One of the more controversial topics among sabermetricians is whether”clutch hitting” is an ability that can be applied to specific individual hitters, especially on the Tampa Bay Rays.
Naysayers point to the differences from year to year among one hitter’s “clutch” average, pointing out that the hitter is considered “clutch” in certain years but not over an entire career.
Such an assessment seems preposterous to many, who feel that being a good clutch hitter is not something that comes and goes from year to year. Instead, it is an ability that one either possesses or doesn’t. Most importantly, it CANNOT be quantified.
But the analysts at Fangraphs.com think they have solved the challenge. They have developed a formula for “clutch hitting” that measures “…how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.
It also compares a player against himself, so a player who hits .300 in high leverage situations when he’s an overall .300 hitter is not considered clutch.”
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A zero “clutch” rating is neutral, whereas a positive is considered being “clutch” and a negative is considered “choke.” Curiosity made me wonder how this year’s Tampa Bay Rays ranked in terms of “clutch.” FanGraphs uses “high leverage” situations in which the player batted. It defines “leverage” as “A measure of how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base.”
Who is the most clutch player on the Tampa Bay Rays?
The player they ranked as number one in “clutch” on the Tampa Bay Rays came as no surprise to me. It is Joey Wendle, whose total was 0.95. Wendle is perhaps the quintessential Rays player. He is versatile and steady, and he is also a player I would feel most comfortable with at the plate in a crucial situation.
Number two on the list is someone whom it seems Tampa Bay Rays fans have started to take for granted. Austin Meadows came in at 0.53. Meadows this year has contributed 21 home runs but is hitting only .236. It seems Rays’ fans have come to expect decent power output from Meadows while perhaps overlooking the totality of his contributions to the Rays’ winning ways.
Who isn’t clutch for the Tampa Bay Rays?
The most interesting results seemed to be the relatively low standings of the Rays’ WAR leaders, as we looked at previously. Brandon Lowe, whom many would cite as the offensive leader of this year’s team, had a -0.06 rating, placing him at the 22nd spot on the list.
Also faring poorly, with a -0.85 total, was Mike Zunino, who ranked 27th on the Rays for this metric. Zunino ranks second on the team in WAR and is first in wRC+. Apparently, you may not want him at the plate in “clutch” situations but you definitely want him there otherwise.
It should be noted that the list also includes players who played earlier this season for the Rays but now play elsewhere. Most notable is shortstop Willy Adames, who had a .052 rating as a Ray and now has a 1.08 as a Milwaukee Brewer.
Overall, there is controversy surrounding the legitimacy of this stat, but it seems legit based on observing the Rays play this year. In a critical late situation, with the game on the line, the Rays could do much worse than having Joey Wendle or Austin Meadows at the plate.