Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Big/Bird Debate

Bill Simmons explores the unthinkable in his newest article: Larry Bird or David Ortiz? The question comes after Ortiz hit a walk-off homer against the Indians on Monday night, and centres around which player is more "clutch."

Interestingly, I am just about to read an article in Baseball Between The Numbers on this subject. The article is written by Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus, and is entitled, "Is David Ortiz A Clutch Hitter?" I am pretty positive, without even looking at it, that the article will attempt to prove that a) clutch hitting is nigh impossible to verify, b) that it isn't an important metric anyway, and b) that Ortiz is not a clutch hitter, while completely ignoring the fact that the three points are incongruous. What can I say? That's just how the BP guys like to roll. It's also how I know there will be six charts in the article, with thousands of dots I can't understand on them. But the information provided to Simmons from the Elias Sports Bureau is hard to ignore:

• If Ortiz has one more walk-off hit in 2006, he'll be the first baseball hitter to have six in a single season since the division era began in 1969.

• Since the start of 2005, he's come up 13 times with the chance for a game-ending plate appearance and made an out only once (and he ended up winning that game in the 12th inning).

• He has the most walk-off hits in any four-year span (12).

• That doesn't include the three in the 2004 playoffs, which made him the only player in history with three game-ending postseason hits.

• Since he joined the Red Sox in 2003, he has 15 walk-off hits and the rest of the team has 19 total.

• Since Aug. 1, 2004, Ortiz has hit 21 home runs in 138 at-bats in Late-Inning Pressure Situations (no other player has more than 13).

• Dusty Baker has the most career walk-off hits (25, including the playoffs), but Ortiz is 10 behind.

• None of those stats include all the times when he tied a game or gave the Red Sox the lead in the seventh or eighth inning.

That is some scary shit. My first inclination when thinking about clutch hitting in baseball is that it has more to do with batting order and at-bat opportunities than a psychological will to win (and having a Hall of Fame hitter like Manny Ramirez behind you in the order can't be hurting Papi), but that second statistic is mind-blowing. Converting 12 out of 13 times in game-ending situations? Granted, that number only starts from 2005, and probably ignores a whole whack of times he failed to convert before that. But it still indicates a batter who is totally on fire, doesn't it? Can you imagine being a pitcher, and having to face him in that situation? You have to pitch to him I think, because Manny is behind him, but you know before you even start that you can't get him out. Talk about turning up the pressure dial. You know it's a bad day when you have to seriously consider pitching around a guy, because pitching to Man Ram is a much sounder statistical choice.

As Simmons' buddy Bug notes, "great athletes reach a level where they can't be passed, they can only be joined." I agree 100% with that sentiment, and it assuredly applies to Big Papi and Larry Legend. But part of the pleasure of being a sports fans is in playing these little thought experiments, and I certainly enjoyed reading and thinking about this one.


At 12:24 PM, Blogger theDrizzler said...

A good chapter to read first in that one. ABC GM of the Roughneck's, Tyler, hooked me up with that there tome for my b-day and it's great except that the charts and all that mathin starts to mess with my liberal arts inclined brain-mass. Not easy beach rerading that's for sure. If I recall, the chapter basically re-asserted your assumption that there really is no such thing as clutch hitting, but it does conclude that if there were, Papi would likely be one of the greats.

Though based purely on emotional response, I vote Larry as the clutchiest sports-god... ever.


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