For the past week, I've been planning to write about how well the Tigers have done in the clutch this year. However, given their poor performance producing with runners on base in close games versus the Yankees and Mariners, I figured such a post would not be received very well. After the last couple of days, I think it's now safe to talk about the "clutchness" of the 2009 Tigers.
First, understand that a player's performance would not be considered clutch just because he hit well in high impact situations. A clutch performer is one who hit better in clutch at bats than he did in ordinary at bats. For example, a hitter who did great in both clutch and non-clutch scenarios would not be considered a clutch performer. On the other hand, a player who did great in the clutch but just average otherwise would be a clutch hitter. With that in mind, a new statistic at FanGraphs (simply called "Clutch") attempts to measure how much better a player does in clutch situations than he does in a typical at bat.
The clutch statistic is based on Win Probability Added (WPA), another FanGraphs statistic. Win Probability Added measures a players win contribution by calculating how much each at bat affected the probability of winning a game. Unlike stats such as OPS which do not consider context, WPA gives a player more credit for at bats which have a greater affect on the games potential outcome. For example, a player would get more credit for a walk off homer than he would for a solo homer when his team is up by 10 runs in the ninth inning. Ultimately, the players which contributed the most to their team's wins will have the highest WPAs.
The clutch statistic only considers opportunities in the highest leverage situations. That is, the plate appearances which have the greatest potential impact on the outcomes of games. If the Tigers are down 2-1 with two outs and two on in the ninth, that would be a high leverage situation and would be included in the clutch statistic. If they are up by 8 runs with the bases empty in the 8th inning, that would be a low leverage at bat and would not be included in the clutch statistic.
The clutch statistic then measures a player's WPA in these high leverage at bats compared to all other at bats. As a team, the Tigers WPA in clutch scenarios is 2.82 higher than it is in other contexts. That is second in the league to the Angels whose WPA is better in the clutch by 3.18. Simply put, this means that the Tigers have been the second best clutch hitting team in the American League this year.
Individually, the most clutch Tiger so far this year has been Curtis Granderson whose 1.40 clutch number is second best in the league to Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez (1.71). Other clutch Tigers include:
Ryan Raburn 0.95
Placido Polanco 0.76
Carlos Guillen 0.67
Brandon Inge 0.67
The worst Tigers in the clutch have been:
Miguel Cabrera -1.36
Marcus Thames -0.98
One should keep in mind that, as with all situational statistics, the sample sizes which contribute to this measure are rather small for many players and should not be used for projecting clutch performance into the future. All we can say is that, so far this year, the Tigers have hit better in clutch scenarios than they have in other at bats.