Nationals Baseball: Initial Corbin Thoughts

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Initial Corbin Thoughts

I'm super busy but you need a place to talk amongst yourselves about this. Some quick thoughts

Nats fans should be happy

For the past half-decade Rizzo has shown he is able to identify the issues and come up with a plan to address them. For the past half-decade, the Lerners have shown the willingness to back him monetarily to a point that does not impede competitiveness. They have both been able to execute these plans and keep the Nationals one of the better teams in baseball. This off-season is no different. The Nats needed, if I were to order it from most important to least, (1) a fix at C (2) A new SP, preferably front end (3) some relief help (4) the usual back-up to Zimm (5) maybe a 2B.  They have fixed C, and they got the best SP available. They also have added some relief help. And it's only December. I think we can be very confident the Nats will do what they want. Which is to stay under the cap and solve all these issues for next season to remain competitive.

Nats fans should not expect Bryce back 

The Nats would be ecstatic to have Bryce back, if the contract was structured as they like it. Which means cheap next year (to fit under the cap) and with a lot of deferred money, because that helps the Nats out (makes the contracts effectively cheaper).  I don't see that happening. I especially don't see that happening now that the Nats have gotten Corbin and left Atlanta and Philly out in the cold with money to spend.

Nats fans should not consider this all-in

I had this argument on Twitter with BxJaycobb I think. To me all-in is going after the best reasonable solution at every position you need help. It's potentially selling out the future for the now. In the Nats case that would have meant getting Corbin, yes. That is an all-in move. But it also would have meant signing Grandal or trading for Realmuto and signing probably both Miller and Ottavino and going after LeMahieu.or say trading Kieboom to the Mariners for Cano/Diaz  There is not necessarily a singular solution but there is an overriding theme of "best possible".  The Nats have never done this and when they went Suzuki/Gomes, while it's a fine plan, it showed me once again, they aren't doing it this season either.  Now you can argue either side pretty easily. You can say they spend enough and their methods have gotten them regular season success and so why try to do something that guarantees nothing other than a likely necessary rebuild in a few years. You can also say they have shown that their plan of "getting playoff good" means they miss the playoffs if they face any adversity and that in the playoffs they have flaws that get exposed. If the goal is to win it all it's been shown not to work over 5 years*. After 5 years of no ultimate success I fall into the latter camp. There has to be a time frame, does there not, where you say "this isn't working like we want" and for me - half a decade is it.

Corbin should be good. Great is questionable

When the Nats signed Max he was coming off two Cy Young vote getting seasons and had two other very good years in pocket. When they extended Strasburg he was one of the best pitchers in baseball over the previous 4 years. Corbin is a different animal. He was great one year before TJ way back in 2013. He was great last year. Other than that there's a half-year of good pitching out there. There is far less confidence that he's truly an upper eschelon pitcher than there was for Max or Stras. But still it would be surprising if he regressed all the way back to 2017 and 2017 was perfectly No. 3 in rotation acceptable. That's probably the baseline of what the Nats can accept here. So I'd be shocked if he (non-injury wise) doesn't hit that baseline and is very likely to be better. But don't dismiss that "non-injury wise" aside. Remember the Nats and the TJ ticking clock. They like to use eight years as a failure guess. For Corbin that would be sometime into year 3/4 of this contract**  But that's just a guess and last year saw him hit 200 IP for the first time since before the surgery.

This is just an overall view. We'll look into Corbin more later though with the fancy stats.

If you are the worrying type worry about the Nats in 2025-2028.

At that point, if Strasburg doesn't leave, the Nationals will be paying $25 million in deferred cash to Strasburg and Max (they won't be playing under original deal) and I'm going to guess about $15 million to Corbin (also not playing under original deal). That's possibly $40 million for NOTHING. Not "oh this guy might be hurt or old and not good", but "this guy is no longer under contract and we still owe him money".  While that doesn't count against the cap, it's hard to see the Nats not be effected by this in some way.  With 2024 also the last year before FA for Soto and Robles, you can easily see a rebuild happening at that time.But that's also WAY off. You know I don't like holding to anything three seasons ahead, let alone seven. So it's just something to think about, if I don't know, you plan to retire to the area to watch baseball in that time frame.

*I consider 2012 a surprise year and 2013 a year where the plan wasn't truly in place and it was a more of "maybe we can get away with doing very little" season

**More worrisome for the Nationals. Last year was year eight for Strasburg. 


BxJaycobb said...

1. I am honored to make it into a post by name. I literally feel like i made it. And it was a productive civil argument.
2. Speaking of arguments, if you’re suggesting that the Corbin signing left ATL out in the cold and this means THEY might sign Bryce, they won’t. 100% Braves are run by a corporation with set budgets....they legit can’t execute a signing like that apparently, or so says Buster Olney in a recent ESPN column. As for Phillies....yeah, they’re probably the favorites (I would even say better than even odds, no?) of signing Bryce.
3. Is Bryce definitely gone for Nats? I don’t think so. I think the Corbin signing makes it more unlikely, but the WP/ESPN reporting suggests Lerners and Rizzo are just operating independently, where Rizzo addresses needs and Lerners make ultimate decision on Bryce with Boras, and they either go over cap or make adjustments to get under, etc. For SURE Nats are less likely than beginning of offseason, but I don’t think it’s over quite yet.
4. I propose the Nats trade Garcia+young lotto ticket type prospect for Gennett. Garcia expendable with Kieboom coming up....and Gennett is cheap, 1 yr only and will be gone when it’s Kieboom time. Who is with me?

