The Angels Are Still Clutch

The Angels are 36-32, in second place in the AL West, and two games behind first place Texas. They are in that position despite having a below average offense (-10 wRAA), a below average defense (-19.3 UZR), and a below average pitching staff (4.33 FIP). How are they winning games? The Angel way – clutchness.

If it seems like we write about this every year, well, we do. I mentioned the Angels penchant for clutch hitting two years ago, showing that they were consistently among the league leaders in our metric that shows the gap in wins added that comes from hitting well in high leverage situations. Matt Klaassen wrote about it earlier this spring.

And here we are today, talking about it again, because once again the Angels are clutching their way to victories. They have +1.34 clutch wins from their hitting and +2.48 clutch wins from their pitchers, totaling just under four wins added by coming through when it counts. Not surprisingly, they lead the league in clutch wins added.

It isn’t surprising because they do this every single year. Last year, they added seven wins to their total through clutch performance. In 2008, they had fifteen clutch wins. As noted in the first linked post above, this is basically an annual trend. The Angels are consistently among the league leaders in clutch wins, and have been for the better part of the last decade.

There are all kinds of explanations for why they are able do to this year in and year out. Generally, Mike Scioscia gets the credit for getting the most out of his team. The Angels minor league development staff is lauded as teaching their players how to play the game the right way. But the explanations are never very specific, nor are the players who put up the crazy clutch seasons consistent.

In 2008, the monster clutch Angels were Maicer Izturis (+1.46), Mark Teixeira (+1.21), and Howie Kendrick (+1.15) on offense, and Jason Bulger (+1.20), John Lackey (+1.11), and Joe Saunders (+1.03) on the mound. Last year, it was Gary Matthews Jr (+2.11, seriously) , Jeff Mathis (+1.05), and Chone Figgins (+0.95) carrying the clutch load. This year, it’s Kendry Morales (+0.91), Hideki Matsui (+0.77), and Bobby Abreu (+0.57) doing it with the bats, while Ervin Santana (+0.96), Jason Bulger (+0.55), and Fernando Rodney (+0.45) have done it on the mound.

Seriously, what do those guys have in common, besides being Angels at the time? Teixeira was a rental player who came up through the Rangers organization. It’s hard to argue that the Angels had much influence on the development of Matthews, Matsui, Abreu, or Rodney. If it’s good coaching, why did Santana have a negative clutch rating before this season, when he’s a home grown kid who has been on the roster for five years?

I’m not asking these questions to insinuate that the Angels have nothing to do with these performances – I’m genuinely curious what they could possibly be doing to extract such performances from wildly different players, but do so almost every single year? At this point, the odds of it just being luck are pretty slim, so it seems reasonable to suspect that the Angels are doing something right. But none of the theories advanced so far seem to have any kind of evidence to support them, and there does not seem to be any discernable trail we can follow that will lead us to the answer.

Until someone figures out just what the Angels are doing, all we can really do is sit and stare in amazement. Right now, there’s no explanation. The Angels are a phenomenon.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Transient Gadfly
13 years ago

Stupid question probably, but do they play in a stadium that increases clutchness?

13 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I watch a ton of Angel games and I can’t figure it out either. My best guess is that it has something to do with the team’s emphasis on contact at the plate and aggressiveness on the basepaths. But I don’t know how you could measure that to show it works in the clutch… The other thing is potentially bullpen management? Scioscia always seems to bring in the right guy late in close games. But again, no idea how you would quantify that to show how it correlates to “clutchness”. Could just be one of those “intangible” things where Scioscia just knows his players better than other managers know their players (and I know “intangible” is a dirty word on this site, but it really is hard to ignore when every MLB player past or present uses the term and believes in it).

13 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I wondered about it being something to do with aggressiveness, on the basis that you don’t steal bases unless it’s close, which means that base stealing runs have a disproportionate effect on wins, but it turned out that the Angels were terrible at catching runners stealing and got caught stealing all the time, which should have made them unclutch if the hypothesis was true.

Keanu's Favourite Line
13 years ago

…that’s… a fantastic idea.

What’s the home/road splits for their clutchness?