The schadenfreude of an entire sporting world is on display right now, thanks to the Miami Heat. As basketball undergoes a similar statistical revolution to baseball, the entire concept of clutch is being called into question. What is luck, what is random variance, what it means to come through in the clutch, and what is “shrinking from the moment?” It all makes for entertaining debates.

Baseball stats nerds took “clutch” out behind the woodshed long ago but the concept still applies on the team level. We are constantly reminded that good teams do “the little things to win close games.” They always find a way to win the one run games.

If only that was the case. One only has to go back through the annals to…oh…2007. The mighty Red Sox finished with the (tied for) best record in baseball, swept the Angels with extreme prejudice, outlasted Cleveland in a 7 game series before positively stomping the Colorado Rockies into submission in a 4 game snoozefest of a World Series. The best team in baseball with very little doubt.

This team accomplished all these mean feats without the benefit of much luck. Not only did they underperform their Pythag record (a hypothetical won/loss projection based on runs scored & allowed) by 6 wins, not only did the Red Sox offense rank last in baseball in terms of clutch (full explanation here), not only did the 2007 Red Sox post a losing record in extra innings games, they had a losing record (22-28) in one-run ball games!

This could a few things: either the Red Sox of 2007 were one of the greatest baseball teams of all time, able to overcome inordinate amounts of bad luck on their way to heartwarming World Series title, or all that stuff is hooey.

I tend to side with the latter. Talent wins, and the Red Sox had talent to spare in 2007. They had a great offense, a great pitching staff & bullpen. Luck can help elevate a mediocre team for a little while but a great team is just that — great — no matter how much the Baseball Gods work against them.

Comments (10)

  1. Clutch definitely exists. But clutch ain’t skill. Clutch is just gripping baseball from a fan’s perspective. That said, I think anti-clutch is a true anti-skill. There are guys who simply can’t perform to their usual levels when the pressure is on – what makes one at-bat/pitch pressure while another is not is a question for sports psychologists.

  2. You can’t have clutch without opportunity. I agree.

  3. Talking about Pythag records make me sad. The Blue Jays had the second best Pythag record in the American League in 2008. Alas, run differential does not get you into the playoffs.

  4. Yeah, one can see by the number of comments on these blogs how well your sabermetric snobfest is resonating with baseball fans. Maybe try being a little more balanced in your analysis, and a little less elitist, but what do I know.

  5. One can also see by the number of names you use from the same IP address that you’re a very sad little man.

  6. @Dustin: #winning

  7. I’m sorry you feel that way John. I certainly don’t agree, as this post has very little, if any, statistical basis. I wrote it out of surprise, more than anything. I’ll keep my smug brow-beating to a minimum from here on out, I promise.

  8. Dustin: The bi-winning warlock with Adonis DNA, a 10,000 year old brain with the boogers of a 7 year old and tigerblood who rides tsunamis on a mercury surfboard.

  9. Boom! Buh-Bye!

    (What the [Getting Blanked]? I tried to post the above and was taken to a page that said: “Your comment is too short. Please try posting again.” I have always been accused of being more towards the verbose end of things. This is a first.)

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