Friday, June 30, 2006

Re: Derek and Alex’s Mythical Journey - The Response
By John W. Schmeelk

Well, since we're in a rain delay I'll take the time and post a response being a fellow contributor to this blog that disagrees with Mr. Valentine. And also, by the way, one of only two Yankees fans that contribute to this blog.

Im not going to argue the "clutch players" exist/don't exist argument, we'll be here forever. I can't prove statistically that they exist, and you can't prove beyond a doubt that they don't either. From what I've seen as a sports fans I DO believe certain players in any sport rise to the occasion. It's the beauty of sports.

How else do you explain Peyton Manning folding in the playoffs after having one of the great regular seasons in NFL history?

How do you explain Jordan hitting nearly every big shot he's taken in the playoffs?

How do you explain El Duque being absolutely mediocre in the regular season then being great in the postseason?

How do you explain Armando Benitez being great.... except in especially important games?

Heck, your own breakdown showed A-rod was substantially worse in the clutch, than not. Explain why, when with runners on base I can argue stats should go up since you'll see more pitches to hit, becuase pitchers can't afford walks.

Is there a chance all this is "luck" and "coincidence", sure. I don't beleive it.

Playing at the ABSOLUTE lowest level of competitive sports even I know from experience when the game is on the line - you feel different, and your body reacts. You can either get too tight and fail, or focus and use the pressure to raise your level of performance. Imagine what it's like for the guys on the big stage?

Even A-Rod's manager Joe Torre has said A-Rod tightens up in big spots. WHy would the manager lie about that?

And I admit this readily - A-rod when all is said and done - will be considered a better player than Derek Jeter in nearly every facet of the game. Heck he might be considered the best player of all time, and rightfully so.

Also note – Jeter has been booed at the stadium and rather badly – remember when he started the first two months of the season hitting under .200?

But Ben, you have some fundamental flaws in your arguments and conclusions.

1. Do not look at A-rod's career RISP stats - look at them as a Yankee. Right or wrong, the Yankee fan doesn’t give a damn about what he did in Seattle.

2. You state "You want a single? Pray for A-Rod."
Yet Jeter's batting average is better than A-Rods in their RISP stats, and postseason stats. Doesnt make sense.

3. That brings me to this point - OBP means much less in terms of RISP stats, than in general situations. With second and third - what does a walk do for you if you are down by two or less? Even if it's first and third? OBP is not as important, therefore OPS is not as important. Thus A-Rod's advantage over Jeter shrinks. Batting AVG and to a lesser extent slugging is what counts more.

4. A-Rod is expected to be better than Jeter in terms of overall numbers - because he is a better overall hitter as shown by their career numbers. Fans EXPECT that in clutch situations as well, and it has nothing to do with the money he makes. Remember Jeter makes something like 18 million a year. The key is not to compare A-Rod's stats to Jeter's, they’ll be better, but rather his own in “non clutch” situations to his in "clutch" situations. All we can look at is RISP. I’m sure I can dig up some other mumbo jumbo – with detailed numbers but I don’t have the time.

So – therefore, as a Yankee – Arod with no one on or simply a man on first: (in other words not RISP)
AVG: 307
SLG: .577

Now his numbers with RISP:
AVG: .277
SLG: .478

So his numbers in “clutch situations” are worse – nearly 30 points of batting average and 100 points of slugging.

And in the playoffs as a Yankee a similar dropoff, though not as steep:
AVG: 276 (as opposed to career .298 as a Yankee)
SLG: 508 (As opposed to .548 slugging)
OBP maintains stable at .398

Is that what a “clutch” player does, regardless of Jeter’s numbers? Nope.

Just for giggles here’s Jeter’s:

With no RISP:
AVG 318
SLG 473

With RISP:
AVG .302
SLG .421

.307 AVG (as opposed to .314 overall)
.463 SLG (as opposed to .461 in regular season overall)
Like A-Rod OBP remains stable at around .380.

A drop – but not as steep as A-Rod – in other words relative to their own abilities – Jeter does better in clutch situations than A-Rod. His play decreases about HALF as much in clutch situations than A-Rod’s does, whether you’re talking playoffs or regular season.

