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.

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22 comments

  1. Cutter

    June 11, 2012 08:40 AM

    Who cares what the team’s OPS is in these situations? More important would be how often they get the runners home. And they certainly don’t seem to be doing a good job at that.

    And you can point out that the sample size is small, and maybe we can’t really conclude that the Phillies are un-clutch.

    And yet, they are 2-6 in extras, and 5-11 in one run games.

    Personally, I don’t know if the problem is the lack of clutchness, as it is the lack of talent. They don’t seem to hit too many of those three-run homers that managers love. A few more of those, and clutchness wouldn’t even be an issue.

  2. Richard

    June 11, 2012 08:51 AM

    To further divide those small samples:

    there seems to be conflict between their horrid record when trailing in the 8th inning on (plus in extra inning games, etc), and the stats that at least had been showing that they scored a weirdly high percentage of their runs in the late innings (perhaps correlating with the positive “late & close” numbers shown above)…. so, it seems they are scoring lots of runs when they’re already ahead, like turning a 4-3 lead into an 8-3 lead (after, which, naturally, Papelbon comes in, “because he was already warmed up” for the save situation that now doesn’t exist), but scoring nothing when behind or tied in late games (or maybe just scoring enough to tie a game that they lose in extras, or to come within a run or two, when down by several)… could be explained by the opposition using different quality relievers in the respective situations. Also chance.

  3. Noah

    June 11, 2012 10:40 AM

    Last year the Phils seemed to always find a way to come up with the win. This year they seem to always find a way to not win. Close games, games with a lead, and games that are tied aren’t going their way.

  4. Bro Cheeks

    June 11, 2012 10:52 AM

    Phils 2012 Extra Inning OPS+ 63 (.206 babip)
    Opp 2012 Extra Inning OPS+ 166 (.379)

    Phils 2011 Extra Inning OPS+ 63 (.236)
    Opp 2011 Extra Inning OPS+ 86 (.254)

    They’ve been unlucky in extras for sure, and its hard to ignore the feeling of impending doom that fills the ballpark and my living room once we get free baseball.

    Agree with Richard they seem to scoring gobs of runs when they are up 1 or 2 in the bottom of the 8th/top of the 9th. The b8th & t9th offense has been the 2nd most effective closer in town.

  5. nik

    June 11, 2012 11:17 AM

    There is a lot of flukyness, no doubt. Unfortunately that’s not going to help us climb out of the hole we’re in.

  6. Richard

    June 11, 2012 12:06 PM

    I saw you trying to use facts in countering other commenters in that thread, LTG. I don’t know what you were thinking.

  7. LTG

    June 11, 2012 12:50 PM

    Don’t forget my pun-acious witticism!

  8. AGH

    June 11, 2012 01:31 PM

    In light of all the “clutch” stats for hitters, and even closers “in save situations,” I’d be interested to see ERA,x-FIP, SIERA, etc. of Phillies’ starters this year when pitching with a lead or tied as opposed to pitching while behind.

    I’m sure it’s part confirmation/recency bias on my part, but Lee’s start yesterday, as well as Hamels’ surrendering 3-run leads in back to back games (and two separate 2-run leads against the Mets on Memorial Day) got me thinking that this staff is a bigger part of the problem than people are willing to admit.

  9. NJPhilly

    June 11, 2012 03:34 PM

    How can you say the Phillies are clutch when their run productions is among the worst in baseball?

    Phillies have no heart anymore and they are old and coasting. The only guys playing hard are the young guys and the new guys.

    Time to clean house and shake up the line up. Starting with ol’ Charlie.

    The manager is a wait and see what happens kind of guy. I know it, you know it, heck the entire league knows it. That is why we are getting our butts kicked. Charlie thinks we will one day soon wake up and everyone will be hitting 300 and we will be scoring runs galore and our pitchers will return to ace form. Well, no one on our team can carry the load and even if we get hot it will be too late.

    Think back. We are not going to have another miracle comeback and beat the Mets or Nats in Sept. if we are 10 games back. They are young, talented and having fun. Our guys are old and and unmotivated, except a few guys like Pence. They are hustling every day and making things happen. Our guys are waiting for a homer or two and well we see we can’t hold a 1-4 run lead any more. And when our guys think they’re done for the day when they get their 5 hits and 3 runs.

    Need a new attitude if you want to win. Sorry Charlie, time to say goodbye. The only managers who are able to stick around have some fire, Lasorda, Torre, Cox, Leyland, Johnson, Madden. Charlie’s fire has been hot embers for a long time.

