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The Church of Clutch

Bill James first surmised: ‘Clutch’ hitters do not exist. James argued, along with many other baseball analysts over the years that clutch hits exist, but inherently clutch hitters do not. He wrote in his 1984 Baseball Abstract:

“How is it that a player who possesses the reflexes and the batting stroke and the knowledge and the experience to be a .260 hitter in other circumstances magically becomes a .300 hitter when the game is on the line? How does that happen? What is the process? What are the effects? Until we can answer those questions, I see little point in talking about clutch ability.”

The logic is valid and simple. Baseball is a sport that prides itself in the use of statistics because 162 games a year provides ample time for a player’s performance to show its true colors. Just as it makes no sense for a team or player to be deemed terrible or terrific after the first 30 games of a year, a small sample size of 30 postseason games is not enough to deem a player “clutch” or not.

Following Monday night’s game, a thrilling come-from-behind victory for the Cards, Derek Goold, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s beat reporter, touched on the subject through his Twitter account. Goold’s tweet following Matt Holiday’s game tying single poked fun at the so called “Church of Clutch parishioners”, who had decided that Holliday was a player incapable of clutch hits after his sub-par postseason for the Cardinals last October. His next response was great– bringing up Stan Musial, “The Man” and his postseason numbers. For those wondering (everyone), Musial hit .256 career in the playoffs, with only 1 HR in 99 plate appearances. Stan the Man also produced only 8 RBI in 22 playoff games, and batted .222 in two of four World Series appearances. Sub par numbers, still a legendary player.

The Cards comeback victory Monday night in Cincinatti highlighted the myth of inherently ‘clutch’ hitters, specifically Matt Holliday. Holliday is a great player, and a great hitter. Bottom line for us Cards fans, poor October numbers doesn’t mean a thing for next October. As Goold later tweeted: “Hey, we can all tinker and toy and warp and bend and shape and Play-Doh our way through small samples sizes. Doesn’t make us right.”

Church of Clutch- Don’t be a believer!

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