October 27, 2003

"Derek is really, really cute"

I wrote a couple of diary/notes entries during the World Series last week (Game Four and Game Five). In them, I jokingly referred to Derek Jeter as either "Jetes" and/or "Mr. Clutch" on numerous occasions, and often pointed out "pro-Jeter" comments made by FOX TV analyst Tim McCarver.

Those World Series entries generated a lot of reader response, including the following email from "Lisa":

"I know you don't think much of Tim McCarver's obvious infatuation with Derek Jeter, but what you don't seem to understand is that Derek is really, really cute. Since you seem to talk a lot about girls and how attractive you find them, you probably don't see that men can get crushes on guys, especially really cute guys like Derek.

When you're infatuated with a guy, you just don't think he has any shortcomings and you exaggerate his abilities (us girls, by the way, get out of that stage pretty quick, but my husband doesn't know that).

I understand perfectly why Tim McCarver is so in love with Derek, but at least I know that Jeter has lousy footwork and routinely fails with grounders and turning the double play. And I don't think that saying so makes Derek any less cute.

P.S. - If you're going to propose to a different girl every night they're gonna get suspicious.

P.P.S. - If you're going to say that Derek isn't Mr. Clutch, why not show how he has done with 2 outs and RISP in the post-season or how many times he has made the last out and killed a rally."

That is, perhaps, my favorite reader email of all-time. First of all, it's hilarious. Second of all, it's from a female reader, which is always awesome. And not just any female reader, one who knows about and uses the acronym "RISP." If I hadn't already proposed to two different women last week (and if Lisa hadn't mentioned her husband in the email), I think I would propose to her right here, right now.

Also, if I ever get a real job and become relatively wealthy, I may buy a diamond ring and just carry it around with me. Then, if I ever hear a woman utter the phrase "Derek Jeter is really, really cute, but he has lousy footwork and routinely fails with grounders and turning double plays," I will simply pull out the ring and propose on the spot.

Aside from sounding like the perfect woman, Lisa raises a couple of interesting questions. First and foremost is whether or not Tim McCarver's thoughts on Derek Jeter are clouded by the fact that he, like Lisa, thinks Jeter is "really, really cute." I'll leave that up to you all to decide.

The second thing that Lisa brings up is the issue of whether or not Mr. Clutch is really all that Clutch.

In-depth post-season statistics are fairly difficult to find, particularly when you are searching for things like someone's numbers with two outs and runners in scoring position. Thanks to ESPN.com however, we do have access to detailed playoff stats dating back to the 2000 post-season.

So, while I can't tell you if Jeter was particularly Clutch in the 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 post-seasons, I can tell you about his performances in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Before I get to the more detailed statistics, here are Jeter's overall offensive numbers during his many trips to the post-season:

 G     AB     AVG     OBP     SLG    RBI    RUN    HR    2B    3B    BB    SO

99 392 .313 .381 .469 33 69 13 16 3 42 79

Those are some excellent numbers. Pro-rated to 162 games, that comes out to .313/.381/.469 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 21 homers, 26 doubles, 5 triples, 68 walks, 54 RBIs and 112 runs.

His post-season hitting line of .313/.381/.469 is almost identical to his regular-season career hitting line of .317/.389/.462. When you take into account the quality of pitching Jeter has seen during all of those post-season at bats, compared to his regular-season at bats, I think it is safe to say that Jeter has been a slightly better hitter in the post-season than in the regular-season.

Does that, in itself, make him a "Clutch Hitter"? I'm inclined to say no, but I am sure it could be reasonably argued either way. 392 at bats is a lot in the post-season, but it is still less than 100 games. If someone duplicates their career averages in any other 100-game stretch, even against better competition, I don't think it is evidence of them being a Clutch Hitter.

In my opinion, a .317/.389/.462 career hitter hitting .313/.381/.469 in the post-season doesn't make him a Clutch Hitter, it just makes him a good hitter.

