Lots of interesting material from The Dean over on SI.com. In an excerpt from his 2008 Abstract, James reverses himself and makes an argument that “clutch” does exist. Sort of. It’s not the most convincing article, but there’s no question about David Ortiz. The data/method isn’t presented, and even still it seems it has been approached with reticence. As he writes:
One reason that I have been reluctant to write about clutch hitting, in the absence of hard data, is that I am reluctant to interpret sporting events as tests of character. If you write that Johnny Baseball is a poor clutch hitter, what you are implicitly saying is that Johnny Baseball lacks courage. I am extremely reluctant to impugn the character of any player based on what could be a random data outcome.
And, in all candor, I am reluctant to buy into the other side of that, too. There is a strain of journalism as hero worship, a strain that asks us to believe that sports are tests of character, that those who come through at key moments of the game have reached down deep inside themselves and found the strength and courage to succeed. I don’t want to get into that. I am willing to look at the data and see what they have to tell us, but I want to keep at arms’ length any judgments about the character of the athletes. Sports talk show hosts may be comfortable doing that, but that’s their job, it’s not mine. This discussion has been fouled up for a long time, and my only goal is to straighten it out just a little bit.
I couldn’t agree more with those 2 grafs; I hope the are guiding principles here. At least they are for me. James also offers his look at the top 50 young players in the game, along with a team-by-team breakdown of young talent. It’s light on both Sox and Yanks. Again, the methodology seems kind of dubious (Melky is graded as an “A” level talent, Youkilis “B”), but I suppose any purely mechanical system is going to create anomalies. Makes for interesting conversation, in any case. If it’s written by Bill James, it’s worth your time.