Since yesterday, Hank Schulman and Jonah Keri from Grantland have been going back and forth about “clutch” statistics — specifically about how well Buster Posey has done in “clutch” situations this seasons.
The thing that started it all off was this Sulia response from Schulman:
I see @jonahkeri from Grantland listed @busterposey as the NL’s first-half
MVP. I respectfully disagree. For all the stats Jonah put forth, he forgot average with runners in scoring position. Buster would be the first to tell you he left a lot of runs on base in the first half, particularly when the #sfgiants were starving for them. Last October, I did not hesitate for one second to put Buster first on my MVP ballot, but I feel the first-half MVP is Paul Goldschmidt. Arizona would be nowhere close to first place without him. He’s also third in average w/RISP at .407 (with a 1.275 OPS). Buster ranks 19th at .313 (.859 OPS). I realize Buster plays a more premium position, but that difference in clutch hitting is too great to ignore.
Everything Schulman wrote is correct. Goldschmidt has been very good when it comes to high leverage situations this year, posting an excellent .422/ .460/ .911 line. With such excellence comes runs batted in. And, of course, with lots of runs batted in come the accolades from those who have not yet been convinced that there are better statistical tools to measure a player’s contribution to an offense.
If Schulman were to base his MVP vote on batting average with runners in scoring position and RBIs, it would underrate potentially better candidates. But there would certainly be worse things that could happen.
The stuff above has been fought over now for years, and there is time for that in October when it is the real award season. The thing that really piqued my interest, however, is regarding Buster Posey and his ability in the clutch this season. Here are the series of tweets that Schulman sent:
I’m certainly not banging on Posey. He’s still a top five player in the league. But I can tell form my eyes — yes, my eyes –…that he has not had the same impact on the team that he had in 2010 and 2012. Ask any beat guy, and he’ll tell you the same….thing. Too many times this year, when even a fly ball gets a run home, he couldn’t get it done. He is just not the MVP now.
I have watched nearly every game this year, and I can’t say that I remember thinking Posey has been much less impactful than he was last year, like Schulman does. Thankfully, everything done on a baseball field is recorded and published because sometimes our memories play tricks on us. Let’s see what we find.
At the highest level, looking at just his triple slash, Posey has been just marginally worse than he was last year. Last year, he hit .336/.408/.549. This year he is hitting .325/ .395/ .536. Compared to league average, adjusted for league and park effects last year, he had a 163 wRC+. Whereas this year, he has a 162 wRC+.
Now let’s wade out into the murky depths of the small sample splits.
|Runners in Scoring Position:|
It looks like Schulman isn’t completely wrong. This year Posey is very slightly better with no runners on base but has not quite been at the same level with runners in scoring position. I didn’t create a table for it, but if you limit it simply to runners on base, he has almost equaled what he was last year with a 172 wRC+ compared to 175 wRC+.
The biggest driver of the difference between this year and last is that he has failed to hit a home run with runners in scoring position this year. If one of those doubles or one of those warning track fly balls goes a few feet further, his stats are much closer to 2012.
Perhaps pitchers are being more selective with him this year, or maybe he isn’t swinging for the fences (his K% is half what is was last year). Whatever the case, I would be willing to bet that he has a couple by the end of the year and that this is just a reflection of looking at just 102 plate appearances.
Now let’s go even deeper into the small sample splits and take a look at what he has done in two out situations and at the end of games that are close.
|2 outs, RISP|
|Late & Close|
The splits here are even smaller, so we shouldn’t draw any conclusions from this comparison. For the purpose of this discussion, however, I think that these are relevant to look at.
With two-outs and runners in scoring position, Posey has been much better than he was last year by nearly 60 points of OPS. He didn’t hit for much power in either situation, but he has more hits while maintaining a strong walk rate. Moving to the late and close situations — which are plate appearances in the 7th inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one or the tying run at least on deck — he has been head and shoulders better than he was last year. But, again, these are very small samples and not great for use in predicting future outcomes.
Overall, it is really hard to say that he hasn’t been better or worse than he was last year. His numbers with just runners in scoring position are down slightly. Still, when you look at the really pressure packed situations (in which there are two outs), he has done better. When you look at simply runners on base, he has been just as good as he was last year. Finally, when you look at times in the game in which it is both close and late, he has been otherworldly this season compared with just mediocre in 2012.
I can see where Schulman is coming from, however. In certain regards, Posey hasn’t quite been as good as he was last year, and with the way we remember certain things, other details can get lost. But when you take a deeper look comparing this year to last year — or even to 2010 — it is hard to say that he hasn’t been the major driving force of the Giants offense.