, right now, Jeff Francoeur can hit. No doubt about that.

But take a closer look at the RISP numbers, beyond just the obvious fact that they’ve come in a tiny sample: The Mets actually have a respectable .347 on-base percentage in The Situation, a bit better than the Major League average.

Yesterday, with a runner on second, Livan Hernandez threw four straight balls to Francoeur, then got Gary Matthews Jr. to pop out weakly to shortstop. Why give Francoeur anything decent to swing at when you can see Matthews looming on deck?

I’d venture to guess that’s mostly what’s happening here, combined with the whims of a small sample size. The Mets’ lineup has so many gaping holes in it that pitchers can pitch around or pitch carefully to the good hitters with runners in scoring position, driving up the team’s on-base percentage in the spot, but pushing down the team’s batting average.

The only good-hitting Met that’s been disappointing with runners in scoring position is Bay, and it has come across precisely eight plate appearances. Eight. 8. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. That’s nothing. In his career, Bay has a lifetime .929 OPS with RISP and impressive numbers in just about every clutch situation. Give it time, give it time, give it time.

The return of Jose Reyes to the lineup should help, as it not only fills in one offensive black hole with a decent hitter, but will also likely create more opportunities with runners in scoring position for David Wright, who has only seen four so far this season.

A 2-4 start to the season isn’t easy to stomach coming off the 2009 campaign, and it certainly hasn’t been helped by the Mets’ team-wide failures to come through in big spots so far. But don’t isolate the whims of few games’ worth of stats to diagnose widespread unclutchitude when it’s way more likely that the men who actually failed to perform in the clutch were the ones compiling the roster and filling out the lineup card.

14 thoughts on “The depths of unclutchitude

  1. Nice work Ted,

    Where I think you excel in this type of statistical analysis, is that you always look beyond the first eye pooping stat (bad BA w/ RISP) that everyone else harping on, to find what is probably the real story. Also you have a solid grasp of the limitations of small sample sizes. Even though its one of the most basic principals of scientific analysis, its lost on many in the blogosphere. Keep up the good work.

    I personally still just cant shale the feeling that this team is playing tight, as has been the case for the past few years really. And when I think about it, I cant blame them. Its almost as if everyone from the fans, to the media, even to the front office almost, ist waiting for this team to fail. I think the front office did a terrible thing letting the team start the season knowing full well the manager and the GM were firmly on the hot seat. how can they not play tight.

    I think they should pull the trigger on firing Jerry/Omar sooner than later if the team struggles. Think about the last few years couple years. The only time the team didnt look tight was after Willie was fired, when they probably werent worried about someone being on the hot seat.

  2. The Mets still do not look like a team with a lot to prove. After last season, and listening to all the ra-ra-ra emanating from camp, I fully expected this team to come storming out of the blocks. They had a great chance to get started well too, a 6 game home stand against, arguably the two weaker teams of the division. But they were out-hustled in both series. They STILL look like they think that all they have to do is show up.

    Does this trickle down from Jerry, he sure always seems laid back and relaxed. Ask yourself, if the team was managed by, Wally Backman for instance, would they have gone down so tamely? I think not.

  3. Stu, I don’t think Wally Backman could turn Gary Matthews Jr. into a competent player. No one can turn Gary Matthews Jr. into a competent player.

    I don’t understand the point of view that these guys aren’t trying their hardest to win every game. They are professional athletes who have been working damn hard their entire lives to get to where they are now. I’d be willing to suggest that none of them feel that all they have to do is “show up.”

    • Maybe not, but the Mets gave up after the first inning yesterday. The players pretty much admitted it. Can you see a team like the Marlins or Phillies doing that?

      • Stu, a team that goes down four with its ace on the hill will always feel a little lifeless, especially if they have nothing going on after a few innings.

