The clutch hitting bet, part III
A few weeks ago, I offered to bet against anyone who believed there was such a thing as a clutch hitters who could be identified in advance. I got a total of about three bets. That's out of, probably, a few hundred people who read about my offer.
My conclusions, after reading some of the comments on other blogs that mentioned the bet:
1. People may say they believe some players are clutch hitters, but they don't really believe it. If they did, they'd bet.
A common excuse that some people give is that they don't bet, as a matter of principle. This is fine if it comes from one person, but when two hundred people all refuse to bet, it's gotta be more than principle.
Similarly are the people who argued that, if I believed the odds were close to even, I should offer better odds than 2:3. That's a silly excuse. If I had decided that Juan Pierre had a 50/50 chance of outhomering Ryan Howard, and offered the same 2:3 bet, nobody would have time to haggle over the odds – everyone would be too busy rushing to get their bets in.
2. People don't even know what they mean when they talk about clutch hitting. There were a few commenters (on other blogs) who said that, yes, *of course* there are clutch hitters, but you don't measure their clutchness by comparing their regular output to their clutch output.
But if clutch doesn't mean being BETTER in the clutch, what does it mean? As Tango and/or MGL have pointed out many times, if you just mean that they're good in the clutch, doesn't that just mean they're good players in general? I mean, of course you'd rather have David Ortiz up in an important situation than Neifi Perez. But you'd rather have David Ortiz up in ANY situation than Neifi Perez. So what's the point of calling him clutch?
Perhaps many clutch advocates have only a fuzzy idea of what something means, but get confused when you try to pin them down on it? It seems like they just never thought farther than their initial, happy fuzzy reaction.
3. As mgl said in comments on several blogs: if you are unable to pick any player, or any combination of players, whom you believe have even a 60% chance of being clutch (when the average is 50%), then you are pretty much admitting that clutch hitting talent isn't a very strong factor in baseball. To quote mgl,
"[If you don't think the odds are good enough,] you are essentially agreeing that a clutch player is virtually indistinguishable from a choke player before the fact! If you can't beat 55-50 over en entire season with a bunch of so-called clutch players verus choke players, you have no right to talk about who is clutch and who is not!"
Put another way: by complaining about the odds, you are admitting that you don't know who the clutch players are, or that they are not significantly better than other players. In that case, if you still talk about clutch hitters as if they are a significant force in baseball – if, for instance, you continue to refer to David Ortiz as a clutch hitter as if that skill forms a measurable part of his value – you are either bullshitting, or have compartmentalized your brain into believing two contradictory things at once.
4. Speaking of believing two contradictory things at once: there is ample precedent for that sort of thing. People will tell you how great heaven is, and how it's everlasting bliss and contentment, and how they will be reunited with their deceased relatives that they miss so much, and that heaven is the ultimate reward. But they act as if death were the worst thing that could possibly happen to them.
It makes people feel good to think that clutch exists, and so they'll keep talking about it, and psuedo-believing in it, and ducking and weaving when we try to pin them down.
If you are a clutch-hitting advocate who believes this is unfair, you may be right. Maybe it is unfair, applied to you. To prove it, show us your belief is rational and open to new evidence. The best way is to accept my bet. If you say you have moral scruples against betting real money – you never even buy raffle tickets, and you believe even betting for charity is immoral – well, I'm reluctant to believe you. But try this instead.
Write down your best prediction about clutch hitting in 2008. That is, decide what you are most sure of about when it comes to what will happen in the clutch this year, something you believe that would not be true if clutch were close to random. Write it down, and stick it on your fridge.
And assure yourself that if your prediction does NOT come true, you will publicly re-evaluate your belief in clutch hitting talent. If you can't tell yourself that – if your belief in clutch hitting is immune to your absolute BEST prediction in it failing to come true – then either you believe in a very, very weak form of clutch hitting, or your belief in it is faith-based and unfalsifiable.