I will bet real money that you can't identify even one clutch hitter
Over the past 30 years, one of the hottest topics in sabermetrics has been the existence of clutch hitting talent. Does it exist? Do some players naturally perform better when the game is on the line? Are certain other players "chokers," who play their best only when it doesn't matter?
Those who believe in the existence of clutch hitters often believe it passionately, and many have been dismissive of evidence against it.
I think the evidence against it is substantial, and so, if you believe in clutch hitters, I am willing to offer you the following bet.
You tell me who you believe will be clutch hitters in 2008. You tell me who you think will be choke hitters in 2008. If your clutch hitters outperform your choke hitters, I will pay you $10. If not, you pay me $20.
You will note that I am asking for 2 to 1 odds. Why? Because I am letting you make all the choices. You decide who the clutch hitters are. You decide who the choke hitters are. You even decide how many there will be in each group. If you want, you can pit exactly one player against one other player, and I'll be OK with that. You can pit one player against the rest of the league. You can have three players in the "choke" column, and an entire team in the "clutch" column. Anything you want.
I'll even let you decide what's a clutch situation. Elias used to have a bunch of candidates: "late inning pressure situations," "late inning pressure situations with runners on," "runners in scoring position with two out." Use one of those, or make up one of your own. You can even weight the situations if you like – count a plate appearance double if the tying run is on third. Whatever you think gives you the best chance of winning.
At the end of 2008, we will see how much your "clutch hitters" improved in the clutch. We will see how much your "choke hitters" improved in the clutch. If the clutchers beat the chokers, by improving more or declining less, you win. The measure of clutchness will be the improvement (or decline) in batting average.
For example: I have the 1989 Elias book in front of me, so let's say that in 1988, you had chosen Tim Raines as your clutcher and Mark McLemore as your choker. Raines improved by 92 points in late inning pressure situations (.347 to .254). McLemore also improved in the clutch, by 12 points (.250 to .238), which was not as much as Raines. You win your bet, 92 points to 12.
You can see that 1:2 odds are quite reasonable by looking at other statistics. If I offered you 1:2 that Albert Pujols wouldn't hit more home runs than Juan Pierre, you'd jump on it. If I offered you 1:2 that Juan Pierre wouldn't steal more bases than the average National League catcher, you'd take it in a second. If I offered you 1:2 odds that Pedro Martinez wouldn't strike out more players (per nine innings) than the league average, you'd mortgage the farm to take that bet too.
I'm saying that if you want to do the same for clutch hitting improvement, I'll take your bet, and I'll even let you fill in both sides of it. You tell me who's going to outclutch whom. And you only have to be right 67% of the time to make it a fair bet.
Do we have a bet? If not, why not?
If you really think the 1:2 odds aren't fair, what do you think IS fair? If you say only 1:1 odds are fair, then you must think that even if you pick the very, very best clutch hitter in baseball, and the very, very worst clutch hitter in baseball, it's still a flip of the coin which one does better in 2008. And, so, basically, you're admitting that clutch hitting talent doesn't exist.
Or maybe you think clutch hitting exists, but you don't want to bet because you don't know who the clutch hitters are. In that case, why do you believe in the existence of clutch hitting? I mean, if you've never seen a clutch hitter, how do you know they're out there?
Perhaps you think the odds are too high because the sample sizes are too small. That's why I gave you the option of making the "clutch group" and the "choke group" as large as you want. Put your top/bottom 20 players in each group – that will give you at least 2000 plate appearances total. That should be enough to tell the heroes from the goats, shouldn't it?
And if you're thinking that "late inning pressure situations" aren't really what you think of as clutch, just remember that I'm even letting you define what situations we're looking at.
Basically, if you're refusing the bet, you're saying that you can't think of ANY situation, in a full season's worth of baseball, where you can differentiate ANY clutch hitters from ANY non-clutch hitters with 67% probability. If that's the case, clutch hitting can't be that important, can it?
I actually don't expect that anyone will take me up on this bet. But I'm serious. If you want to place the bet, I will cover it. It can be for just $2 against $1, if you want, or $20 against $10, or even $50 against $25. Mitchel Lichtman, of "The Book," says that if you want to bet an amount that's too high for me, he'll take the rest of your action.
Also, if you want to bet donations to charity, that's OK with me too. Winner picks a charity in the loser's home country (I'm Canadian). Loser gets the tax receipt, just to keep it legal.
Looking forward to hearing from anyone interested!
(Hat Tip: Tom Tango for the inspiration.)
UPDATE: I have set out the rules here. Please place your bets there, and NOT at any other site where you may have heard about the bet. Thanks!