#23 – Tug McGraw: Depressing the Clutch

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #23, Tug McGraw:

One of the few things Mets fans and Phillies fans can agree on. That said, please give us “Ya Gotta Believe” back. I know he’s beloved in Philly, but he said it as a Met. Come on. That one’s ours.

McGraw is higher on this list than you might expect just based on his regular numbers and his wins above replacement. 12.4 WAR is good for 31st most in franchise history, right near Tommie Agee and Craig Swan.

This helps though. Mets pitchers with the highest Baseball-Reference “clutch” scores:

Rk Player Clutch
1 Jerry Koosman 5.5
2 Tom Seaver 4.7
3 Ron Darling 4.6
4 Al Leiter 4.1
5 Tug McGraw 4.0
6 Steve Trachsel 2.5
7 Johan Santana 2.3
8 Turk Wendell 2.3
9 Rick Reed 2.0
10 Bobby Jones 2.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/15/2011.

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Who invited Steve Trachsel to this party?

First off, an explanation: this “clutch” score isn’t really a “clutch score.” It is the difference between a player’s performance without any context – you hit a home run, which is worth this much on average (or without context) – and a player’s performance with context – that home run was actually worth this much when you hit it, because there were runners on base, it was the ninth inning, and your mom was watching in the stands. The idea is that a player who hits all his home runs in tied games will have a positive clutch score, and a player who hits all his home runs in blowouts will have a negative clutch score. Because context is taken into account, if you play better when the game is on the line, you’ll have a clutch score that reflects as much.

So it’s sort of a measurement of clutch. But it’s also sort of not. If a .190 hitter hits .230 in the ninth inning of tied games, he ends up with a positive clutch score, because he hit 40 points better in important situations than he normally did. And vice versa, if a .400 hitter hits .360 in the ninth inning of tied games, he’ll have a negative clutch score for the opposite reason, hitting .40 points lower.

But I’m pretty sure, given the choice, most people would take the “unclutch” guy who hits .360 in the clutch over the “clutch” who hits .230 in the same spots. So who’s really clutch? You can bat .600, but if you hit just .575 in big spots, you’ll come out with a negative clutch score. But can you call a .575 hitter unclutch? Measuring clutchitude (the scientific term) is hard for all kinds of reasons, this being just one.

But Tug McGraw, who was already a good reliever, performed his best in big spots. He holds the franchise record for the most career postseason win probability added. I’m comfortable calling him clutch, and his regular season and postseason clutch performances add over five wins to his case.

Also, I’m aware that is a list of pitchers above, and everything I just said is about hitters. It’s just easier to say everything about hitters. It’s the same ideas.

If you’re wondering, the pitchers with the lowest clutch scores in team history:

Rk Player Clutch
1 Sid Fernandez -5.2
2 Bob Apodaca -4.2
3 Ron Taylor -3.7
4 Anthony Young -3.3
5 Mike Maddux -3.0
6 Jon Matlack -2.9
7 Bill Wakefield -2.9
8 Wally Whitehurst -2.8
9 Galen Cisco -2.6
10 Aaron Heilman -2.4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/15/2011.

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Aaron Heilman. That is all.

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5 Comments

Filed under Mets, Words

5 responses to “#23 – Tug McGraw: Depressing the Clutch

  1. WOW. What’s Sid Fernandez doing at the top of that list ahead of Whitehurst, Apodaca, and AY?

  2. Nice–another ex-Phillie on the best Mets ever list.

  3. Apodaca and Matlack surprise me more than Steve Trachsel surprised you.

  4. swp

    Actually. Matlack shouldn’t be a surprise. He alays had great stuff, but pitched well enough to lose. Apodaca was a surprise on the negative side, but Trachsel actually pitched pretty well for the Mets.

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