BxJaycobb said...

Oh and super briefly. Re our debate for everyone else’s edification.....Harper had been bemoaning the C moves as “not all in/just good enough just like the Nats always do, etc” as opposed to, e.g. getting Grandal/Realmuto, whatever the cost (I suggest the cost in prospects/$ will not be comparable to 12$m and minor prospects but we will soon find out)....but then Harper initially tweeted out that Nats fans shouldn’t get THAT excited about Corbin because it’s just what they needed to do. And my only point was like......if you’re gonna trash a move and say “go get the best!” you should also praise the “go get the best” move when it happens. NOTE: Harper later tweeted out a more positive response saying, hey, they executed the plan, and many teams can’t do that. And I understand Harper’s position re “all in in every way.” I just think it’s not a super rational way to behave given how random the small sample size of playoffs can be. And I would argue almost no GM sells the entire farm for JUST the playoffs when their team is sailing to an easy division title.

Jimmy said...


I'm with you on Gennett. Why isn't Lowrie being discussed for a one year deal as well, he's coming off a good year but he's old and I like his glove and pop.

Jimmy said...

People are really putting all their eggs in the Kieboom basket, I like him too but let's not get carried away here the man has yet to prove himself to be a major league hitter, I don't think the organization is going to sit on their laurels with Knedricks coming off a major injury.

Ole PBN said...

Harper, my only issue is with the camp you fall in. It is flawed by the following example: Wieters single-handedly blew that series vs the Cubs in 2017. Was that on Rizzo for not getting a better catcher? In terms of numbers, he certainly could have gotten someone better. But how do you know a player is going to screw up that badly in a matter of innings in the most important game of the season. Thats like blaming the Buckner play on the GM. I disagree here. I really think that Nats have failed in the postseason because luck, poor player execution and poor managerial decision-making. Only the latter can fall on Rizzo as you could argue a better manager wouldn't have had those blunders, but its still all Monday Morning Quarterbacking to me.

Vdub said...

2nd base has so many free agents this year, I have faith Rizzo will be able to upgrade after the dust settles for peanuts. 1year deal, maybe 2 at low cost. Basically any professional 2nd baseman is an upgrade from last year, so yeah, doing nothing is the only way to fail in my opinion. 2nd base should be the last piece Rizzo addresses, but he should address it, and I think he will... Unless they sign Bryce, then it's howie, difo, and eventually keiboom... As lerners reign in the spending.

Jay said...

I agree with Ole PBN. ssl or ssn I can't remember joked that the Nats infected other teams last year in the playoffs and thus Boston won. However, he has a point. The Nats didn't win back in '12 and '14 bc Drew Storen, while apparently a great guy, couldn't handle the pressure of the playoffs. Tyler Clippard was awful for the Mets when they lost to KC. This would go along with another late inning guy that couldn't handle playoff pressure. Gio Gonzalez pulled himself out of the game for the Brewers in his last playoff start. Gio clearly couldn't handle the pressure. Ian Desmond was another guy that couldn't do much in the playoffs. Add in a little injury bad luck to Daniel Murphy and Harper, as well as Strasburg. You could argue that the GM should go get guys with "clutchiness" but that can be very nebulous. Plus he went and got Murphy who almost carried the Mets to the WS. He was hurt going into both playoff years for the Nats.

Anyway, I also agree that this is a very debatable topic. I'm happy about Corbin. I'm a little worried he will be a one year wonder. However, I trust Rizzo's scouting ability, so I'm mostly excited.

blovy8 said...

I'm hoping for some really fancy deferrals and bonuses in this Corbin deal, because it could be a template for that future weird Harper deal to come!

I'd guess that a 2B could fall into their lap late in the FA period a la Murphy three years ago. In fact, it could even be Murphy again if the market falls precipitously for him. If the Nats cared so little about defense that they put Harper in center, why should they care about Murphy at 2B some of the time? I would imagine he'd play a lot of 1st, and can probably still fake 3B at least as well as Reynolds did. I think some of the strategy is dependent on Rendon signing a deal. If you don't have 3B locked down, you are going to need more than just a 2019 Kieboom infusion in the IF. Rizzo wouldn't leave that open for next year if he could help it. But there's also no reason to expect him to say anything but that he's happy with Kendrick, Difo and Kieboom as his 2B options. To do otherwise would be acting like a jerk and hanging them out to dry like Cashman did with Sonny Gray. What would be the point of that?

Ole PBN said...