This may also prove Jeter is not as clutch as people think – something that Yankee-haters like Ben Valentine salivate over – but the fact is, he ISN’T as clutch as many make him out to be. Think of all the players OTHER than Jeter than got big hits for those titles, there are more than you can count on your hands. But that doesn’t make A-rod any more clutch.

So… allow me to ask you, with runners in a position where a single will score them what would you rather have?

Regular season RISP:
Jeter - .302 AVG, .421 SLG
A-Rod .276AVG, .478 SLG.

And this is a situation that while statistically a double, triple or homerun might mean more – in a one run or two run game with second and third, a single is just as valuable as a double getting two runs in more often than not. So slugging, in my opinion is not as important as it usually is. And we already discussed why a walk isn’t as valuable with RISP than with no one on or a runner on first. I think you can make the argument that you would prefer Jeter in a lot of one two run second and third situations.

The advantage to A-rod – if it is there, is slight at best. And this from a player who is MUCH more productive than Jeter normally. This forms the impression that A-Rod is not as clutch as he should be.

Same deal in the playoffs:
AVG 307
SLG 463
OBP 379

AVG 276
SLUG 508
OBP 398

A-Rod’s numbers are not nearly as superior as they are normally. Once again leaving the impression Jeter makes more of his talent in big spots than A-Rod.

So the conclusion here is as follows:

Alex Rodriguez is a better player than Jeter – by the numbers. Can’t argue that. But A-Rod’s performance with runners in scoring position and in the postseason decrease FAR more than Jeter’s does. That makes the preference between the two in clutch situations FAR more difficult to choose than in a normal one.

And throw in the fact that in the most recent playoffs series (you know how all fans have short memories – I reference again the fans booing Jeter because of 2 bad regular season months) A-Rod has been awful - .258 against the Sox in 2004 – but the whole Yankees team crapped out here so that isn’t fair. But against Anaheim last season he hit .133 with a .200 SLUG. While Jeter went .333 with a .619 SLUG. Not to mention what happened in the ninth inning in game five that sticks in a lot of people's heads... Jeter single, A-rod doubleplay.

Also throw in the fact Yankees teams he has been on have performed far worse than those before his arrival (especially in the postseason) – the thought Jeter is a better clutch player is not so far fetched – despite Ben’s assertion otherwise. The numbers may not bare it out as much as fans might think (really – fans overreact? get out of here!) but A-rod does NOT perform as well as he usually does in big situations.

And ill throw in one other comparison for you – one that I know I make when I think about A-Rod: David Ortiz. He is the ultimate Yankees killer. There is no one the Yankees fear and respect more.

His numbers against the Yankees are unfair:

With RISP:

.301 .383 .552

The edge goes to Ortiz over A-rod– another situation where A-rod comes up short to Yankees fans. They expect him to be as good as anyone in baseball in big spots. He isn’t.

So the answer would be that expectations have something to do with it, but so does the fact that A-rod performs worse than he normally does in big spots.

So a reputation of coming up small in big spots is not statistically false, but as usual, a bit overblown by the fans. Big shock.


Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Good response John; always nice to have someone argue with actual statistics and points rather than just "well Jeter's won, A-Rod hasn't- case closed."

But I can't just let my argument get beaten can I? So let's respond.

First- The point of my post was to show that A-Rod is in fact the player the Yankees should want at the plate in big moments over Jeter. His OPS shows that. As I said in my responses to my post, this is largely to dispel the myth that Jeter is "Captain Clutch" and A-Rod is the biggest choker, which naturally puts them in opposition to one another.

I don't believe in clutch players, especially in baseball, because every time I look at a player with a ton of postseason ABs, they reflect the players' regular season numbers. Look at all the Yankees. The greatest flucuation occurs in players who have played fewer post season games. Among Bernie, Jeter and the other mainstays, their numbers are close to the same. (The exception is Mariano)

The "count" argument doesn't quite hold water. Remember a pitcher is never forced to come into a hitter unless the bases are loaded (which is why most players have excellent #s with the bags juiced). And hey if a hitter can be clutch, why not a pitcher? Can't someone bare down and get that big out?

