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Is Cutch Clutch?

Baseball is a game of failure, Ty Cobb owns the highest career batting average in MLB history, yet failed to hit safely in 63.4 % of his at bats. Ted Williams owns the highest career OBP, yet failed to get on base in 51.8 % of his plate appearances. But we laud the memory of these players based on their successes. Cobb’s .366 career average is a badge of honor, and Williams’ career .482 OBP is a number that helped him gain his moniker “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.” If the all time greats are not immune to failure, then neither is anyone else.

There are hundreds if not thousands of in-depth articles that provide statistical analysis, graphs, charts, and data proving that “clutch hitting” does not exist as a skill. I’m not going to recite that data, you can google that! But in short, over his career a batter will perform similarly in clutch situations as his career rates. No one suddenly becomes the “Incredible Hulk” when a runner is standing on second base, nor does any MLB hitter cower up and hit like “Minnie Mouse” because the game is on the line. Small sample sizes account for variation from season to season, but again, over the course of a career there will not be a significant difference in situational performance.

One of the arguments for those who believe in the mythical clutch hitter, is that “their is no substitute for the eye test.” While that may be true in evaluating mechanics and certain other incalculable variables and unquantifiable data on the field, it’s not true with “clutch hitting.” We often become victims to our own bias. “Every time I go to a game, Neil Walker strikes out with men on second base, he’s not a clutch player.” Or,
“The last 4 times Andrew McCutchen has come up with the bases loaded he’s gone 0-4, with 0 RBI, some MVP! He’s overrated.”

Even if Cutch put up Babe Ruth’s career line of .342/.474/.690 in clutch situations, he would still fail more more than he would succeed. And if you watched during an a rough stretch of clutch situations, your “eye test” could fall prey to bias. Making you believe that Cutch was not good in the clutch, despite statistical data that suggests otherwise.

McCutchen’s career batting statistics going into Sunday’s game:

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McCutchen’s career stats in different low, medium, and high leverage situations:

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McCutchen’s career stats with no one one base, runners on base, and RISP:

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After reviewing the statistical data it’s fairly obvious that Andrew McCutchen has performed equally well in all scenarios. It’s also obvious that I don’t believe that clutch hitting is a skill. Perhaps the best answer to the article’s title, “Is Cutch Clutch?”, is “Cutch is Cutch!”

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Jim Falbo
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