I feel the same way Jay. Excited about Corbin, and if the "eye test" means anything at all, he sure looks like a gamer with great stuff (notably a wipe-out slider). My worry is how he will be in 2020 and beyond with TJ elbow. Seems like we got rid of Jordan Zimmermann at just the right time... we'll have to see.

I always look for trade candidates or FA's with prior success in the postseason, although I'll be the first to admit that "clutchness is hard to quantify and is indeed, nebulous in and of itself. Rizzo usually scouts for athleticism and talent, so its hard to find a guy he's picked up with neither. For example, Mason Denaburg was a highly sought after QB. Talent wins the regular season most of the time, and is safe bet. But I think that "clutchness" is acquired naturally (which you can't locate as a scout, or acquired through adversity. The Nats haven't faced much adversity, and when they have, they haven't risen to the the occasion. Following my fantasy line of thinking, I would like Rizzo to pick up a #4/#5 SP with postseason success (like a John Lackey move made by the Cubs a few years ago).

World Series of Poker said...

Maybe it's just me, but I don't consider a move like signing Corbin an all-in move because the team isn't giving up trade chips.

Sure many prospects flame out, but so long as they are deemed prospects they are assets that may pan out or may be useful trade chips in the future. Trade them away, your chip stack (future assets) grows smaller. Trade too much away, and that's going all in. You win or you don't. And you get nothing back except for maybe the revenue generated from things you can sell around having won it all.

The Lerners have so much money (still the richest in MLB?). It's a nice feature for this team we know, love, and sometimes hate. And because of that, when they spend their relatively endless supply of money, it doesn't truly hurt the future, so long as they continue to show a willingness to spend more money. And too, there is all that MASN money that might finally make it to the Nats. That's money that could be transferred to the deferred contracts in the out years that isn't money directly out of the Lerners' pockets.

DezoPenguin said...

@blovy8: Indeed. There's never any percentage in dissing your players to the media unless they're doing non-baseball bad things that require team-level discipline (like getting arrested for DV or something).

Honestly, I have to think that I agree with BxJaycobb as far as the catcher moves go, because I've seen nothing that says we could GET Realmuto from the Marlins without giving them Soto or Robles, and getting rid of a member of the starting lineup to plug another hole in the lineup is a zero-sum game that then demands another move. Signing Grandal to be the primary catcher, and then STILL getting one of Suzuki/Gomes to be the backup, would be the only move more "win-now" than what Rizzo actually did.

I'm really surprised by the number of media reports suggesting that there's a possibility we get Harper back or even that we're frontrunners. I don't understand if this is driven by the Boras/Lerner issue, or that there's some entrenched idea in their minds that we desperately need/want him that won't go away until he actually signs somewhere else. I mean, if the Lerners say "screw the luxury tax," well, fine, but as our Harper observes, nothing so far indicates that this is a thing. (I mean, at this point, our additions are roughly in the area of revenue-neutral for the Harper/Wieters/Murphy/Gio/Madson contracts coming off the books.)

Here's my "complete fantasy world" scenario for the rest of the offseason if the Lerners indeed have decided to annihilate the cap:

1. Extend Anthony Rendon.
2. Sign Marwin Gonzalez.
3. Re-sign Bryce.
4. Trade Carter Kieboom and Adam Eaton plus additional prospects as necessary to the Cleveland Indians for Kluber, Carrasco, or Bauer, probably in that order of desirability, and Brad Hand.
5. Sign one of the Bour/Adams group.

I think #5 on that list has an actual chance of happening.

Anonymous said...

Despite Harper's assertion that the Nats should have gone harder after Grandal or Realmuto, I think Rizzo should be getting far more credit for the brilliance of his catcher plan. There is what has been widely said: the potential plus 4 WAR and reasonable salaries freeing money to be used elsewhere and a built-in back-up against injury. The truly genius part was foreseeing how settling the catcher situation would improve the team's chances of landing the FA pitchers that they wanted.

Players want money, but they also want success. At some point, the value of a few dollars way to the question, where do I have best chance of being a success on a successful team.

I agree with World Series of Poker about the non-issue of how much deferred money the Nats will be carrying years from now. MASN money will eventually come the Lerners can easily afford to pay it. Hopefully, this will also be softened by memories of the success that those dollars bought.

Robot said...

2025 is Future Nats' problem! Let them deal with it!

Robot said...

We could all be dead by 2025 anyway. How much would it suck to be dead AND have no World Serious wins?

Mainelaker said...

DezoPenguin left one important item off his wish list- one more lefty reliever that throws 98 (maybe Andrew Miller?)

DezoPenguin said...

@Mainelaker: That's why I wanted Hand in the Indians trade! (Though he's a 92-95 velocity guy, he is a lefty.)

Mainelaker said...

Hand would work.

Mythra said...

I'd be fine with Bour signing with the Nats. GMU guy returns to play for the local club? Family in town every home game has to be good karma, right?

BxJaycobb said...

@Dezo: I actually strongly believe we will re-sign Rendon this offseason. I also like Marwin Gonzalez for this team but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a little pricey bc of new emphasis of flexibility for teams.

BxJaycobb said...