I don't buy it.

Torre can say A-Rod's tight all he wants. He's not in his head. And it wouldn't be the first time managers have been wrong about their players before. I mean do you take anything Dusty Baker or Tony LaRussa say seriously? And don't talk about Torre's rep; five years ago Baker and LaRussa has that rep too. Now ppl think they're crazy.

I took a three year sample, which included his last year in Texas and first two in the Bronx.

And my "pray for A-Rod" was in response to the "close and late" garbage that people use to prove clutchness. According to that stat, Jeter is a bigger choker than A-Rod.

It's not fair to disregard OBP. If a pitcher is walking A-Rod, it means that they're not throwing him pitches in the zone. So to say he should be swinging at them is ridiculous.

There is only one situation in all of baseball where a single is just as good as a double/triple/hr, that's with a runner on 3rd in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game. And that situation comes up for a player what, maybe five or six times an entire season? So okay fine, on those few occasions, Jeter can be the choice. But in every other situation A-Rod is the guy.

As good as Ortiz is I'll repeat: post season stats are a smaller sample size than the regular season. Thus the reason why players tend to flucuate. Why do Jeter and Bernie's numbers look roughly the same? Because they've got 500 postseason ABs. How many players get that?

I can also take issue with RISP overall; because starting an inning off and then scoring is pretty damn important. (Hence the reason Jose Reyes has such a high RC/27 count this year. It isn't because of his RBI total.) But as is I think we're on the verge of breaking into about four or five seperate arguments.

I repeat: My main point is that the myth Derek Jeter is more clutch and thus a better choice to have up at the plate in key spots is wrong. Maybe in a few days I'll look a little further into "clutch and not clutch" with non Yankee hitters. The Braves are probably the best place to look.

BTW, this isn't a Met fan Yankee hating thing. I just hate untrue perceptions masquarading as fact.

12:05 AM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

But the fact remains that Jeter - in big spots maintains his performance much better than A-Rod does.

But the fact is that A-rod fails to get a hit as often as Jeter does in the playoffs and RISP.

Batting average tells you that.

Slugging percentage represents "amount of success" but the player with the worse average comes up small more often than the player with a higher one.

And remember this - you say postseason statistics will over the long haul mimic regular season stats... not always.

How bout Bonds?

And remember in the postseason players face better pitchers so their numbers should, in theory, go down.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Jeter maintains a lower performance level than A-Rod. That's nice, but still is less valuable than A-Rod even at his diminished level.

OPS is used to mark value. Is a .300 singles hitter more valuable than a 40 home run .270 hitter? Nope because that home run hitter's power makes up for the fact he gets base hits less frequently.

A-Rod has been more valuable to his team in the postseason than Jeter because when you add up everything he's delivered at the plate it comes to more than Jeter. And again, with RISP A-Rod is more valuable because he not only can drive in the run but set the Yankees in a prime position to score more runs better than Jeter can.

By the way, today Jeter came up in a big spot against Aaron Heilman and grounded into a double play. If A-Rod had done that he'd have been blasted. Meanwhile A-Rod proceeds to go deep the next inning. So that just lends itself to the idea he only hits homers in a blowout. Of course, had Jeter not grounded into that DP, then A-Rod would have had a chance to drive in the runners.

You mentioned Bonds but I'm not sure why. He has 151 playoff ABs. That's what, 1/4 of the way to 500 ABS? And his splits are .245/.433/.503/.936., which while being lower than his career 1.054 mark, is not so far off that we can classify Bonds as "a choker." If Bonds had 500 postseason ABs it would make sense that his numbers would even more closely reflect his career splits.

I did a look at some well known postseason pitchers and there was little deviance. I guess I will have to do it with hitters too.

1:09 AM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

Ben, as usual you're missing the point.

I stated at the beginning of my article that A-rod is a better player than Jeter.

The point is, A-rod, in clutch situations does not perform nearly as well as he does otherwise. The dropoff is relatively substantial.

