November 13, 2003

Mailbag (Mr. Clutch Edition)

It has taken a little longer to arrive than it should have, but the mailbag entry about "Mr. Clutch" that I have been promising is finally here.

For those of you who missed my two-part series on Derek Jeter from last month (or for those of you who read it but have forgotten what you read), here are the links to the original entries:

"Derek is really, really cute"

"Derek is really, really cute" (Part Two)

And here's a little sample, just to get you in the mood:

"In his entire post-season career, a total of 99 games spread over eight seasons, Derek Jeter is a .210/.355/.306 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .245/.345/.329 hitter with men on base. Take that and add in the fact that, over the last four post-seasons, he is a .176/.263/.323 hitter in "close and late" situations, and I think it is safe to say that my sarcastic response to Jeter constantly being hailed as "Mr. Clutch" is completely justified."

As is the case with anything involving Derek Jeter, this topic generated a ton of reader response. Here are a few of those responses...

From "Greg":

"The key point about Jeter is this: he is a good hitter and has 99 games in the post-season. As a good hitter, naturally some of his good plays will come up in key situations. But he is no better in those situations than he is normally, and perhaps even worse. Most sports fans remember the good plays and forget the bad.

It's a simple concept, but most people can't or won't understand it. It's like Tony Perez on the Big Red Machine. Everyone used to claim he was so clutch. Well, stats don't back it up. But when you are constantly batting with Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, et al, clogging the bases, of course you're going to have lots of big hits."

I think Greg makes an excellent point. If at some point in time people get it in their heads that a player is somehow a "Clutch" performer and that player has an opportunity to play a ton of post-season games, like Jeter has, there are inevitably going to be lots of instances in which the player is going to perform well in important situations

Even if you hit just .245 with men on base in the post-season (like Jeter has), that still means you are getting a hit in 24.5% of those at bats. And if a fan (or announcer) goes into a situation thinking that a player is Clutch, then when one of those 24.5% of the at bats occurs, it simply re-enforces their incorrect perception.

In other words, when Jeter goes 0-4 and leaves three men on base in the late innings or hits .150 during a series, it goes unnoticed. When Jeter goes 2-4 with a homer or wins a game with a single in the bottom of the ninth, it is viewed as more "evidence" of his Clutchness. You go through 99 games of that and I can see where someone gets a completely undeserved reputation.

From "Eddie":

"Thanks for the great articles on Jeter. Who knew that all this time Jeter was just a big choker!"

I got quite a few emails along these lines, essentially saying that now, instead of being "Mr. Clutch," many people think Jeter is "Mr. Choke."

I have to say this was not my intention, although a lot of people (specifically Yankee fans) seem to think that because I showed Jeter's actual numbers and commented that they weren't particularly Clutch, I must be trying to say he "chokes" in important situations.

I said no such thing. My only point in all of this was to show that what you hear over and over and over again from the likes of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during every Yankees post-season game is not always something that you should take to be 100% fact. If a simple glance at and can reveal actual numbers that contradict essentially the main thing McCarver and Buck say about someone, imagine what types of inaccuracies we could unearth with some serious research.

Don't always believe what you read or hear, whether that stuff is coming from Tim McCarver or from Aaron Gleeman. To quote W. Edwards Deming: "In God we trust, all others must bring data."

From "Alex":

"Your column about people's unwillingness to believe what statistics tell them was interesting and probably describes about 99% of the people out there. In my experience, even those who do focus on numbers tend to look at the ones they're familiar with and comfortable with - not those that best describe what they're trying to understand. Most of these people (which include almost all my friends and family) will never be convinced that the opinions they hear from the broadcasters and other talking heads might be wrong, and you can go crazy trying to show them evidence to convince them."

For those of you who didn't read Part Two of the Jeter article, in it I quoted a few people on a Yankees message board, responding to Part One of the article. It's a pretty interesting read, to say the least. In short, many of them were willing to completely dismiss Jeter's actual numbers, just because they didn't fit their long-held perception of him.

It's certainly frustrating when you run into people like that and I have to say that in having a website that often discusses baseball in statistical terms, I run into them quite often. There is nothing worse than making what you think is a very well thought out argument, based on actual evidence and numbers and such, only to have the person on the other end say something like "That's just what the numbers say" or "I watch the games, not the numbers." It's frustrating, but what can you do?

It takes a special kind of fan to be able to look at Derek Jeter's actual post-season numbers and still hold the opinion that he is "Mr. Clutch." And I am sure there are times in all of our lives that we have been "guilty" of being that sort of fan. Sometimes the truth hurts.

From "Chris":

"I'm a huge Jeter fan, he's my favorite player, but I realize the flaws in his game and take him for what he actually is, not what the perception is and I really appreciate your columns over the last few days."

Ah, this is the type of response I liked the best. Not someone who says "who cares about the stats, Jeter is Clutch!" and not someone who says "Jeter sucks!" Just a Yankee fan who is able to recognize that his favorite player is both far from perfect and still very good.

To the many of you who sent me emails about Jeter that I didn't include in the mailbag, I'm sorry. One of the few downsides to having what is a fairly popular website is that I get a ton of reader emails, often far too many for me to respond to individually. I got more emails on this subject than just about anything I can remember writing about in the past and I tried to pick a few good ones for the mailbag, but I certainly got many more that were deserving of attention as well. Rest assured though, I read every single email I get, so if you've ever got something to say, whether it is about Derek Jeter or anything else on this blog, I'd love to hear from you.

See ya Monday...
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