That’s what our president says. Who cares about the debt?! ILL BE GONE BY THEN! (Actually). Lol.

BxJaycobb said...

@Mythra: also, assuming Bryce doesn’t return, when i look at the Nats offense i see an athletic, high OBP offense, but one that doesn’t have much power. Like, nobody on that offense is hitting 35 homers. So I think we could use a true basher like Bour to platoon at 1B. (And by god I hope they ACTUALLY platoon Zim, he’s been platoon-worthy for like 4 years but the Nats .org for some bizarre reason is like allergic to platoons.)

Josh Higham said...

@Bx your reply to Mytrha prompted me to check out the Nats' 2018 offensive stats compared to the rest of the majors. I found that a) they were the second best OBP team last year, and top 10 in virtually every notable offensive stat I checked. Often top 5. But b) their WPA and clutchness scores were, if I'm remembering right, outrageously bad. On the whole they were actually a good to very good offensive team, but by Fangraph's clutchness at least, they were every bit the choking dogs Sammy Kent always says they are.

ssln said...

Blow MLB apart. Trade for Kluber and say we are building a 1990's Atlanta staff in DC in 2019.
Reporter to Davey. Who is your ace?
Davey: Whoever I throw out there on any given day.
Make it happen.

BxJaycobb said...

(1) yes, they would without Bryce be more of a team where 15+ homer pop is spread around to every position, rather than having some 40+ homer beast in there.

(2)One man’s “choking dogs” is another man’s “bad distribution of hits/runs.” Since “clutchness” is not a repeatable skill according to any empirical evaluation—of not only baseball but a sport like basketball too—my conclusion is the Nats were two things last year (1) incredibly unlucky and (2) Davey May have had some growing pains as manager, because arguably winning close games and high leverage button pushing does have a *slight* relationship to not playing below your Pythagorean record. The fact is.....the Nats run differential of +82 was incredibly close to the Braves and we should have been in a photo finish, but they out performed their talent level and we under performed it. Again, due to bad luck and also maybe blowing some close games via bullpen management. But not clutchness or choking as those don’t exist. I know legions of sports fans will claim against all mathematical proof that clutchness and choking are skills that some players have and some players don’t until the sun swallows the earth. But they have no basis. So I am encouraged by our underperformance for THIS year.

BxJaycobb said...

I feel like a 1-2 yr commitment to a 2B would be ideal....I don’t know if that will be possible with Marwin Gonzalez who would be helpful. I like Jed Lowrie, I don’t like LaMahieu, I bet we could have Kinsler for a 1 year chick scratch deal. Dozier for a 2 yr 8 yr deal something like that. But again, I’m intrigued by trading for Scooter Gennett’s one remaining year before FA.

Josh Higham said...

@Bx I know clutchness isn't projectable into the future but it's objectively true that the Nats hurt themselves in big moments more than virtually every other team in 2018. I'm arguing exactly the same thing you are, but with a little bit of awe and wonder.

Josh said...

I know that clutchness has been shown to not be a repeatable skill but has the same research been done on choking? It would make more sense to me that some people really do choke in high pressure situations. These are athletes performing at the very highest level against other athletes at the very highest level. Even if clutchness was a thing, they have very little room to improve in a high pressure situation compared to the room they have to choke.

Mythra said...

@josh: Not sure about scientific studies, but my eyes told me about 'choking' repetition every time I saw Gio start talking to himself on the TV. It also corresponded with me reaching for the TUMS and the beer, and saying 'This is gonna be a long game." Almost like clockwork.

Josh Higham said...

hold on now, two Joshes is just confusing. Intuitively what fake Josh is saying seems right to me. That there are players who are, in large samples, bad at performing under pressure. But I think most of them wash out well before they get to the pros. For example, my inability to hit open layups in close games is one of many reasons I never became a pro basketball player.

The yips are a real-ish thing that people who have made it to the pros have sometimes. As much as we who watched Gio muttering into his glove would like to say that he was definitely a choker, he has also tended to have very high strand rates, which says that under one kind of pressure, at least, he was nails. I don't think Gio would actually measure as un-clutch, because his playoff sample is regrettably small. Indeed, Fangraphs has Gio a hair better in high pressure situations than in neutral ones, though he was a little worse in high leverage situations with the Nats than with the A's, so as a Nat he was a little tiny bit unclutch.

Josh Higham said...

Sorry, it's late and I'm still at work. What I meant by bringing up his playoff sample is we have these couple of awful data points in our minds, but they're not representative of big game or big moment Gio. They're representative of how few playoff games the Nats have played with Gio on the mound.

And I meant to finish the yips idea by saying that most guys with the yips wash out very fast. Zim and Lester are two guys who have some degree of inability to throw accurately and have made it, but most guys are not as superlative to start and don't have much value to add once they can't throw to a base. Certainly you don't get the yips prior to the majors and make it to the show.

ssln said...

