Saturday, January 19, 2008

The clutch hitter bet -- rules

This is a followup to my offer to bet that you can't pick clutch hitters in 2008, in my previous post. Now that people are interested, I suppose I should lay out the rules, to avoid disputes. Here they are:

1. I have improved the odds to 2:3. You now have to lay only $15 to win $10, for instance.

2. Please accept the bet HERE, not at any other site that may have linked here (eg. BTF, SOSH, etc.) I don't always read all those sites. To accept the bet, post a comment here, or e-mail me (a link to my e-mail is at my full name dot com).

Please list:

a. The player or players in your "clutch" group;
b. The player or players in your "choke" group;
c. The amount of money you are laying;
d. Your definition of a clutch situation;
e. The charity you are playing for, or whether you want the winnings yourself.
f. Who you are, if I don't know you, so I can find you if you lose. (You can send this by e-mail.)

I would recommend that your definition of clutch be something easy to calculate, maybe even something that ESPN or someone calculates for you. If not, you are responsible for the calculations.

I will confirm that I am accepting your bet, and then we're on!

3. Despite some objections, the metric will be (batting average in clutch – batting average in non-clutch). Why? Because the studies I have seen use batting average. I suspect that the evidence is just as strong against clutch talent using other statistics, but I'm going to play it safe anyway. Maybe I'll switch next year.

4. I won't accept attempts to game the system. For instance, suppose there's a runner on first being held on. Can lefties hit singles through the hole more easily than righties? If you choose that as your situation, and made it lefties vs. righties, I won't take your bet, because you're not really measuring clutch, you're measuring a certain platoon effect.On a related note, no pitchers allowed unless accompanied in your "clutch" or "non-clutch" group by at least one real hitter.

And if you want to bet way too much money for me, I will politely decline.

5. For multiple players, batting averages should be computed by adding all H and dividing by all AB (not by averaging the individual unweighted batting averages). Regular season only, no playoffs.

6. The minimum AB for the calculation is 1. If either of your groups goes 0-for-0 in clutch or non-clutch, the bet is cancelled.

7. I may not have thought of everything, so I retain the right to refuse any bet for any reasons I choose. Once the season starts, of course, I can't cancel any bets I've accepted. In the unlikely case of dispute at the end of the year, we can try to find someone neutral to arbitrate. (Honestly, if it's just $10 or something, I'd probably just pay you and complain about it.)

8. All bets must eventually be public (except for your real name or e-mail address). I will eventually set up a web page with all the bets listed, as I accept them.

9. Any legal trouble on non-charity bets will convert them to charity bets. I don't want to go to jail or anything.

10. For charity bets, I get to offset my losing bets with my winning bets. That is, suppose I win 50 bets at $15, and lose 100 bets at $10. That's $750 in winnings, and $1000 in losses. The 50 losing bettors send $15 each to charity on behalf of 75 of the winners, and I send the remaining $250.

Otherwise, I couldn't afford to do this, since I'm pretty sure that I will lose half the bets.

Another way of putting it: I am the casino. I get to pay my losing bets out of the money made from winning bets. If there is any leftover, it's profit, and 100% of my profit goes to charity. If there is not enough to pay the winning bets out of the losing bets, I take the loss (by making donations to charity).

11. After the season, I'll go through all the bets and figure out who has to send money where. Losers are responsible for sending the cheque to the charity assigned.

99. I may add or change rules on this page as I think of them. I will always let you know what the changes are.

(Again, here is my previous post which
describes what you are betting on.)

(Added points 10 and 11 on January 19 to clarify that I get to pay the winners out of the losers' money. Also, the charity can now be a US charity.)

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At Saturday, January 19, 2008 1:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I accept your challenge, and will prove for all time that clutch hitting does indeed exist! With the proceeds going to charity (Compassion International), of course.

I believe that under your revised odds, I need to put up $15 to win $10. Compassion Int'l does have a Canadian wing (, and you may choose any of their many funds to donate to.

My split will be batting average (as you stipulate) in ESPN's "close and late" category that appears on all of their player pages. Nothing exotic, don't care what the particulars of the definition are.

CHOKE ARTISTS: Jim Thome, Adam Dunn, Curtis Granderson, Ryan Braun, JD Drew, Juan Pierre.

