Forget Captain Kirk, Nieuwenhuis should be called Captain Clutch

The 2012 Mets are succeeding thanks to a great record in close games. It is up for debate if they will be able to continue this performance throughout the year but for right now they are 11-3 in games decided by one or two runs. Most fans would say they have done a good job of coming through in the clutch. And perhaps no one has come through in the clutch more than Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

One of the problems with clutch is that there is no one correct way to describe it. Some people may define it as coming through in close and late situations. And that certainly is a reasonable definition. But it leaves out an AB with the bases loaded in the sixth inning of a scoreless game. If Player X gets a hit there, that seems like a clutch hit to me.

Another issue is what do we define the clutch performance against? According to Baseball-Reference, the NL OPS in high leverage situations is .699 this year. So, which player is more clutch – a player who averages a .900 OPS overall but who has a .750 OPS in high leverage situations or a player who has a .675 OPS overall but a .725 OPS in high leverage situations? You could make a case for either one.

FanGraphs has a stat which it labels Clutch and defines as:

how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment. It also compares a player against himself, so a player who hits .300 in high leverage situations when he’s an overall .300 hitter is not considered clutch.

The Mets are fifth in MLB with a team Clutch score of 1.04 so far. Last year the Mets finished eighth in the category.

And, what should be no surprise at this point in time, Nieuwenhuis leads the Mets with a 0.77 Clutch score. Justin Turner places second with a 0.44 mark while Mike Nickeas is third with a 0.32 rating. On the flip side, Jason Bay has been the least clutch Met this year, with a -0.57 score.

Whether you love this definition of Clutch or would prefer another way to measure it, an important thing to keep in mind is that this stat is much, much, much more descriptive than it is predictive. Through games of May 6th, Nieuwenhuis has been the best player by this metric but that does not mean he is the most likely one to be leading the team at the end of the year.

Last year Bobby Abreu and Josh Hamilton were the best in the majors in this metric. This year Abreu has been released and Hamilton has a -0.32 Clutch score.

Regardless, it’s easy to see why Nieuwenhuis has been such a hit with fans. He has done a good job on both offense and defense. And much like Turner last year, Nieuwenhuis has come up and raised his game when the stakes were highest. In the process, he may have earned himself a new nickname.

4 comments for “Forget Captain Kirk, Nieuwenhuis should be called Captain Clutch

  1. May 9, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I’d be kinda curious to see how Murphy rates. If you asked me to pick the three most reliable Mets this year, it’d be a toss up between Cap’n, Murphy, Tejada and Wright, but that’s just from observation.

    • May 9, 2012 at 8:29 am

      Murphy has a 0.08 Clutch rating. I guess that means he’s pretty reliable, as he’s performing just slightly better in the clutch than he is overall.

  2. Dan Stack
    May 9, 2012 at 8:02 am

    While I love your work with metrics, I think being “clutch” is something that can’t be defined by any metric. From moving runners over, being selective at the plate, knowing when to pull, etc. is just an innate characteristic.

    • May 9, 2012 at 8:52 am

      All of the things you mentioned can be – and are – calculated. If what you do at the plate, whether that be pulling the ball or moving runners over or whatever – puts your team in a better position to win the game, that’s calculated in WPA.

      The problem is that we’ve grown up with the myth that certain people are clutch and that this is a skill that they either have or don’t have and that they maintain this skill in equal parts throughout their career. No matter who your favorite player is, we can probably recall at least 10 different times when he came through with a big hit. But we can’t just cherry pick the results. We have to look at all of them, throughout the year or career or whatever our time period.

      There are countless clutch moments in a season and every batter will come thru in the clutch at some point or another. But few can come thru on a yearly basis and no one is consistent from year to year.

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