You seem lost in a clutchless world folks.
Some guys just perform better under pressure than other guys. Why do some QB's in the NFL perform better in the last two minutes than others. There are many reasons, talent etc. but one of the reasons is that they handle the pressure better than others. Brady and Rodgers before 2018 as an example.
Sometimes a leader will lift an entire team and make them tougher or better able to handle the pressure. Try Ray Lewis with the Ravens. He made it unacceptable to play at less than a 110% if you wanted to play for his defense.
The Nats are a different bred. They are country club soft. It is and has always been acceptable to try and fail in pressure situations. So they try and fail and then do it again in the playoffs again the next year. There is no accountability or leadership on the team. There is a reason why Rizzo wanted to sign Zobrist a few years back and why he signed with the Cubs instead.
I see you are assuming the Nats are unlucky and will revert to the mean next year. Sorry folks, it doesn't work that way. We need a few hardened vets to lead the way. So far I don't see any on the team.
California dreaming on your part is not going to solve the problem. But you are diehard fans and it is still winter so who are I to try and pierce your dreams. The season is a marathon. The people who preach reversion to the mean will be lamenting the failure to hit in the clutch in the heat of the summer and forget that they preached reversion to the mean in December. Book it Dano.

Anonymous said...

Who is Dano? What was this nonsensical drivel about football and baseball comparisons?

ssln said...

I would explain both of these things to you but you lack the comprehension to understand either so why should I bother?

Anonymous said...

Haha please spare me. Just seems irrelevant that’s all. Kind of like the creepy brother stuff with Harper... are you alright?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how the blog author feels there is some magic solution for postseason success. There is no such thing and it's amazing how many fans sadly fall for this idea of selling the future for now. Maybe they haven't been watching the Nats in the postseason where one thing turned a victory we could almost graso into more postseason disappointment. I believe the best solution is to build a perrenial contender and eventually the postseason will take care of itself.

JE34 said...

ssln dropping the old Hawaii Five-O reference. Danno was underappreciated.

Ole PBN said...

What’s everyone’s next target? A #4/#5 SP would be nice, but I wouldn’t mind another bullpen piece. Preferably a LOOGY. Blevins? I agree the Nats should go after Bour. Hometown kid, just got married (she’s a reporter for Ted Leonsis’ company). Why not? I think the price tag for someone better than a healthy Kendrick, but not too expensive to sit on the bench, while also being better and not too much pricier than Difo is not feasible right now. That might be a trade deadline move.

With the rotation, our 1-3 guys are undeniably one of the better, if not the best, in baseball. Tanner is certainly serviceable. My question is Ross, and I think he’s getting that #5 spot, barring another signing. With him on a pitch count, I don’t know how reliable he is. But then again he’s a #5. I just would like a Hellickson-type deal to cover any injuries.

CRNats said...

The phrase is definitely Book 'em Dano. Also, I would argue that yes, our team has been missing the clutch factor in game 5, but had it in several game 3's and 4's. Which seems kinda ridiculous. More to the point, I'd rather focus on a second first baseman and one more lights out bullpen member than focus on a 4th great pitcher, and then trade for a pitcher during the season if we need it. I believe in Tanner.

G Cracka X said...

Has there been any analysis done as to the percentage of times that a team went 'all in' and it paid off? It seems like most of the times, the management of a championship team didn't really go 'all in'. More like 'medium in', though I recognize the inherent fuzziness of these categories.

More interested in seeing whether 'all in', in the aggregate, is a better strategy to pursue to get championships.

DezoPenguin said...

I agree with...basically that Justin Bour sounds like a perfect fit. Relatively cheap, track record of basic competence, good power, slumped somewhat for the Phillies last year but still 30 so it's unlikely he's hit an age wall, bats lefty (good because even if Bad Zim shows up, Bad Zim can still hit lefties in a straight platoon).

(Offhand, did everyone else notice how badly Adams fell off when he went to St. Louis? He was hitting really well with us, and just went straight off a cliff to finish with only a 107 wRC+, basically identical to Bour.)

It's not a desperation situation, since there are a LOT of these guys in the same generic mold out there, but everyone knows we need one of 'em and Rizzo might as well grab the one he and his guys like best.

Harper said...

GCX - I looked at it at some point very roughly and never found compelling evidence that it works (or doesn't work). It's hard to say because you are dealing with both production and psychology and you are looking at injuries being very impactful wild cards. Then there's plain luck. Every season is like a non-rubberband Mario Kart game.

I do think that there's a correlation between bigger mid-season trades and post-season success but it's weak. Like those that succeed do it, but those that don't succeed, may also do it. It's just rarer that you can succeed and not do it. If that makes any sense. And this is just a feeling.

ssln said...

Steve Pearce was a veteran presence. Picked up at the trade deadline. Anyone ever hear anything about this dude?

BxJaycobb said...

The best analysis I have seen by far is the following 538 one, which is a Buyers and Seller’s Guide to the Trade Deadline, and it essentially comes up with something it calls a “Doyle Number” that guides teams on whether to sacrifice future value for win now Buys, etc.

BxJaycobb said...

See my answer to Harper below.

BxJaycobb said...

