Last night, Jayson Werth broke an 0-for-35 skid with two outs and runners in scoring position. Raul Ibanez hit an RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh inning and Werth drove him in with a double to right field.
Werth’s “clutchitude” has been a point of contention for much of the past three months ever since the media and fan base decided they no longer enjoyed his presence. And it’s true that this year, his offense has typically come when the team least needs it. The usefulness of those numbers is the crux of the debate.
He’s logged only 76 plate appearances with two outs and runners in scoring position, certainly not a good sample size. Werth averages 4.2 PA per game, so that is the equivalent of roughly 18 games. Drawing conclusions from less than three weeks’ worth of data is certainly not recommended. And, as we learn here, the only stats that become reliable between 50 and 100 PA are swing rate and contact rate.
Furthermore, if you go back to one year ago, we find that Werth was pretty clutch, hitting for a .985 OPS with 2 outs/RISP and 1.006 when the game was “late & close”. In 2008, there was almost no difference in his performance in high and low leverage situations. Most reasonable people currently calling Werth a “choker” or “unclutch” would look at his ’09 stats and say he was clutch.
So, did Werth somehow lose his ability to be clutch between 2009 and ’10? Did he forget how to be clutch? Probably not. All it really amounts to is a favorable distribution of offense in one season and an unfavorable distribution in another year. While being clutch may indeed be a skill, study after study after study shows that clutch stats aren’t meaningful or persistent.
That is not to say that “the human element” has absolutely no effect on Werth’s failure in clutch situations this year. Given Werth’s impending free agency, the heavy dose of criticism he has received recently, and the team’s overall offensive struggles, it is a real possibility that he was trying to do too much and pressed when in those situations. His K/PA is much higher in high-leverage situations than in medium- and low-leverage situations, according to Baseball Reference: .31 to .18 and .22 respectively. His ISO is also significantly lower: .168 to .222 and .259 respectively.
We don’t know for sure if this is truly the reason why Werth has struggled in clutch spots but it is not indicative of any legitimate flaw, especially considering just how good he has been offensively overall. There is no reason to think that Werth will continue to perform as badly in these situations going forward — after all, his BABIP with two outs/RISP is a paltry .107.