Are You Clutch? ESPN's Keith Law Just Says No

Chip StevensonCorrespondent IOctober 11, 2008

There's been a ton of debate in the last few years about whether a baseball player can be "clutch." The stats seem to go against the idea, while people's selective memories and sense of nostalgia seem to support it.

I'm not going to go there because I could probably write a million words on it, but I do think that people often wrongly define clutch.

In a chat on this week, Keith Law, an analyst whom I would characterize as a stats guy and also an analyst whom I enjoy reading, answered this question and, in the process, completely embarrassed himself by admitting to the world that he might not know what he is talking about.

ajd (chicago): Is that really the argument re: clutch? Or is it that the "clutch" player doesn't let the assorted jitters, nerves, etc. affect him when he's in a particularly pressure-laden situation? (I don't buy into "clutch" for what it's worth.) In any event, it's interesting that, in Manny's case (cf. Bill Simmons) when people say "clutch" they really mean "too stupid to know what's going on." Wonder if they'd say that about an articulate white guy!

Keith Law: "Clutch" is supposed to be "better when the pressure's on." That means worse when the pressure's off, to me, at least. And that's a good point about Manny—I wonder if they'd say that if he was a non-Latino American who only spoke English. "Less comfortable in English" does not equal "stupid."

"Clutch" does not mean playing better when the pressure is on, as Keith Law puts it. Rather, clutch simply means playing well when the pressure is on. It's a small difference, but also a very important one.

If a player hits .330 during the season and goes on to hit .320 during the playoffs, games in which the pressure is always on, I think that it would be perfectly acceptable to call him clutch if you believe in it. That player certainly didn't perform better like Law thinks is required, and he even performed a little worse, but he would still be clutch in my book.