Correct. The playoffs aren’t a TOTAL crapshoot. But they’re close to one. The luck factor is enormous. And more importantly “CLUTCH. IS. NOT. A. SKILL.” Repeat. Over and over. There are good players and bad players. Get the former. More of the time they succeed.

BxJaycobb said...

You’re confusing like 7 different things.
1. No. There is no such thing as clutch players who consistently do well under pressure nor are there non-clutch players who consistently wilt under pressure. It’s a myth that results from fans who don’t understand small vs large sample sizes and who also have confirmation bias and also like the narrative of certain people having ice in their veins because it plays into the legend of heroes. Quick example. Over a couple playoffs or over course of one season a player a certain player may hit well with RISP (or hit great in the 40 playoff ABs). But that’s not because that player is magical or has ice in his veins. It’s because of small sample size. Here’s proof: there are no players who over a long career hit any better with RISP than their overall slash line. It just evens out. Nor are there players who have a slash line that is significantly worse. It’s simply that in small pockets some succeed and some don’t and we label them heroes or dogs (tho this phenomenon happens in literally every single similarly sized pocket during the year.)
2. Clubhouse culture/accountability: sure this is real. You can have clubhouses where players are more lackadaisical and don’t focus as hard and make small silly mistakes more often. But the idea of players not trying is silly. Everybody wants to benefit themselves financially and do well.
3. Football/basketball references: first of all, irrelevant. Second, again confirmation bias rules all. Everybody thinks Michael Jordan was a postseason god and last shot god right? Ice in veins? His shooting % on buzzer beaters and the playoffs are basically the same as his lifetime shooting %. Again. When you are MJ and you make a buzzer beater (or Rodgers or Brady on last drive) everybody says “WOW THEY ARE SO CLUTCH!” When they fail, everybody waves it away as an aberration. Know why? Because they’re really good and they succeed a lot. Always. Not just under pressure.

Only a fool would look at 4-5 outcomes and draw a conclusion about the grit of players from that data set. Over the course of a season, a baseball team will go through crap stretches and great stretches. Happens constantly. Some games the Astros lose to the White Sox. Small. Samples.

BxJaycobb said...

I don’t think Zim has the yips. I think his shoulder is screwed up in a way where he can’t throw. Compared to lester who obviously had the yips. (it’s also possible that it started off as an injury think with Zim then it became psychological....but he definitely changed his throwing MOTION itself after he hurt his shoulder.

BxJaycobb said...

Correct. There are players who probably freak out under pressure but those people aren’t major leaguers. See my comment below. Clutch and unclutch is just a myth that we have created as a result of small sample size pockets of data compounded with hero narrative and confirmation bias.

BxJaycobb said...

Remember how David Price clearly was incapable of pitching under pressure in the playoffs? Then suddenly he was great in the World Series. What do ya know! Maybe it’s just that we were looking at 6-7 baseball games and like making judgments about the grit of human souls.

BxJaycobb said...

Those two things are not remotely mutually exclusive. Of course a team can perform terribly under pressure for a period of time, ditto a player. But at no point in say August, was it more likely that the Nats were going to lose a close game than they were in April. A season is often not a large enough sample for things to even out. Which is why a player can have a .240 or .360 BABIP during a season and you know he is likely to have a better (or worse) AVG the next season. But by the end of a player’s career, his BABIP will end up around the BABIP of players who hit the ball similarly hard and with similar speed. Another way of saying this is, there has to be *some* team that loses the most 1 run games in MLB each season. Due merely to variation.

BxJaycobb said...

Yes, empirical studies have shown that as a general phenomenon, with enough of a large sample size (apparently it’s around 2-3 seasons) a player will always have a slash line in “late and close” and “RISP” situations as he does overall. There just aren’t players who consistently perform poorly when the pressure is on. It’s just that for whatever reason some players develop a reputation or there is anecdotal evidence one way or another. To get anecdotal for a second, let’s take two players, Zim and David Price. Initially Zim had this rep as mr walk off/some late game hero and price as a guy who couldn’t pitch in playoffs. They’ve now reversed after this WS and price pitching phenomenally. And now Zim has in recent years had famously terrible troubles when the spotlight is on him (like when Bryce is walked to get to him). Honestly, all it is is that Zim will fail and sometimes he will succeed, and ditto Price. But variation bunched their successes and failures in a way that their reps got solidified. I have little doubt that if 2012 skill set Gio (pre decline) got 10 shots in the playoffs he would have some success. It’s just that now he’s not good.

BxJaycobb said...

But Josh my main point is we should take that data you found about the 2018 Nats and find it encouraging not discouraging. It doesn’t mean that they are full of “unclutch players” as others are saying here with literally zero basis (remember when Stras wilted under pressure then suddenly through like a 15K playoff shut out despite his ungritty soul?)....its encouraging bc it means out talent is higher than the record suggests and we are likely to have a more neutral year. We are NOT likely to have luck bounce back that’s gamblers fallacy. But it is almost impossible that will underperform our Pythag Record again.

ssln said...


I guess if you write enough posts like the above you will come to believe them. That is the confirmation bias that you mentioned. The Nats don't play fundamentally sound baseball and that leads to loses. We will take a look at how many people mention it during the upcoming year.
I will refer all of them to you so you can explain how fundamentals and clutchness don't really exist. It should be an interesting year for you.

