So you’ve heard a lot about Don Mattingly and his job security recently — hell, I just wrote about it — but this article from Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports spread around yesterday, and it touched on all the common refrains you’ve been hearing, including harping on the team’s hitting with RISP.
They wonder why the players don’t spend more time with hitting coach Mark McGwire, why they don’t play as hard as their opponents, why they continue to lose games in the little gray areas where good teams thrive. That is, why they don’t catch the ball as well as others, why they don’t toughen and produce with runners in scoring position, why they don’t finish hitters from the mound. These are supposed to be good players, right?
Is it Mattingly? Has this group of players gone soft under Mattingly, whose leadership method allows men to be men, and perhaps thins when the men refuse to live to that minimum standard?
So basically a compilation of complaints that I assume were gathered from fan rants on MLB.com and ESPN.com comments. Swell.
But besides the fact that basically every single Dodgers blogger has written a more complete and well-reasoned piece on Mattingly and his status, the consistent thing that always comes up from the mainstream media is the Dodgers’ ability (or inability) to hit with RISP.
Yes, the bullpen has been a mess lately. Yes, this here’s a team sport, and the Dodgers don’t look like a team that’s all that desperate to win. Still, Kemp and Ethier were a combined 15 for 81 with runners in scoring position going into the Milwaukee series, and just one of those 15 hits was for extra bases.
But the amusing thing about that type of narrative? Matt Kemp has actually been clutch on the season, and the Dodgers have been one of the most clutch teams in baseball over the past month.
Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you.
You’ve heard a lot about the Dodgers struggles with RISP because it’s everywhere: stories before the game, tweets during the game, stories after the game. And while the facts of the matter aren’t wrong in this case, the problem is that the statistic itself doesn’t account for their skill/performance outside of that specific situation.
In other words, put a regular fan at the plate with RISP and they will OPS .000, but it doesn’t mean they’re unclutch, it just means that they suck. That’s where the stat ‘Clutch’ comes into play, as it accounts for overall performance versus performance in clutch situations.
On the season, the Dodgers have done as poorly as you probably expected, checking in at 23rd in the MLB this year in Clutch, behind the Astros.
So that appears to fit the narrative.
However, in the past 30 days, they’re fifth in the MLB in being so so so clutchy clutchy clutch.
So if you wanted to fill in a narrative for this reality, you could. For example, “The Dodgers have been feeling the pressure mounting due to their terrible start to the year, but they are heroically responding under duress to fight for the manager they love dearly”, or some utter garbage like that.
As you probably figured out by now, though, creating an equally dumb counter-narrative isn’t my goal. Besides, the Dodgers still aren’t scoring more runs despite recently coming through when it matters, which is primarily due to that ‘WPA’ column barely being positive. Simply put, the Dodgers still aren’t able to put bodies across the plate because they still generally suck at hitting. The team didn’t suddenly become more clutch in the last 30 days, nor were they less clutch to start the season. Clutch is a statistic that fluctuates constantly because it’s not necessarily indicative of a skill, and the exact same caveat applies for hitting with RISP, as the team has a .296 BABIP overall, but a .263 BABIP with RISP.
Look, there’s always an ebb and flow to these situational numbers, so at the end of the day, the only thing you actually can rely on is the overall talent of hitters. The Dodgers struggles in the clutch or with RISP or whatever else are a result of a team that is simply struggling to hit in 2013, and it’s certainly not indicative of a squad that needs leadership or fire or whatever other garbage people are printing nowadays.
The painful reality is that there’s no Clutch or RISP coaching to be done, really. The players simply need to perform in the batter’s box, clutch situations or otherwise. Unfortunately, like most things, it’s easier said than done.