Who Is the Most “Clutch” Angels Hitter?


On Sunday night, we saw two offensively clutch moments. The first came when Albert Pujols drilled a ball so hard into left field that it was apparently too hot for left fielder Dayan Viciendo to pick up properly, allowing Mike Trout and Torii Hunter to score.

The second came moments later when Kendrys Morales knocked a shot somewhere between the left- field grandstands and the Huntington Beach Pier.

Last night in a tie ball game, Torii Hunter hit a moon shot in the left-center for a 2-run home run that would prove crucial in the Angels 5-4 victory over the Mariners. In the post-game interview, Angels TV announcer Victor Rojas mentioned that they’ve been calling Hunter, “Mr. Clutch” this year.

So just who is the most clutch Angels hitter?

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

The question is not easily answered because measuring just how “clutch” a player is can be difficult.

There are the traditional “clutch” statistics that keep track of, for example, how well a player bats with two-outs and runners in scoring position. But does that tell the full story of how clutch a player is? The short answer is no, not really.

Take an extra inning game between the Red Sox and Angels back on the 23rd of August. After the Red Sox came back to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, Kendrys Morales belted the second pitch he saw in the Top of the 10th to put the Angels ahead again. That, by most standards, was clutch.

But it wouldn’t fit in much with traditional clutch stats because there was no one on base and no outs.

To correct for these issues, Fangraphs created an actual “clutch” stat. The math is heady (read more on that here) but the overall point of the stat can be summed up by this explanation:

"“Clutch has different definitions and to understand this statistic we need to be on the same page. No matter how important the media makes clutch performance out to be, it does not refer to performing well with the game on the line. Instead, it refers to performing well in these types of situations relative to all others. The statistic can be summed up by the question, “Does the player raise his game in important situations?” If not, he is not clutch, no matter how great his numbers are in high leverage plate appearances.”"

According to the “clutch” stat, Erick Aybar is the most offensively clutch Angels player. Or in other words, he performs well in high-leverage situations relative to other situations. Alberto Collaspo is just behind him, while Howie Kendrick is the most un-clutch offensive Angels starter.

Still, even this statistic doesn’t tell the whole story or jive with traditional clutch stats which say that Aybar is batting .213 with runners in scoring position and 2-outs. Of course, runners in scoring position and 2-outs can happen in a ten-run blow out where a hit or a strikeout probably doesn’t affect the team’s odds of winning much.

The clutch stat is a little funky too and can lead to some weird outcomes. For example, Mike Trout is actually next to last amongst Angels starters in the clutch stat because he does slightly worse in those important situations than in other situations. But slightly worse Mike Trout is still really good. So its important to take into account such variables.

There are other stats like WPA (Win Probably Added) which attempts to determine the win expectancy for a play the player is credited with or aLI (average leverage index), which investigates the leverage of the play the player was a part of.

These stats are fun, mind-boggling and can easily waste an entire afternoon and make you wish you paid more attention in math class. In the end, though, measuring just how “clutch” a player is during a game or over an entire season is difficult due to baseball’s numerous variables and how we each define the word itself.

It’s also difficult because, as Joe Sheehan pointed out via Baseball Prospectus, almost eight years ago, “players’ abilities do not change in the clutch.” Erick Aybar is not the best hitter on the Angels but he does well in “clutch” situations. But clutch is not a skill. So it doesn’t make Erick Aybar any more of a skilled hitter that he hits well in the clutch. No matter how much we try to quantify it or simply watch and make a judgement with our own eyes, Erick Aybar’s offensive skill-set does not alter.

And that’s awesome because it leaves room for opinion. No one can debate that Albert Pujols leads the Angels in RBI but even with a fistful of stats, determining who is the most clutch baseball player is open for endless debate.

So have at it. Stats be damned. Who in your opinion is the most clutch Angels hitter in 2012? Given all this, who would you put in to pinch hit with two out, bases juiced in the bottom of the 9th?