Once again I find myself writing about a player's clutch ability even though I find the way it is praised by so many sports fans ad nauseam to be, well, nauseating. Still, I have been annoyed enough by it that I have decided to take a long at Alex Rodriguez compared to David Ortiz and see if one was really so impressively more clutch (Ortiz) that I, too, should join in the booing party that occurs every time Rodriguez steps into the plate (except when he hits a "big" homer, of course, and then he is suddenly beloved).
One statistic everyone loves to point to is the close and late statistic developed by the Elias Sports Bureau and available on each ESPN player card, at least from 2002-2006. The close and late criteria are "results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or with the potential tying run at least on deck." What I was concerned with here is not how good each player does in this close and late situation, but how often a player will come up in this situation, and therefore how important it really is.
Over the last four and a half seasons, Ortiz has stepped into the batter's box 2,340 times, of which 322 at-bats fell under the close and late criteria, meaning those at-bats comprise an underwhelming 13.8% of his total at-bats. For Alex Rodriguez, the number is slightly smaller since he has had 2,729 at-bats in the same time, 369 of which were close and late for 13.5% of his total at-bats.
Intuitively, you probably know that the at-bats would not amount to much since the 7th through the 9th innings only comprise 33% of the game, but it bears repeating that neither of these players had a close and late at-bat percentage of even half of 33%.
And that is why I cannot take the close and late situation seriously. Some criteria which comes up so infrequently should be not the only plank in someone's argument for why a player is not clutch. Even if a player does struggle in close and late situations (A-Rod does not; Ortiz is just superhuman), he will still have the other 86% of his bats to make up for it.
In an attempt to find a better clutch statistic, I stumbled upon The Hardball Times
. There they have their own clutch
statistic, which even they admit is not meant to be the definitive look on clutch hitting, but it is a lot better than close and late and not just because it helps me prove my point, either. Their clutch statistic looks at the impact of a player's batting average with runners in scoring position and also home runs with runners on.
The numbers for 2006 may surprise, but before I get to that, yes, Ortiz did blow Rodriguez away in 2004 and 2005 and that is why I trust it for the 2006 season. Ironically, in the season where the ire of the Yankees fans have been at their greatest, A-Rod has put up his most clutch season as a Yankee with a 5.0 Clutch. Ortiz, on the other hand, has been less than stellar with a -1.8 Clutch.
It only seems as if Ortiz has been more clutch because he brings more excitement to his clutch hits, but they have not been more valuable than Alex's.
Some of you may be saying right now, "But David, Ortiz has 11 more RBI than does A-Rod, he has to have been more clutch this season." You are correct with the RBI totals, but Ortiz has also had 208 plate appearances with runners on base to Rodriguez's 195. Now those extra RBI don't look so marvelous, do they?
Actually, the two players' OBI% (number of others batted in
divided by runners on base
) is not that far away from each other with Ortiz having a slight edge over Rodriguez (.166 OBI% to .157 OBI%).
All in all, Alex Rodriguez is just as clutch as David Ortiz (at least this year) and really does not the deserve the criticism he gets.
As an afterthought, another player I decided to compare Alex Rodriguez, too, in terms of the aforementioned clutch statistic is Derek Jeter, overly praised Captain of the Yankees, and while Jeter gets all the credit for coming up with big hits, he is still not as clutch as Rodriguez, according to the way the formula is created. Since Rodriguez became a Yankee in 2004, he has been better than Jeter in all three years (2004: -5.3 to -5.9, 2005: -8.8 to -10.3, 2006: 5.0 to 2.0).
Maybe everyone has been booing the wrong Yankee.