CLUTCH HITTERS: Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, David Wright, Chase Utley, Derrek Lee.

I should point out that I've never been one who thought that David Ortiz is actually clutch. He's just a devastating example of what happens if you stick a 1.000+ OPS hitter in an extreme number of high-leverage situations on national television. I actually don't really believe in "clutch" as much as I believe in "choke", but I might be overly influenced by watching Carlos Beltran wave at curveballs. Thus, for my clutch hitters, I just tried to pick the best, safest hitters I could find. My chokers are free-swingers with platoon difficulties and Juan Pierre (on the off chance that Ned Colletti is watching).

I will send you my contact info via a private email.

At Saturday, January 19, 2008 2:32:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Accepted. Thanks, and good luck!

At Saturday, January 19, 2008 9:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First by using the differnce between clutch situation and other situations you are not even measuring clutch performance. Then you go further and restrict player choices

What exactly are you trying to prove?

At Saturday, January 19, 2008 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Hi, Tom,

Clutch is usually measured by how much a player CHANGES in clutch situations. A .360 hitter who hits .330 in the clutch is considered a bit of a choke hitter (but still a good hitter in the clutch).

At Sunday, January 20, 2008 3:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So this overall .360 hitter does a better job in clutch situations than nearly everyone else who is paid to swing a baseball bat, and everyone agrees it is a good job, yet he is still measured as a poor clutch hitter?

That makes absolutely no sense at all

At Sunday, January 20, 2008 3:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Further, I would also disagree completely that clutch is usually measured in that fashion

By virtually every stated measure Micheal Jordan is seen as a clutch player. Yet he is a great player no matter if the game is in June or December; if it is in the first quarter or the fourth quarter. Playing better than everyone else and making game winning shots in the playoffs and finals is no less clutch because he was also an All-Star and MVP during the regular season. And nearly every common measure of clutch performance agrees with that

At Sunday, January 20, 2008 11:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, then, if the clutch hitter is also a great hitter, then we have no issue here!

The people who argue for clutch hitting are those that say that a player will perform better than we'd have otherwise expected. If all the clutch hitters are also all the great hitters, then we have peace and harmony from both sides.

Phil's contention is that a great hitter is a great hitter, regardless of the situation. He won't get noticeably better or worse.

For someone to prove Phil wrong, you've have to limit the players to guys of similar overall quality, and then select only from those players (say ARod, Ortiz, Manny, Pujols, Vlad, and 3 or 4 more). Phil will certainly not agree to let you choose Vlad as your clutch hitter, and that you select Doug Mirabelli as the choke hitter, if you are only going to compare performance in late/close. Vlad will outhit Mirabelli in any subset of performance, be it late/close, early/blowout, men on 2B, etc, etc, etc.

So, you tell me. How do you design a bet whereby the bettor chooses both the clutcher and choker, without the obvious ridiculousness of Vlad and Mirabelli?

At Sunday, January 20, 2008 11:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just like betting on football. How do you design a system where 50% of the people will bet on the Patriots?

Answer: they have to exceed a line differential.

This is what Phil is doing here: the "line" is Vlad minus Mirabelli overall (say +.100 batting average points).

How Vlad does against Mirabelli, in late/close is the bet: he has to exceed the +.100 line.

At Monday, January 21, 2008 9:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that the majority of those who say clutch is real aren't willing to put their money on it. That's too bad because this experiment might have opened some eyes.

At Monday, January 21, 2008 9:48:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

There seemed to be several people on other message boards listing their clutchers and chokers and planning to bet, but they haven't made their way here yet ... I'm ready when they are!

At Tuesday, January 22, 2008 11:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The guys who talk a big clutch game are almost certainly the same guys who talk a big game with the ladies. If you were to ask the ladies, those guys would almost certainly fail whatever it is they were talking big about.

At Tuesday, January 22, 2008 2:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I accept your challenge as well.

Here's the wager: my $150 vs. your $100.

Here's what we're betting on: Batting Average w/ Runners in Scoring Position (BARISP) - Batting Average (BA).

Here's the players: David Ortiz vs. Kevin Millar.

Ortiz will post a higher differential than Millar... that's the prediction, that's the bet.

I'll email you postal info.

