Pittsburgh Pirates: Hits to Tie Or Take The Lead

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 04: Gregory Polanco #25 celebrates with Jordan Luplow #47 of the Pittsburgh Pirates after scoring during the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on September 4, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 04: Gregory Polanco #25 celebrates with Jordan Luplow #47 of the Pittsburgh Pirates after scoring during the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park on September 4, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

Clutch is a term thrown out a lot for players, taking up different meanings to different people.  In a broad sense, it can be looked at if a batter ties or takes the lead for his club.

There’s different measurements of skill, and the term clutch gets brought up.  In the book The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, authors Mitchel Lichtman, Tom Tango, and Andrew Dolphin concluded that,

"“For all practical purposes, a player can be expected to hit equally well in the clutch as he would be expected to do in an ordinary situation.”"

In other words, clutch wouldn’t be a skill that a player possesses.  But clutchness can happen, especially looking back.  Merriam-Webster defines clutch as “successful in a crucial situation.”  Certainly aspects of a players season can be defined as clutch, such as David Ortiz’s grandslam during the 2013 ALCS to tie the game at five.  That would certainly fit the definition of clutch.  The score was 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning and Ortiz tied the game.  That’s a clutch moment.

But in his career, was Ortiz clutch?  Here are his numbers based on his career, late and close, and high leverage situations according to Baseball-Reference:

Late & Close0.2560.3710.499
Higher Leverage0.2920.3880.556

Ortiz’s numbers in important situations were not that much different from what his career numbers were.  He was just a good hitter and because of that, you’d want him batting when the game was on the line.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t have clutch moments, he did, but overall Ortiz did what he normally did: mash the baseball.

The definition of clutch is meant to be looking backwards not forwards.  A player might not have clutchness, rather they’re just good, but any player can have a clutch moment.  Succeeding in a big moment is clutch, such as Drew Sutton’s walk off home run, and that’s the examination of clutch to look at.

Starting in the most basic part of “clutch” would be a hit to tie or take the lead.  Looking at the numbers, all of which were entering games played in September 29, the Pirates hitters had the following (only showing hitters with 20+ hits):

NameHitsTying+Go AheadPercentage of Hits
Rodriguez, Sean25624.0%
Moran, Colin1142118.4%
Polanco, Gregory1171815.4%
Cervelli, Francisco861315.1%
Freese, David68913.2%
Harrison, Josh851112.9%
Frazier, Adam881112.5%
Marte, Starling1521811.8%
Diaz, Elias71811.3%
Osuna, Jose2229.1%
Bell, Josh130118.5%
Mercer, Jordy9988.1%
Dickerson, Corey150128.0%
Meadows, Austin4512.2%

Overall, the Pirates have had 160 hits tie or take the lead, which equates to 11.7 percent of the club’s 1,365 hits.  The MLB has a unit has 5,012 hits that have tied or taken the lead, or 12.37 percent.  So the Pirates are below the average as a team in terms of having hits tie or take the lead.

There are multiple reasons on why this isn’t the best judgement on how players performed in a clutch moment, with the first being that it doesn’t take into account the inning.  A hit to score a run in the first inning would be a hit to give the team the lead, but that doesn’t make it clutch.

Filtering it by hits in high leverage situations (leverage index is greater than or equal to 1.5 (again, will be discussed in another post looking win probability), the Pirates hitters with at least five hits in high leverage situations are:

PlayerHitsTying+Go AheadPercentage of Hits
Frazier, Adam8562.50%
Cervelli, Francisco17952.94%
Rodriguez, Sean6350.00%
Marte, Starling231147.83%
Moran, Colin291137.93%
Harrison, Josh19736.84%
Polanco, Gregory281035.71%
Mercer, Jordy17635.29%
Freese, David14428.57%
Dickerson, Corey25728.00%
Diaz, Elias15426.67%
Bell, Josh23626.09%
Stallings, Jacob5120.00%
Newman, Kevin5120.00%
Meadows, Austin6116.67%

A quick glance at the two charts shows that when Sean Rodriguez or Francisco Cervelli get a hit, it ties or takes the lead, especially in high leverage situations.  The Pirates have 92 hits to tie or take the lead of their 251 total hits in high leverage situations (36.65 percent).  The Major League average is 38.03 percent (2,893/7,608).

In terms of both hits to tie or take the lead in all situations and hits to tie or take the lead in high leverage situations over total hits in each split, the Pirates fall below the league average.  Does that illustrate that the Pirates have been unclutch as a team this year?  Perhaps, but this also ignores the amount of runners on-base in each situation, another problem within this loosely fit definition.  No runners on base, only a home run can tie or take the lead if the deficit is one or tied.  A single doesn’t show up as a success with respect to clutch looking back.

Next. Shortstop Woes Continue For The Pirates. dark

There’s a more advanced way of looking at “clutchness” and who moves the needle for a team in terms of their chances of winning.  That comes in the form of win probability added (WPA) and leverage index (LI).  That’ll be saved for a later post, as this was just the most broad way of looking back at if a player had “clutch moments.”  Clutch might not be predictive in the future, but those moments are real in the moment, and therefore can be traced out.

*Numbers from baseball-reference’s play index