Are the Phillies Not Clutch?

One of the popular themes of this disappointing 2012 season for the Phillies is that they have been unable to get “the big hit” late in the game. It would fit the W-L stats, as the Phillies are 2-6 in extra-inning games and 5-11 in one-run games. If the Phillies were clutch, they wouldn’t have such terrible records, right?

Surprisingly, the Phillies are among the best in the National League in some “clutch” categories.

For instance, they have the third-highest OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position:

  • St. Louis Cardinals: .258 AVG/.343 OBP/.477 SLG (.819 OPS)
  • New York Mets: .268/.375/.444 (.819)
  • Philadelphia Phillies: .274/.362/.433 (.795)
  • NL Average: .230/.342/.368 (.711)

Also the third-highest OPS in the NL in “late & close” situations:

  • New York Mets: .278/.376/.403 (.779)
  • Cincinnati Reds: .247/.325/.432 (.757)
  • Philadelphia Phillies: .275/.333/.406 (.739)
  • NL Average: .236/.318/.367 (.686)

In 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series, they ranked fifth and sixth in those two categories, respectively.

However, when you look at other stats, you may get the impression the Phillies are a terribly unclutch team. They are the third-worst team in the league, by OPS, when they have a runner on third base and less than two outs, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres. In situations deemed “high leverage”, they have the fourth-worst OPS.

What this really illustrates is the fickleness of the data when you divide it into small groups. The Phillies as a team have taken 2,340 PA (not including yesterday’s game). The aforementioned categories only represent a small fraction of those PA, many of which overlap with each other:

  • Two outs, RISP: 315 PA (13%)
  • Late & Close: 406 PA (17%)
  • Runner on 3rd, less than two outs: 116 PA (5%)
  • High Leverage: 465 PA (20%)

Then consider that each of those small samples is made up of even smaller samples. For example, only four Phillies have had 30 or more plate appearances with two outs and runners in scoring position. Two Phillies have had 50 or more PA in high leverage situations. So, there’s a lot of variability in each data set, and when you focus on certain situations, the data becomes nearly meaningless. This is the reason why no one has been able to show, with any degree of confidence, that players or teams are legitimately “clutch” or “unclutch”. The Phillies are just the latest team to be the subject of cherry-picked data used to fit a narrative.