Josh Higham said...

@ssln I can't even believe what I just read. I think it said "BX you have confirmation bias because you've read statistical analysis. Let's put clutchness and veteran grit to the test by reading the overwhelmingly pessimistic comments by fans who love this team and follow this robot blog, panic when things go badly, and worry about collapse when things go well. Then we'll see if the team plays sloppy baseball or is gritty. We don't have confirmation bias so it should work fine." You are literally making a self-fulfilling promise that confirms your biases as if it should convince us that you're right.

Anonymous said...

SSLN is a parody account. It's the only viable explanation. No real person could hold those silly views.

Harper said...

Have there been comments deleted or did BX just go crazy?

The take-away about anything psychological is not that it doesn't exist (we know it does) but that we have no way to measure for it so trying to adjust/plan/compensate/whatever for it is risky. You should do all those things for what you can measure first and only take into psychology when you are done. Have two back-up 1B, similar age, fielding, etc. Sure - pick the one you feel is more clutch or a better leader or what have you, rather than focus on a .008 better OPS or something.

One thing you have to remember is that while we know there can be a detrimental effect of nerves on performance these guys have been facing, and overcoming, nerve-racking situations for years. In HS, in College, in the minors. If pressure gets to you in a serious way it is unlikely you have made it this far to begin with, so there is self-selection going on.

So most likely when we are talking about differences in clutch performance at this level, if we could tease it out and we really can't, it would be something like - "Zimm feels less pressure than Werth with RISP. Where as Werth only hits .016 points above his baseline OPS, Zimm hits .025 above his"

(I say both above because you usually hit better with RISP)

Also there are some players that show positive or negative clutch hitting - Mo Vaughn with RISP, Jackie Robinson late and close BUT when you are dealing with thousands of players over dozens of years you are going to find instances of almost anything. So you can't really take that as evidence.

Harper said...

In the latter you aren't going to find players that hit dramatically different because the base talent level is the motor drives the car. What we're talking about here for these guys is the 5MPH wind at your back or in your face on the road

Ole PBN said...

I think RISP is a fair judge for a "clutch-barometer" but I think if the sample size if appropriate, postseason numbers overall are a better gauge. Take the below examples:

David Ortiz (a widely-considered clutch hitter):
.286/.380/.552 career regular season
.296/.411/.531 career RISP
.289/.404/.543 career postseason (304 AB)

Derek Jeter (another widely-considered clutch hitter):
.310/.377/.440 career regular season
.301/.393/.417 career RISP
.308/.374/.465 career postseason (650 AB)

Alex Rodriguez (described by fans as a "choker when the lights are brightest"):
.295/.380/.550 career regular season
.292/.395/.521 career RISP
.259/.365/.457 career postseason (278 AB)

Numbers don't lie. The fan's perspective on A-Rod throughout his career was dead on, and not by a measly 0.006 figure. I think the postseason measurement is a better guage because it takes into account the entire 9-inning game, all of which are high leverage situations compared to the regular season. Pitchers are at an equal advantage/disadvantage throughout the game depending on the situation, just as the hitters are. However when looking at RISP, all the pressure is on the pitcher and a lot of these hitters (especially the ones mentioned above), had the benefit of being put on intentionally, thus bolstering their OBP numbers in a significant way.

I agree with Harper in that it is difficult to track, but absolutely exists. But I think it's easier to track if given the proper sample size to determine how "clutch", or maybe more importantly, how "not clutch" a player is.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper Re going crazy, yeah indeed, I'm slightly confused. I was almost always replying to various comments, frequently SSLN....and now I just don't see them. Dunno what happened. Was a it appears I did coke or something. Anyway.

BxJaycobb said...

@Ole PBN: 278 AB just isn't a large enough sample size to make a judgment about nerves/spotlights, "underlying high leverage skill" if you will. It's less than half a season's worth of ABs. Think of how often a player has a crappy or awesome 300 ABs then returns to his norm later in the season. I feel like people appreciate how much random variability in performance there is UNTIL YOU GET TO THE PLAYOFFS...then all sense goes out the window and people totally forget about it BECAUSE HEROISM. As baseball players move through data sets of ABs, they're going to do awesome then they're going to do poorly. For example, let's stick with ARod. In the middle of his prime, he had the following 4 years of wRC+:

2004: 131
2005: 174
2006: 136
2007: 175

Would you look at 2006 and deduce "well clearly something mental was inhibiting him in 2006"? Of course not! He just had a lower level set of 700 ABs! In 600-700 AB data sets, the guy is fluctuating a pretty fair deal, and you're talking about a data set less than half as large (278 ABs).

You're going to get so much random variation that you can't simply declare "numbers don't lie" ARod was a choker! If by 'choker' you mean "ARod performed less well in the playoffs than in the regular season over his career," then yes, of course that is accurate. But that's just a factual statement; you can't possibly predict performance from these states/ deduce anything about ARod's "underlying playoff ability" or "whether he felt pressure more than other players."

