The Rangers Are One of the Most Clutch Teams in Memory

The Rangers as a team have posted an OPS of .753. The Rangers as a team have allowed an OPS of .752. That gives them a positive difference of .001. They stand today at 80-54, atop the American League.

The Rays as a team have posted an OPS of .737. The Rays as a team have allowed an OPS of .732. That gives them a positive difference of .005 — four points better than the Rangers, in fact. They stand today at 56-76, 23 games behind Texas, wallowing around the league’s basement.

There’s no opinion being expressed here. This isn’t supposed to be good, and this isn’t supposed to be bad. This is just what is. The events that go into OPS have happened. Wins and losses have happened. This is essentially making the point that BaseRuns does — BaseRuns strips away timing and context, and if you do that, the Rangers lose 12 games, and the Rays gain 11. The thing about stripping away timing and context, though, is that you can’t do that. Not when you want to talk about the present standings. And the Rangers have gotten to where they are by playing like one of the most clutch teams in the past 40+ years.

You’re undoubtedly aware that the Rangers’ record is far better than their run differential. By record, they’re second; by run differential, they’re 12th. Two runs behind the Rockies! You’ve probably also heard about the Rangers’ absurd 30-8 record in one-run games. The Rangers have been winning in one of the most difficult ways imaginable, and you can’t do what they’ve done without being clutch. I understand some find that word challenging to tolerate. There’s no need to have a knee-jerk reaction here. Whether you’re a fan of the Rangers or somebody else, they have been clutch, inarguably. That’s it.

As we’ve done before, it’s time to play with the Clutch statistic we have on the leaderboards. It’s in the Win Probability tab, and we have the information for players and teams going back to 1974. Clutch, basically, is a measure of timing, where the higher the number, the more clutch you’ve been. I gathered information for all 1,198 team-seasons, and I combined offensive and pitching Clutch. Here are the 10 most clutch teams in recent history:

10 Most Clutch Teams
Team Year Clutch
Angels 2008 14.6
Giants 2012 12.2
Athletics 2006 12.1
Rangers 2016 11.7
Diamondbacks 2011 11.0
Orioles 1977 10.8
Reds 2004 10.8
White Sox 1990 10.7
Diamondbacks 2007 10.7
Orioles 2012 10.6

This year’s Rangers are in fourth place, with about a dozen extra wins owing to clutch performance. That’s huge, but you’re probably also aware that this season isn’t over yet. There’s another month to go, so if you just want to put this on a rate basis, here are the most clutch teams per 162 games:

10 Most Clutch Teams
Team Year G Clutch/162
Angels 2008 162 14.6
Rangers 2016 134 14.2
Giants 2012 162 12.2
Athletics 2006 162 12.1
Orioles 1981 105 11.6
Twins 1994 113 11.2
Diamondbacks 2011 162 11.0
Orioles 1977 161 10.8
Reds 2004 162 10.8
White Sox 1990 162 10.7

Now the Rangers move up to second, on pace for about +14 wins. First place is within their reach. It’s not as easy as just keeping up the pace — for any given team, you expect a Clutch score somewhere in the vicinity of 0.0. The number tends to regress pretty heavily. But what’s already done is done, and for five months the Rangers have played like an incredibly clutch roster. The nearest team in their division has nine fewer wins, so the Rangers have positioned themselves to coast into the playoffs.

I wrote a few months ago about how clutch the Rangers’ hitters had been. They’ve remained clutch, but it’s important to acknowledge that the pitching staff has also done its part. Just about everyone is pitching in, and that’s how you can end up with a plot like this one. This is a plot of 2016 month-to-month team Clutch scores. This is for all 30 ballclubs, with the Rangers highlighted in red.

month-to-month-clutch

The Rangers have yet to have an unclutch month. They were only slightly positive in July, but look at the rest. There are 150 team-months represented here. The Rangers’ June was the second-most clutch. August is in sixth place. April, 12th. May, 13th. The Rangers have four months in the top 13. As you can see from the best-fit line and the correlation, any league-wide effect here is really small. You should expect for any high or low Clutch score to regress almost all the way. The Rangers have mostly managed to reject that, and so after stumbling a bit in July, they’re now fresh off a sweep that might as well have knocked the Mariners out of the picture. In theory, clutch performance isn’t reliable. In practice, the Rangers have been able to rely on it.

Last year’s Rangers finished with a team Clutch score of +4.8. That’s pretty damn good, as these things go. And about those 2008 Angels — in 2007, they finished at +7.6, and in 2009 they finished at +7.2. The Angels put together an unbelievable run of timeliness, and though everything ultimately comes to an end, it does seem like people become too hasty to get to the “unsustainable” label. Just about any extreme performance is unsustainable. And, absolutely, clutch performance can be a difficult thing to trust. But, what do the Rangers care? They’ve already been clutch. Generalized regression isn’t going to knock them out of first place. And maybe there’s something there they’ve figured out. I know we’re wired to see patterns where patterns aren’t, but, sometimes, there are actually patterns.

Ask the Rangers, and they’ve detected a pattern. Ask Rangers fans, and they’ve detected a pattern. In a lot of ways, this is the ideal kind of ballclub to root for. The team is successful, but because of the numbers, you get to cling to a kind of underdog perception. And everybody can feel when a team has regularly come up big when it’s had to. I’m sure it’s also fun to root for the Cubs, on account of all the clobbering, but then they come with the heaviest expectations. The Rangers feel more improbable, and that can be intoxicating.

I don’t know what I’ll think about next year’s Rangers. Next year’s Rangers won’t exist for a while, so that isn’t something any of us has to deal with immediately. Next year’s Rangers presumably aren’t going to be so clutch. But this year’s Rangers? They’ve been unbelievably clutch, and it’s far too late for that to change. It’s part of their whole first-place profile. You can’t say they haven’t earned it.





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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Cheeseball
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Cheeseball

Two words: Adrián Beltré.

johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

Except that in his career, beltre’s clutch rating has been -8.16.

Cheeseball
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Cheeseball

I think Beltre encapsulates the whole story of clutch. This year he’s been the most clutch player on the Rangers. Between 2002 and 2007, he didn’t have a single year with a negative clutch score. Between 2008 and 2014, he didn’t have a single year with a positive clutch score.