During tonight's Jays-Rays game there was talk in the fifth inning of Frank Catalanotto's clutch hitting.
The Cat should never have reached the plate. After a high throw to first from Upton allowed Aaron Hill to single, Travis Lee dropped a foul by John McDonald. There was just one out instead of three; McDonald then singled, Johnson struck-out and Catalanotto came to bat with two out and two on. On the fifth pitch he stroked the ball to right, scoring two, and reached third when the relay was dropped.
And then the talk started. You see, with two outs and runners in scoring position, the Cat has an OPS of .992 this year (in 70 at-bats), compared to a meager .643 when the bases are empty (in 194 AB). Fluke or clutch? You decide.
I went back four years on this to see what data we had to work with, and to try to build up the sample size for the rarer at-bat situations. Here's Catalanotto's cumulative performance from 2003 to August 15, 2006 in five situations of increasing pressure: with the bases empty, runners on, runners in scoring position (RISP), RISP with two out, and with the bases loaded.If clutch exists, this is what it looks like. There are still some problems with the latter categories. Even totalling three-and-a-half seasons work, Catalanatto only saw the bases loaded for him 26 times (on the other hand, he was 14/26), and there were RISP with two outs just 134 times, about five week's worth of at-bats.
But the bases-empty/runners-on difference is absolutely clear: .711 versus .953 over 874 and 605 at-bats respectively. Just as significant, in three of the four seasons Catalanotto maintained a substantial differential; only in 2004, when he played half a season, did the differential slip.
At the start of August, Andy asked if clutch hitting exists. All my instincts scream "no." But when it's a player you're rooting for, and the evidence points in that direction, it's fun to believe that somewhere, beyond the statistical static, there's a clear signal that when the game's on the line your guy is locked-in and ready to deliver. And then you cheer.