The Most- and the Least-Clutch Teams

The Royals are rolling, and when I wrote about them Monday morning, I made sure to highlight their outfield defense, which is probably the team’s greatest strength. But even bad teams have their own greatest strengths, and there’s another reason why the Royals currently find themselves in a playoff position. It’s definitely not the only reason, but it’s a tough thing to ignore.

This is the glossary page for the FanGraphs Clutch statistic. You can think of it as a measure of timeliness, and it does a hell of a job of explaining some of the things that have happened in the past. Now here’s a table of the top- and bottom-five teams of 2014, in terms of overall Clutch:

Rank Team Clutch Rank Team Clutch
1 Royals 5.3 26 Twins -2.3
2 Orioles 4.9 27 Rockies -2.9
3 Red Sox 3.9 28 Angels -3.8
4 Yankees 3.6 29 Rays -4.9
5 Braves 2.9 30 Cubs -5.2

The good news for the teams on the left: what’s happened has happened. The bad news: this isn’t really the kind of thing that’s predictive, at least not to this extent. Clutch gets regressed extremely heavily to the mean, no matter how many times one tries to argue it doesn’t. The bullpen certainly plays a part, but it’s not like bullpens are all that reliable, either.

A fun fact for you: the Royals are 63-53, while the Cubs are 50-66. Yet, their respective BaseRuns records are 56-60 and 57-59. In real life, the Royals might go to the playoffs, and the Cubs are looking ahead to 2015. In an alternative life that strips out sequencing, they’re just a couple of mediocre teams trying not to fall asleep for the final six weeks. What I’m absolutely not saying is that the Cubs have played as well as the Royals. They haven’t! The Royals have been clutch, and the Cubs have been unclutch. But the teams probably aren’t as different as they look in the standings. Good sequencing is a positive, but it’s also not really a skill.

You might be wondering: which has been the most clutch team of all time? I don’t know, but I can tell you the most clutch team since 1974. It’s the 2008 Angels, who finished 100-62 with a Pythagorean record of 88-74. Their clutch score: 14.9. They had an overall .743 OPS, and an .808 OPS in high-leverage situations. They allowed an overall .729 OPS, and a .649 OPS in high-leverage situations. The least-clutch teams: the 1984 Phillies and the 2001 Rockies, at -12.7. Neither the Royals nor the Cubs are on an all-time pace, but boy can sequencing ever make good math look bad. Nothing has an effect on win/loss records quite like choosing one’s moments.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Puig's Translator
Puig's Translator

I really wanted to post as Hawk Harrelson and say something about TWTW, but I refrain. Thanks for a great article. “Clutch is pretty arbitrary, and not really predictive, but it is fun to look at who is over/under achieving.