Which Teams Have Been The Most "Clutch"

BOSTON, MA - JULY 18: Manager Bobby Valentine #25 of the Boston Red Sox gestures to his team after arguing with the umpires on a stolen base against the Chicago White Sox during the game on July 18, 2012 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

While some team's performance is pretty much equivalent to their talent level, there are always teams that overperform and underperform their underlying talent level. For some reason, most mainstream media sources try to assign clutch talent levels to individual players, but I've never seen them attempt to do the same thing with enitre teams. In any case, being clutch has been shown to not be a predictive statistic, meaning that being clutch is not statistically significant and clutch hitting is probably just circumstantial, like RBIs. The fact that a player has been "clutch" up until this point in his career is more likely a proponent of random variation than an actual skill. That being said, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at which teams lead all of baseball in the FanGraphs statistic "clutch" and which teams trail. The statistic is a derivative of Leverage Index and Win Probability Added and if anyone wishes to read more on the matter, I've linked to the FanGraphs' glossary definition of "clutch".

The 2012 MLB "clutch" team leaderboard:

Team Clutch WPA pLI WPA/LI
Mets 4.93 5.81 1 0.9
Pirates 2.41 2.38 0.97 0.04
Tigers 2.29 1.97 1.03 -0.38
Dodgers 2.1 0.94 1.08 -1.23
Reds 2.08 1.65 1.02 -0.46
Rays 1.83 1.22 1.06 -0.68
Giants 1.27 6.62 1 5.36
Indians 1.22 2.12 0.98 0.93
Mariners 1.11 -3.72 1.01 -4.79
Marlins 1.07 0.71 1.04 -0.38
Nationals 0.95 3.78 1.11 2.44
Braves 0.69 5.82 0.96 5.35
Orioles 0.68 -2.87 1 -3.55
Yankees 0.43 6.22 0.98 5.92
Angels 0.07 5.59 0.91 6.06
Brewers -0.53 1.89 1.06 2.31
Rangers -0.64 -0.35 0.91 0.26
Rockies -0.97 -0.28 0.98 0.69
Athletics -1.15 -2.71 1 -1.56
White Sox -1.17 2.25 0.96 3.51
Red Sox -1.3 -0.09 0.96 1.2
Cubs -1.76 -3.53 1 -1.77
Phillies -1.82 -0.26 1.03 1.57
Padres -2.05 -1.44 1.12 0.76
Diamondbacks -2.24 -0.74 0.92 1.43
Royals -2.39 -4.53 1.02 -2.03
Blue Jays -2.5 1.1 0.97 3.64
Cardinals -3.18 1.85 1.02 5
Astros -3.26 -6.92 1.01 -3.6
Twins -3.27 -1.28 1.02 2.02

The Mets have been, by far, the most clutch team in baseball this season. That answers some questions. It looks like we might finally have an answer to why the Mets have been playing better than expected so far this season. The difference between the Mets and the Pirates, the 2nd most clutch team, is greater than the difference between the Pirates and the Angels, the 15th most clutch team. Either the Mets have figured something out, which is not totally inconceivable given that the Mets are headed up by Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta, or more likely, they've been extremely lucky. In any case, look for the Mets to regress in the 2nd half, but hey, that bullpen will probably regress toward the mean as well and the effects might cancel each other out. You just never know when dealing with the vagaries of a baseball season.

I think the list is an interesting one because most of the teams leading in "clutch", are the surprise teams in baseball and most of the teams toward the bottom of the list have not met preseason expectations. This obviously makes sense, but shows that more often than not, over the course of half a season the teams that were supposed to be good but have been performing poorly, have just been unlucky. You can see, the aforementioned Mets, the Pirates and Dodgers falling into the category of teams exceeding expectations due mostly to luck. And on the other side of the spectrum, the Cardinals, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox are all teams that have disappointed the baseball world through the first half but have been unlucky more than anything else.

This could truly be a quick and easy way of determining which teams are due to regress toward the mean and which teams are actually as good as they seem. For example, the Nationals and Yankees seem to have established a certain talent level and they'll most probably continue to do so. Interestingly, the White Sox have been unlucky so far despite their success this season and the Tigers have been playing poorly in spite of their good luck. Imagine just how atrocious the Tigers fielding has had to be in order for them to have been lucky so far this season.

In conclusion, we should probably look for the luckier teams to regress and start playing closer to their true talent level and the unlucky teams like the Phillies and Red Sox to improve upon their disappointing first halves and start playing the way a lot of analysts thought they would.

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