In regard to Lisa's request for a look at Jeter's playoff numbers in more specific situations, let's take a look at that right now...

The situations one would want to look at in trying to determine the Clutchness of a player would seem to me to be the following:

- Runners in scoring position

- Runners in scoring position with two outs

- Close and late

The first two are self-explanatory. "Close and late" is defined as "results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck."

In other words, how does someone do when the game is on the line? When the going gets tough and the tough get going. When the s--- hits the fan. When the men are separated from the boys. When (insert your own cliche here).

Here are Derek Jeter's post-season numbers in those situations from 2000-2003, combined...

Runners in scoring position: .214/.421/.357

Runners in scoring position with two outs: .188/.381/.375

Close and late: .176/.263/.323

Again, those numbers do not include what he did from 1996-1999. Even with that disclaimer, I think that if you are looking at the same stats I am looking at, the whole "Jeter is Clutch" theory has a David Wells-sized hole in it.

Aside from the obvious eye-opening numbers, I think it is also interesting how much more Jeter has walked in those three situations than he normally does.

I'm not sure if this is a "real" stat or not, but let's look at his on-base percentage minus his batting average. I know the same stat with slugging percentage and batting average is called "Isolated Power," so let's call this one "Isolated Discipline."

Overall for Jeter's regular-season career, he has an Isolated Discipline of .072. Overall for his post-season career, he has an Isolated Discipline of .068. Essentially identical.

In those three post-season situations - RISP, RISP w/2 outs and "close and late" - Jeter's Isolated Disciplines are .207, .193 and .087. Now, the .087 in "close and late" situations isn't really that different than his career or post-season numbers. But the .207 and .193 in the two RISP situations are significantly higher.

I'm not quite sure the reasons for this. It may just be that in the post-season, when runners are on base, pitchers are more hesitant to throw Jeter strikes. It may be that when there are "runners in scoring position" there is also often no one on first base, so pitchers are more willing to walk Jeter with a base open. It may be that Jeter becomes much more patient when there are runners in scoring position. And finally, it may just be an issue of small-sample size, because we are talking about a fairly limited pool of at bats here.

(In case you are wondering, Jeter's Isolated Disciplines in regular-season RISP situations are very much in-line with his "normal" rates)

Over the last four post-seasons, Jeter has hit just .176/.263/.323 in "close and late" situations. I have to say, that really shocked me quite a bit. I'm not sure why, although maybe the fact that McCarver and Buck call him Mr. Clutch during every late-inning at bat has some influence on my perception. Whatever the reason, the fact is that Jeter has not been a good hitter in the late innings of close playoff games during the last four years.

He has also been a poor hitter with RISP and with RISP and two outs, but the fact that he has walked so much has kept him from making a ton of outs despite bad batting averages, which is valuable in those situations. Still, I think telling someone that Jeter is a .214 hitter with runners in scoring position during the last four post-seasons would likely be quite a shocker for them, as it was for me.

I imagine if the numbers I just showed had been put up by any number of other players, some form of media would have picked up on it. If Barry Bonds was hitting .214 with runners in scoring position over the course of four post-seasons, I suspect you'd have heard about it by now. And if Manny Ramirez was batting just .176/.263/.323 in "close and late" playoff situations over four years, I can almost guarantee Tim McCarver would be talking about it every time Manny came to the plate.

But with Jeter, it is just the opposite. His struggles in those situations are not brought up at all and he is actually talked about as if his hitting in those situations has been excellent. He is called "Mr. Clutch" by announcers and his late-innings heroics are talked about, over and over. It's a bit like "The Emperor's New Clothes," I guess.

And until I looked up the actual numbers, I just listened to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver and everyone else who praises Jeter as a Clutch Hitter, and believed them. Turns out though, for the past four post-seasons at least, Derek Jeter has been naked. Of course, Lisa and Tim McCarver may not think that is such a bad thing.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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