Clutch hitting exists. That is, a walk-off home run or game tying single in the bottom of the 9th inning is a clutch hit. However, objective evidence has shown that players generally do not demonstrate an ability to perform exceptionally better or worse in the clutch compared to their performance in all situations. This does not stop many Met fans from calling Carlos Beltran a choker, mainly because of an unfortunate called strike three, or David Wright "un-clutch" because of a certain September 2008 strikeout. It is my perception that these two players are the most frequent targets of the "he isn't clutch" rhetoric from Met fans. Are they deserving of such criticism?
Any number of metrics can help answer this question. Baseball-Reference has some great leverage stats, developed by Tom Tango, which separate a player's offensive stats into high leverage (1.5+ LI), medium leverage (0.7 through 1.5 LI), and low leverage (below 0.7 LI) situations. The higher the leverage index (LI), the more crucial the plate appearance. For example, the LI during Wright's aforementioned September strikeout was 2.28. The LI during his first plate appearance that same game was 0.40. I looked at Beltran and Wright's BA/OBP/SLG in high leverage situations during their Mets careers, as well as performance with runners in scoring position (RISP) and in "late & close" situations. Late & close means in the 7th inning or later with the team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run on deck. Their overall stats while wearing a Mets uniform are also provided. Here are the numbers:
|Late & Close||372||.269||.382||.430|
|Late & Close||455||.307||.407||.483|
Notes for each player:
- Beltran's numbers in high leverage spots and with RISP are better than his overall performance during his time with the Mets.
- His BA and SLG in late & close situations are slightly worse, but not to such a degree that he can be declared an underachiever in pivotal spots.
- September 2007 OPS: .882
- September 2008 OPS: 1.086
- The only evidence suggesting Beltran is prone to choke in big spots is anecdotal.
- Wright's numbers in all situations are remarkably similar. His SLG with RISP and in late & close spots is slightly lower, but can anyone complain about an OPS in the .890-.900 range in both situations?
- September 2007 OPS: 1.034
- September 2008 OPS: .998
- Wright's poor 2008 season with RISP is well documented (.703 OPS), but in the long term he has been just fine. Call it an aberration.
A player might have a down year in clutch categories, but this is not indicative of an inherent weakness. Nor does it mean a player deserves to be branded with the "un-clutch" tag for the rest of his career. So if Beltran strikes out to end a close game in April, sit back, smile, and remind yourself: "small sample size."