    Baseball is not complicated. You need good pitching,not great but good enough, hitting, not great but good enough, defense, not great but good enough, and coaching and managing – NOT GOOD AND KILLING US!

    Bottom line is there is little you can do mid season to turn a team around. One thing you can do is change the manager and coaches. Heck, we’re in the cellar. What do we have to lose?!

  10. Bill Baer

    June 11, 2012 03:39 PM

    How can you say the Phillies are clutch when their run productions is among the worst in baseball?

    Phillies: 4.21 runs per game
    NL Average: 4.18 runs per game

  11. Gaël

    June 11, 2012 03:44 PM

    I really wish I could read other people’s minds like NJPhilly. Sure seems like a skill that could come in handy.

  12. John

    June 11, 2012 03:57 PM

    I wish people would check their facts.

  13. AGH

    June 11, 2012 04:57 PM

    No situational stats for pitchers? Really?

  14. NJPhilly

    June 11, 2012 05:26 PM

    Ok you guys can strut around like peacocks because I referred to the Phillies as the bottom when they are in the middle.

    Congratulations, you have a one to the best clutch hitting teams in baseball sitting 8 games out of first place and 22nd best record in baseball! Wow you sure showed me.

    I’ll accept my error. But come on wake up. The only way you can have the 14th best run production and the 22nd best record is if you are anything but clutch. Lose 10 close games and win one blow out. Skews your numbers and your perspective.

    If you’re happy with the offense than I’m not going to convince you otherwise. You Phils? Can’t be the clutch hitting right guys?

    The only other answer is just bad luck or the managing. I have watched the Phil’s come up short the past 4 years so I am inclined to pick the managing.

    I won’t call the Phillies hitting clutch but I do and did say they were average. Now an average hitting team with good pitching, which we have, and good managing can make the playoff and even go all the way….my opinion friends.

    If you are going to accept last place while the Pirates, Nats, Marlins, I’d get a cramp typing the other 21 teams above us, then get used to wishing for the good ol’ days when we won the division. They will soon be a a distant memory.

    Dump Charlie and get some leadership and we can be the envy of baseball again.

  15. NJPhilly

    June 11, 2012 05:34 PM

    Sorry guys, I accidently deleted a whole paragraph. I am sure you wish I deleted the whole thing. But then what would you have to write about.

    I deleted the pitching comments. Our pitching is in the top half of baseball so our pitching is holding their own. Yes we all have higher expectations but if your pitching is good and you have a losing record…it’s can only be the hitting right. So I hate to burst the bubble but the hitting isn’t as good as you want to believe. But I was making the point and agreeing that the hitting isn’t bad, just not clutch. So if you have good pitching, decent hitting what else could be the reason we are underperforming…..managing and coaching. I am sure someone will point out our defense is not great but it too is good enough to be 500 and out of the basement.

  16. Frank Reynolds

    June 11, 2012 06:06 PM

    Bill interesting article. On Friday night a lot of those runs came with 2 outs so maybe this is not as surprising. I think one of their many many many problems. Is more runners at thridbase with less than two outs. So I conclude that I would rather see them have runners in scoring position with two outs.

  17. Tom G

    June 11, 2012 07:07 PM

    Perhaps the Phillies unclutch is accentuated by the fact that every game [seems] close. In other words, if 20% of their PA are in high leverage situations, where does that rank in baseball. Seems high, but I don’t know.

  18. hk

    June 11, 2012 08:21 PM

    NJPhilly,

    Who are the “you guys” that you reference in your comments and who you feel the need to convince that the manager is a big part of the team’s problem? If you search the archives of this site – all the way back to the article prior to this one – you’ll see that the great majority of the articles and comments agree with this position of yours. It is your interpretation of facts with which people seem to disagree. You state that the Phils’ run production has been among the worst in baseball and the pitching has been good, yet the Phils are slightly above league average in runs scored and in runs against. The truth is that the run scoring has basically been equal to the run prevention and suboptimal managing, as has been pointed out frequently on this site, is probably the reason that the Phils are 4 games under .500 as opposed to where they should be right now, which is .500.

  19. LTG

    June 11, 2012 10:28 PM

    Defense, Defense, Defense… costs the Phils games.

    Phils are actually in the upper 3rd according to UZR. But DRS has them on the cusp of the lower 3rd. My eyes make me want to agree with DRS. But I would love to know how to take my eyes out of this equation.

  20. NJPhilly

    June 11, 2012 11:02 PM

    Hi HK,

    Good reply thanks.

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