That means A-rod has not, as a Yankee, done as well as he normally does with RISP. Hence the well earned reputation of not being the same player he usually is in clutch situations.

We could argue all day about the value of OPS vs. AVG so Im not going to get into it, I know you are set in your sabermetric ways.

BUt I can tell you this - fans are effected more by the number of times you fail, rather than the "measure of your success." Therefore, with Jeter's higher average than A-Rod's is more important in thier minds than A-rod's advantage in OPS.

If it's second and third, and Jeter singles - fans wont be upset he didnt get a double, triple or homerun - they'll be ecstatic with the single.

So, since A-rod hits for more power with runners on base - it doesnt really help his standing with the fans. The fact he fails more often is the overriding factor here - and hence the impression Jeter comes through more often in clutch situations that A-rod. Which he does by the way - the amount of his success isnt as high, since he doesnt hit for more power - but he DOES succeed more often.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

John/Ben: I think the problem here is that you're defining success in two different ways: getting a hit vs. not making an out.

It's arguable which is a better measure of a player's ability, but the fact remains that you only get 3 outs each inning, and every plate appearance which doesn't result in one is, at least in the most simplistic sense, a successful one.

Now, I'd agree that in certain scenarios the difference in value between the various types of hits are less than they are in certain "neutral situations." Ben points out the most straightfoward one (2 outs, bottom of the ninth, tie game, runner on third: any hit wins the game, so a single is equal in value to a homer), but there are other scenarios where a single is nearly as valuable as a double/triple/home run.

Jeter may get hits at a slightly better rate than A-Rod in those scenarios, but remember: even in your second and third scenario, a double or triple puts A-Rod in scoring position himself, something the single doesn't.

As for the dropoff in their respective numbers, I'd make two points: the first is that both decline, with a more reasonable explanation than that they both "choke." Late in games, opposing managers are going to use their best bullpen arms against guys with the ability of Jeter and A-Rod. Any hitter would be at a disadvantage in that situation.

The last thing I'd say is that the point of the initial post was to point out that, whatever the fan perception may be, A-Rod is more likely to deliver in the clutch than Jeter. Whether or not he delivers at a lesser rate than on average is irrelevant: he still produces more than Jeter. Just because fans think otherwise doesn't mean they're right.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Matt Brown said...

Actually, there is some hard data to show that A-Rod folds in the clutch. STATS LLC keeps data on a player's splits in "close and late" situations. The precise definition of close and late is a bit convoluted, but just take my word for it that it deals with close games from the seventh inning on...

A-Rod Close and Late, 2006
BA .178 (8/45)
OBP .260
SLG .311
HR 1
K 13

Jeter Close and Late, 2006
BA .390 (16/41)
OBP .537
SLG .512

Admittedly this is a mere half-season sample, but Jeter's numbers are phenomenal and A-Rod's are putrid. Speaking unscientifically as a Red Sox fan, I can tell you I breath a sigh of relief when I see A-Rod come to bat in a key situation, and one fluke home run does not change my view on this.

Clearly A-Rod has great physical tools, so his issues are mental. But a lot of times, what separates the merely great players from the legends is the ability to produce when the chips are down. This transcends baseball and applies to all sports.

I work for STATS, I am a stats guy. But to me a lot of what makes sports great is that no matter how many ways you analyze the games on paper and through crunching numbers, the human element still trumps all and they must play the games on the field. It is a cliche, but you really cannot measure heart.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

John: the problem is that while Jeter might be better at getting singles, A-Rod is still more valuable in at least 8 out of 10 situations in a game.

That example is exactly what I'm arguing against. I think it's safe to say a "failure" is making an out. (I doubt the fans are going to rip A-Rod for walking.) So with that in mind, Jeter "fails" more often than A-Rod does, since A-Rod has a higher OBP. But since Jeter is homegrown and beloved, his failures are passed over and A-Rod's aren't.

It's not just the Yankees. Carlos Beltran was booed unmercifully last year while Jose Reyes was given a free pass. (that's ironic on so many levels) It's because Reyes was home grown and Beltran was a free agent acquisition.