At Tuesday, January 22, 2008 2:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hold on: where is your email address?

At Tuesday, January 22, 2008 2:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found it. Emailed.

At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 9:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you're right, Phil, and others show up here to take your bet, but I agree with tangotiger. These people talk a big game, but aren't willing to put anything real on the line when it comes to those opinions. I think other people should do this and maybe we can get this crowd who argues clutch exists to dwindle to a manageable few.

At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 9:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So far, the test seems to be whether David Ortiz is a clutch hitter, and not whether we can pick out a general clutch hitter.

At Thursday, January 24, 2008 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone have a comment on Bill James' "decentralization" idea? (
Could be interesting to try in this challenge.

I have to say I'm surprised that there aren't more takers. There are lots of great baseball minds hanging out around here, I'm sure there are plenty of other creative ways to win this bet.

Of course, the futility of all this is that even if I win the bet, and am able to repeat every year, I haven't proven anything. Thome, Dunn, Granderson will show up as "choke" because they are good enough to inspire opposing managers to LOOGY them without themselves being pulled from close games. Similarly, what is the over/under on the number of times Ryan Braun will face a LHP in close and late situations? 2? When a hitter has a glaring weakness that is exploitable (or extreme strength that is avoidable) in important situations, he is, in effect, a different hitter in those situations.

To me, that is how I define clutch. A clutch hitter will be someone who is a complete enough batter to not have weaknesses easily exploited by the opposition. When the Twins NEED to get Curtis Granderson out, they can do it.

This, in my mind, is where so much of the "clutch" debate confusion comes from. Even if my definition of clutch holds up, a simple regression analysis that accounted for things like platoon differential, success against power/finesse pitchers, etc would quickly find no clutch effects.

I'm not trying to prove that clutch hitting exists, but I am trying to make the point that we need to be much more precise and nuanced in our discussion, especially when engaging the mainstream media. Blanket proclamations like "Clutch hitting does not exist!", while true under some assumptions, serve only to discourage intelligent dialogue on the topic.

At Thursday, January 24, 2008 4:06:00 PM, Blogger Nate Hebel said...

Don't the Twins need to get Granderson out on every AB?

At Friday, January 25, 2008 11:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the Twins would like to get Granderson out every AB. Unfortunately, however, they cannot bring a lefty out of the pen every time he walks to the plate. It would be interesting to see the Twins start a LH RP just to get Granderson out in the top of the first, but by the time Curtis rolls back up in the third, it's all Scott Baker's game.

If Granderson comes up in a key (read: clutch-possible) situation in the 7th or 8th inning, you know that the Twins will have Dennys Reyes ready for him in the pen.

Meanwhile, Granderson is looked at as one of the Tigers' best hitters and is an elite defensive CF, so the Tigers tend not to pinch hit for him.

If the game isn't close, managers won't bother to take advantage of Granderson's platoon difficulties. Thus, Granderson will tend to face more LH RP in "close and late" situations than in early or blowout situations. I know you can't count on MLB managers for much, but they are generally decent about platooning their bullpen arms.

For the record, Granderson's career splits are:
v. RHP: .300/.364/.527/.891
v. LHP: .202/.265/.366/.631
And yes, they were even worse than that in 2007 (read: not improving).

At Friday, January 25, 2008 4:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, right now the bet is whether or not David Ortiz is a clutch hitter; or whether or not Kevin Millar is a non-clutch hitter. But that was the parameters of the bet: anybody vs. anybody under any reasonable criterion.

If the bet was, "Can you identify a rookie who will perform as, 'clutch' under this defined metric" then the odds would need to be improved. In any case, it would be a different thing.

And maddog, ironically, Tango has said that clutch does exist, it's just very difficult to measure statistically.

At Friday, January 25, 2008 5:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First Bill James, now Tango... where will the defections end? Stop the madness! Every reasonable person knows that "clutch" is just another tool of oppression used by MLB to brainwash fans into buying $200 David Ortiz jerseys.

Anyway, Tango, didn't FD propose something akin to a "general clutch hitter"?

At Saturday, January 26, 2008 12:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous -- of course clutch exists to some degree. I don't think too many people would say otherwise. The point is that it doesn't exist to the significant degree that mainstream sportswriters and announcers would want you to believe.


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