        You said they were out hustled in both series, but that simply is not true. The Mets did lack for hustle, in what amounted to a terrible loss to the Marlins, it was not lack of hustle that hurt them, but being wildly over aggressive (Tatis). Saturday they were an absolute bullet and hail mary catch away from a win.

        The Mets have been hurt by poor situational hitting, early and late in games. But it is a small sample and an even smaller when as Ted points out, consideration that Reyes has played twice.

      • And yet the Tigers yesterday, finding themselves in the same EXACT spot the Mets were in, with their own ace giving up a first inning gran slam, and putting the team in an early 5-0 deficit, still found a way to fight off the “shock” of the situation and got themselves back into the game. Oh, and they also won the game. The Tigers are an interesting mirror to the Mets this year, so I find that an interesting mirroring of events.

      • I think that’s because the Tigers have a lot of good hitters, where as the mets have a lot of not good ones.

      • Oftentimes it is difficult to separate being bad from giving up or not caring. Did the Mets really show signs of giving up, or did they just not score?

      • It’s actually easy to separate the two. When a team loses, it’s because they gave up more runs than they scored. It has nothing to do with who “cared” more or who “wanted it more”. These are insipid morality plays for silly people who think baseball is only entertaining with a soap-opera subplot.

        Seriously, if you like cheap personal dramas about passion, watch soap operas. Don’t bring them to the realm of competitive dramas, (sports–at least baseball) where they don’t apply.

  4. 3 more hits and the Mets would be hitting .245 w/RISP which is exactly what they’re hitting overall.

    Get ready to hear a lot of “they can’t hit with RISP” because this is not a high average team in general. Of Barajas, Matthews and Jacobs, the highest projected average (CHONE) is GMJ’s .252 and all 3 are expected to be starters until Beltran and Murphy return.

    This is something fans will have to get used to. This is going to be a wait-for-the-power offense and while it won’t be stellar (at least until Beltran comes back), it’s going to be much better than last year’s all-average, no-power offense which of course hit just fine with RISP yet scored the 6th fewest runs in the majors.

    Now about that pitching…

    • But it wouldn’t have to be that way if Manuel actual put together a more logical lineup, rather than following each all star caliber hitter with a near automatic out.

  5. As I was watching the games over the weekend, it seemed to me that the Nats are better built for Citi Field than the Mets. Their outfielders are well suited to the expanses of Citi Field, and we all know that Dunn and Willingham have no trouble hitting balls out of that park.

  6. It’s only one week, so let’s relax. We can talk about being “clutch”, but the reality is that right or wrong Omar and Jerry will get fired because the rotation will have blown up any chances this team had to contend.

    I’m tired of reading posts on other “Mets” sites harping on about Losing Figueroa or Pelfrey’s potential or how Perez is throwing strikes.

    Geez, allow me to step aside from the Blue and Orange Kool Aid to present the facts:

    (1) Figueroa is a nice story but he was just not good. He is this season’s Ruben Gotay. Remember Gotay? Peolpe went nuts when he was released. Fact is he wasn’t that good.

    (2) Can we stop talking about Pelfrey’s potential? He’s been in the league for a few years no, he wasn’t great in the minors and he no longer throws as hard as he did in Wichita. Maybe there is not potential. Maybe the reality is that he is, at best, an okay starter but not a very good starter to compliment Johan.

    (3) Johan is not throwing hard anymore, which could be a huge concern going forward in his career.

    (4) Perez for all his offseason training is sitting at 89-90 with his fastball instead of the 93-94 he used to have and for a guy that walks a ton of guys he needed that extra velocity to get the occasional strikeout.

    (5) Maine also doesn’t throw hard anymore, but guess what? He wasn’t that great before he got hurt except for his one 15-game year. He never went deep into games, always fought himself in the most frustrating of way.

    (6) Their best starting prospect is not a reliever. Go figure!

    • for what it’s worth, Perez really hasn’t hit 93-94 regularly in about 6 years. He was already down in the 91 area when we originally traded for him.

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