John, I'm not saying Jeter is a bad player. He's top 25 in baseball. But A-Rod is top 5 and even as "a choker" he's still better in those spots than Jeter. Why is that important? Because all of those fans who wrote stuff like "STATS ARE FOR LOSERS" believe A-Rod succeeds a fraction of the times Jeter does. Obviously, that's just wrong.

Matt: Those numbers are over half season and few ABs. I posted their stats in those situations over the last three years in my original column. Here they are again:

A-Rod: .276/.392/.553/.945

Jeter: .249/.352/.392/.744

As I've said before, it's insulting to Jeter to cling to this myth. It's saying that he only gets hits in big spots and dogs it the other 2/3 of the game.

As I'm writing this btw, A-Rod is absolutely destroying the Mets. TWO HR AND SEVEN RBI!!!! Someone needs to tell A-Rod the best way to thank me for my support is not to destroy my favorite team.

11:57 PM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

I knew you would bring up OBP Ben - but as I said before, unless it's the bases loaded - walks mean very little as compared to hits.

As a fan, it's first and third and your best player walks are you happy? No, you shrug your shoulder and say "alright."

But I'm in Matt's camp - as a Yankees fan - game seven World Series - runners on second and third with two outs - give me Jeter any day of the week over A-Rod. That's my "feel" as a Yankees fan - and this from a guy who will go to his grave telling everyone Bernie Williams was more important to the Yankees than Derek Jeter was during the dynasty years. I can even argue Paul O'neill was more important.

As Matt says - in sports, the beauty of it is that there are things you can't measure. Breaking everything down to numbers almost takes the fun out of it. "Feel" from watching games sometimes has to take precedence.

I know you sabermetrics guys disagree, but those are my final thoughts on the subject.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Jason Mandell said...

It's such a relief to finally see folks catching on to how overrated Derek Jeter is, which I've been arguing for years. He is perhaps the most overrated professional athlete in history. ESPN Magazine had a great column recently about this very issue. But it wasn't only a comparison between ARod and Jeter, although there was a point made there about how unfairly Arod is treated compared to his actual production.

The reality, both statistically and pragmatically, is that people think that Jeter is better than he is because sports commentators and the media have perpetuated the myth for years, mostly by repeatedly mentioning and showing the handful of unbelievable plays he has made in his career. The general theory is that people believe something to be true, and they remember the things that reinforce that belief (when he comes through), and forget the ones that repudiate it (i.e. when he strikes out, which is a heckuva lot by the way...about once every 5.5 at bats, compared to 1 in 10 for Nomar by the way).

Any really good player, which he of course is, is going to make some amazing plays when they play a good 150 playoff and countless important regular season games. Put on top of that the fact that Derek is pretty, dates famous people, loves attention, treats the media and fans very well, plays in the Big Apple, and is a generally good guy, and voila, you have a player who people perceive is far better than he actually is. It's great marketing is what it is.

As Billy Beane was so poetically quoted in the ESPN column: "The only thing intangible I can say about Derek Jeter is that he runs hard to first every time."

3:01 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Well John if you still want Jeter up, that's your perogative. "Feel" is just that; a feeling, not fact. This really isn't about sabermetrics, it's about what the numbers actually say.

The problem I have with your "feeling", is that it only takes into consideration a short 1.5 year span. A-Rod was money for Mariners in big spots, yet that means nothing. Of course you have more trust in Jeter. You've seen him play in the postseason for nearly ten years! Ten vs. 1.5... not much of a comparison is there?

Ortiz is a special case; he had so many big hits in the 2004 ALCS that you remember him as a Yankee killer. But you know what? He got hot at the right time and now when he gets a walk off hit, people say he's clutch. (Despite the fact he's having a down year btw). Remember for as "clutch" as Ortiz was, if not for Dave Roberts, Bill Mueller, Derek Lowe and Johnny Damon, the Sox go home. Meanwhile, where was Mr. Clutch last year against the White Sox?

Conversely, if in 2000, A-Rod had Freddy Garcia, Brett Boone, Jay Buhner and the rest of that Mariners team step up and help him, you'd probably remember A-Rod a little differently than you do now.

3:17 PM  

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