Is Hideki Matsui really clutch?

Posted By on March 14, 2011 10:22 am

Watched much of the A’s game on TV yesterday. It was good to see a real, full big league lineup for any team in spring training, and even more interesting for the A’s, since their lineup is supposed to be so much better. During the game, Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse referred to Hideki Matsui as a real “run producer,” and they mentioned his prowess hitting with runners in scoring position.

I’ve always been quite skeptical of this. It’s my understanding that the numbers just don’t support the idea that “clutch hitting” is a skill. This is not really news to the saber-minded among you, I realize. For the rest of you, the research indicates that hitters will hit at roughly the same rates over all their plate appearances regardless of whether there are runners in scoring position, if given a big enough sample. The small sample sizes of at-bats with runners in scoring position will have a natural variance, just the same way as a guy may hit better on Tuesdays for an entire year. It doesn’t make him a “good Tuesday hitter.”

But I wanted to see if maybe there is something to all this with Matsui. I’ve been hearing the clutch stuff about him for years. So I looked up his annual averages with RISP, compared with his overall averages. Why such a 20th century stat as batting average, instead of OBP, SLG or OPS? Well, when the reason it’s called “scoring position” is because runners can score on most any hit. So the batter just needs to get a hit to get the run in. In this case, a double is not necessarily better than a single and a walk is not as good as a single (unless the bases are loaded, of course). So, for our purposes here, old fashioned BA is good.

Here’s Matsui’s breakdown:

So he’s actually performed better in the clutch in five of his eight seasons, and his career average with RISP is slightly higher than overall. One of the years he was markedly worse was 2006, when he was hurt and played less than one-third of the season. You could write that off, except in 2007, when he played the whole season, he was still worse. So I’m not prepared to attribute Matui’s clutch performance to anything but random chance, but I’m open for discussion.

What do you think?


4 Responses to “Is Hideki Matsui really clutch?”

  1. Paapfly says:

    I agree with you, Jeff, that it’s random.

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