Doesn't "The Book" study pretty much settle the clutch hitting question?
The clutch hitting debate continues. For the latest, here's Tango quoting Bradbury quoting Barra. Bradbury references Bill James' essay, and Barra references Dick Cramer's 1977 study.
In Tango's post, he says,
Anyway, as for actually finding a clutch skill, Andy [Dolphin] did in fact find it, and the results are published in The Book.
Absolutely. It's time, I think, that this study be acknowledged as the most relevant to the clutch question. Cramer's study gets quoted because it's the most famous, but recent studies (like Tom Ruane's) have used a lot more data. Dolphin's study improves on Ruane's by including even more data, by correcting for various factors, and by giving an actual quantitative estimate of how much clutch hitting talent there really is.
The one fault with Dolphin's work is that it hasn't been published in full. This is understandable: "The Book" contains a huge number of studies, and if they were all run in detail, the book would be a couple of thousand pages. But this is one of the most important studies, on one of the most asked questions in sabermetrics. If we want sabermetricians, academics, and reporters to accept the results, the study should be published in full, so as to be subject to full peer review. I'm not even completely sure how the study worked. I have a pretty good idea of the outline, but not the details. Part of the reason the study needs to be published is for the technical details to be available, so others can evaluate the method and reproduce the results if they choose to.
Anyway, here's what I *think* Andy did:
-- he took every regular-season game from 1960 to 1992.
-- he considered only PAs involving RHP, to eliminate platoon bias.
-- for every player who met minimum playing time, he computed his clutch and non-clutch OBP.
-- he adjusted those OBPs to reflect the quality of the opposing pitcher, and the fact that overall clutch and non-clutch OBPs differ.
-- he computed clutch performance by subtracting non-clutch from clutch.
That gave him clutch numbers for 848 players.
-- he looked at the distribution of clutch hitting, and figured the observed variance.
-- he then figured what the variance would have been if there were no clutch hitting.
It turned out that the actual variance was higher than the predicted variance, which is what you'd expect if there were something other than just luck causing the results (such as clutch hitting talent). The difference we can presume to be clutch hitting.
If luck and talent are independent (which is a pretty reasonable assumption), then
Variance caused by talent = (Total Variance) - (Variance caused by luck)
That calculation led Andy to conclude that the talent variance was .008 squared, which meant the standard deviation of clutch talent was 8 points of OBA.
Andy phrased it like this:
"Batters perform slightly differently when under pressure. About one in six players increases his inherent "OBP" skill by eight points or more in high-pressure situations; a comparable number of players decreases it by eight points or more."
That finding, I think, is the strongest we have, and I agree with Tango 100% that we should consider Andy's .008 figure to be the best available answer to the clutch hitting question.
As I said in previous posts, however, I do have some minor reservations about what we can conclude from the analysis, so it's appropriate to add a few caveats.
1. Mostly, I'm not convinced that the .008 represents individual clutch ability in the sense in which most fans think of it -- that the player "bears down" in important situations and performs better than normal. I wonder if, instead, it might just be a matter of both hitters and pitchers using different strategies in those clutch situations.
For instance, suppose you have a power hitter and a singles hitter, and neither gets any better in the clutch. But in those situations, the relative values of offensive events might change. Maybe, with the score close in the late innings, a home run becomes more valuable relative to a single. I'm making these numbers up, but, maybe instead of the HR being three times as valuable as a 1B, it becomes four times as valuable.
Now, the pitcher's strategy changes. Fearing the home run a little more than normal, he'd be apt to pitch around the power hitter, trading fewer home runs for more walks. That would cause the power hitter's OBP to increase more than expected. Even if there's no similar effect for the singles hitter, he'll look relatively worse in the clutch than the power hitter.
So it's possible, and even plausible, that the .008 might not be a reflection of the clutch behavior of an individual hitter, but just an artifact of the strategic manoeuvering in the batter-pitcher matchup.
To find out, you could check whether certain types of hitters have better clutch performances as a group. If you did find that, it would be evidence that at least part of what Andy found as "clutch ability" is just characteristics of the player.
There is some evidence that some of this is happening: in the book, Andy says that when he used wOBA (which weights events by their value, so HRs are worth about three times what a single is worth) instead of OBP (which weights all on-base events equally), the SD dropped from 8 points to 6. That suggests that clutch performance did indeed involve a trade-off between getting on base and hitting for power.
If you went one step further, and analyzed performance in terms of win probability (instead of OBP or wOBA), you might find some other result, such as no evidence of clutch talent at all. It could be that all the clutch differences are the result of hitters adjusting their game to what the situation requires, such as (say) a power hitter trying for a single with the bases loaded, vs. a home run with two outs and nobody on.
2. Just today, Matt Swartz suggested that lefties might be more "clutch" than righties, because they hit better with runners being held at first (I always thought that was because of the hole between first and second, but Matt suggests it's because that limits the defense's ability to shift in other ways). Again, that's something that's real -- so the team would know they could benefit from it -- but not "clutch" in the sense that the hitter is actually better in some way.
3. Another quibble I have with the conclusion is that the result appears to be not that significantly different from zero. Andy says there's a 68% probability that clutch talent is between 3 and 12 points; I calculated that the 95% confidence interval easily includes zero (the p-value of zero is somewhere around .14). So even if you're only interested in whether there's an ability to have a higher OBP (in the sense that some players' clutch OBPs vary more than others), the evidence is not conclusive beyond a reasonable doubt.
4. As Andy implies in "The Book" (and Guy explicitly suggests elsewhere), there could be other explanations for the .008. It could be that some players happened to have more clutch AB at home, so what we're seeing is partly HFA. It could be that some players happened to see a starter for the third time that game (when batters start gaining an advantage) more often in than expected in the clutch. It could be a lot of other things.
Guy suggests doing the same study, but choosing the PA randomly (instead of clutch and non/clutch). That would tell us how much of the .008 happens due to random clustering of factors.
(Note: just as I was about to submit this post, I found an earlier Andy Dolphin study that *does* do this kind of check. Andy found that dividing PA into other situations did not produce any false positives.)
Even if some of these criticisms turn out to be justified, it doesn't mean that clutch doesn't matter. Even if we find the entire effect is (say) due to lefties hitting better with runners on base, that's still something a manager or a GM should take into account. If you have two .270 hitters, but one hits .270 all the time, while the other hits .268 usually but .276 in the clutch ... well, you want the second guy. It doesn't really matter to you whether the extra performance comes from the players gutsiness, or just from something that's inherent in the game.
But my perception is that fans who talk about "clutch" are talking about something in a player's make-up or psychology that makes him more heroic in critical situations. I'd argue that while "The Book"'s study convincingly showed that some players hit slightly better (or worse) in clutch situations, it has NOT showed that it's because the players themselves are "clutch".
Looking back at what I wrote, I realize I'm repeating things I said before. But the point I was trying to make is that I agree with Tango: the study in "The Book" is state of the art, and, to my mind, the question of whether players hit differently in the clutch now has an answer.
I'm not sure how to get the result accepted. Well, publication of the study would help; the media are more likely to pay attention to a result if it's a full academic-type study instead of a few pages of a book. I'm sure JQAS would be happy to run it. Even a web publication would help.
What else? Well, I suppose that the more the sabermetric community cites the result, the more it'll spread, and the more likely sportswriters will be to come across it when researching clutch.
Or maybe a press release? It works for Steven Levitt!