The Clutch and the Shifted

Now picture this: David Ortiz is leading off the ninth inning. He rips
the same line drive toward right field, but with no one on base, the
shift is on. The second baseman is halfway into right field, the
shortstop is on the right side of second base and playing shallow
right-center field and the third baseman is playing where the shortstop
normally plays. What happens to that batted ball? Frequently, it gets
caught by the second baseman.

However, with runners on base, the second baseman is playing closer to
second base and the ball gets through. For most hitters, the difference
is small between the kind of defensive alignment that prevents hits and
the kind that guards against double plays or holds runners on. However,
for left-handed sluggers who routinely face “The Shift,” the defense is
severely limited against them with runners on base. As a result, hitters
like Ortiz are actually “clutch,” and not because they have the mental
fortitude to come through in big situations, but simply because higher
leverage situations occur when there are runners on base and that is
when it is easier for them to shoot a base hit through the infield.

Makes sense. BillJamesOnline.net keeps track of clutch hitting in their own way, and they have Ortiz as a .292/.394/.605 hitter in the clutch since 2002. That’s somewhat better than his .284/.382/.567 line over the same period of time. This Baseball Prospectus article does a nice job explaining why that might happen. (Via The Good Phight)

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