Fresh off the ALDS where Alex Rodriguez seemed to win every game for us almost single handedly, it’s a good time to look back at his previous post seasons and put them in some context. Specifically, the charge that Alex isn’t ‘Clutch’ as a baseball player. The definition ‘Clutch’ in Baseball is similar to the definition of pornography. It’s difficult to put into words without quickly running into problems, but we know it when we see it. Or do we?
Allan Barra of the Wall Street Journal published a piece last week examining the elusive nature of defining clutch hitting and examined A-Rod’s post season track record. He writes:
Part of the problem in discussing clutch hitting is that writers, players and fans can seldom agree on a definition. Some say it means hitting in the late innings of close games, while others would argue that it’s the ability of a hitter to carry his team through a slump. Perhaps the most popular definition is that clutch hitting—if it exists—means coming through in the playoffs and World Series.
Still, there are those who don’t accept even that definition. Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus says: “‘Clutch’ remains more of an adjective to apply to a hit than a repeatable skill you ascribe to a player. When you have a relative handful of games, it’s really just a crapshoot.”
Clutch is something that sportwriters and fans decide upon after the fact. We can go back and look at a game and decide who had the ‘big hit’ or game winning RBI, but we’re just as likely to ignore hits that could have been decisive had the pitching held. So not only is it an adjective we ascribe more to a hit than a player, it can also be dependent on whether others teammates perform or not. A great example of this is Carlos Beltran’s HR in the final game played at Shea Stadium. Let me briefly recap what happened.
The season was on the line, the Mets were staring at their second September collapse in as many years. A win means they get in the playoffs, a loss means they go home. The game was scoreless until the top of the 6th inning, when the Marlins broke through with 2 runs. Shea stadium is deflated, sensing another disappointment. Carlos Beltran comes up in the bottom of the 6th and launches a heroic 2 run HR that ties the game. Clutch, right? But then Mets reliever Scott Schoenewies gives up a HR in the 8th that decides the game. Beltran’s HR could have been one of the great moments in Mets history had the bullpen held, but instead it winds up in the dust bin as a futile effort that fell short, due to events that Beltran had no control over whatsoever. In order for many ‘clutch’ hits to have meaning, it often depends on the bullpen’s ability to make that run stick (barring walk offs). A big HR in the late innings becomes meaningless if the other team roars back and wins the game thereafter.
When it comes to A-Rod, he’s been a victim of small sample sizes in the playoffs. Here’s Alex’s last 5 post seasons:
- 2004 ALCS vs. BOS: 8-for-31 (.895 OPS)
- 2005 ALDS vs. LAA: 2-for-15 (.200 OPS)
- 2006 ALDS vs. DET: 1-for-14 (.205 OPS)
- 2007 ALDS vs. CLE: 4-for-15 (.820 OPS)
- 2009 ALDS vs. MIN 5 for 11 (1.500 OPS)
Smart Baseball observers know you can’t judge a player on 14 or 15 ABs. Even the best players will go through mini slumps all the time over the course of a regular season, we just don’t pay as much attention to it. But in the playoffs, everything becomes hyper scrutinized and gets micro analyzed. That’s a poor way to make judgments on the abilities of a player, or even worse on his character as a human being.
Barra goes on to compare A-Rod post season track record with other players who are considered to be Yankee greats. Here’s the chart stacking him up against some Yankee immortals:
The numbers show that Alex Rodriguez has been no worse and perhaps a little better than Joe, Yogi, Mickey or Reggie after about the same number of postseason chances. Yet the criticism persists that he is “a choker,” a charge never leveled at the others. Why?
“The simplest answer,” says Rob Neyer, author of “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends,” “is that after having played in about 40 postseason games each, those guys had a total of 21 World Series rings. Their teams had better pitching, and they won.“
As always, winning cures all. But the next time we call Alex a postseason choker, we should remind ourselves that if Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Javier Vasquez, or countless others got anyone out, it wouldn’t have mattered.
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