Another way of saying this is, they have zero predictive value. If you could choose ARod or David Ortiz in their prime for a big AB in a Game 7, it's illogical to say Ortiz is more likely to not feel the pressure do well. That approach just misunderstands how statistics work.

If ARod played in, say, 30 more postseasons (all at his prime ability level), his slash line would very likely approach his lifetime slash line, because that's his talent level, and in any given postseason he is as likely to GO OFF as any superstar. And an example is 2009. The dude hit .363/.500/.808 in the postseason...was basically God. Was ARod suddenly not feeling his usual pressure that playoffs? Nonsense. He hit well because he's an animal with incredible talent and in short bursts he is awesome enough to be a dominant beast. Put another way, (1) his underlying talent as a player is immense; and (2) variability. But people can take numbers and concoct any idiotic narrative to suit them: e.g. "Well, by 2009, he was comfortable as a Yankee and no longer feeling pressure in the postseason, so that's why he did well!" Know what I mean?

But deduce anything from how a player does in a specific set of 300 ABs is just foolhardy (take a random set of 300 Bryce ABs and you'll see what I mean.)

Look: I know this approach is sort of depressing to people because it kind of takes the heroism and humanity out of baseball, and is less heroic, and more based on cold hard statistics principles (that's no fun!)...but I's just how math works. Of course it's possible a given player feels pressure more than another player....but it's the deducing some such tiny data sets that makes no sense.

I'm sorry to go on and on about this. But it's easily the statistical fallacy that sports fans and especially baseball fans fall into most frequently. Broadcasters fall into it all the time, and will say something like "This player is only 2 for 15 against this pitcher" (meaningless for predictive purposes) or "This player has a .360 lifetime AVG at Citizens Bank park, so that means something!" (who cares). Or Boz says "This player has a .340 AVG when he hits in the 4 spot, but only a .280 AVG when he hits in the 3 spot, so you should hit him in the 4 spot." It's just so, so frustrating and drives me nuts.

DezoPenguin said...

Perfect example: David Price, who as a pitcher actually had a relatively large sample size of playoff appearances. Opened up as a reliever pitching excellently, then had a long string of bad games over a number of years with the Rays, Jays, and Red Sox. Then suddenly this year, aha! He turns in three straight good starts in the ALCS and the Series, including the final game of the Series, and the narrative's been flipped again (to the point that the press was inundating us with literal articles about how Price had flipped the narrative). He was the chokiest choker who ever did choke, until suddenly he wasn't. And there are plenty of people out there who attributed this not to him being a good pitcher who had a handful of bad games against--and this is significant as well--some of the best teams in baseball within their respective seasons, but to him suddenly finding more "mental toughness" and "manning up" and other such matters.

Or take Daniel Murphy, who just went off in the playoffs in 2015, putting out far better performance than his previous baseline. This, as it turned out, was not because Murph was Mr. Uberclutch, but because he'd made actual, substantive changes to his approach at the plate and his playoff performance was just reflective of the new player he was (and it was good for the Nats that they saw this and acted on it).

This is the problem with baseball statistics in general. The sample sizes required to be statistically significant are so large that it's hard to amass enough of them across *any* limited situation for them to be statistically significant. It's like talking about defense stats, where we know that it takes at least three years to get a proper picture of them--and even then those stats are subject to a huge amount of noise (maybe a guy had a nagging injury in Year 2, or maybe he aged and lost a step in Year 3, or maybe he played in Year 1 for a club with advanced stats and good defensive positioning strategy and got traded in the offseason to the Phillies). It's even worse for us as fans, because we have access only to limited information, very rarely have a background in the math necessary to put numbers into their proper context, and our understanding of the on-field factors apart from hard data involved is carefully curated to us by the teams and the media.

ssln said...

I'm enjoying all the comments that you have posted. Here was my underlying point and then I will explain where I was going because no one saw it.
The underlying point was that BX read an article on 538 and bought into the thesis of the article and subjected us to a seen post diatribe on clutchless. Maybe the article is right or maybe it is wrong. You can decide for yourself. Obviously, I don't agree with it.
Here is the reason. We see players who failed to be clutch in the past turn in to clutch players later in their career. Let's take the David Price example. Failure to World Series hero. According to BX, it is all just random.
Really? Can anyone else out there come up with an alternative theory? How about something called sports medicine or specifically sports psychology. You see folks, major league ballplayers and other sports stars now go to sports psychologists to learn how to cope with clutch situations. The idea is to improve their skills in coping with high stress situations. Some show improvement and some don't. The science is still in its infancy so you won't find stats on whether it works or is quackery. Some players swear by it, some swear at it
When you look at players from 10 years ago and their stats you are looking at ancient history in a time when sports medicine didn't exist. When you look at a players career ststs you see the same problem. The real stats to look at are the ones before the player went to a sports psychologist vs the ones after he went. Those aren't published so the only thing we can go by is that a growing number of players in all sports are sports psychologists because they believe it will help their performance. You will find a couple of interesting programs on 30 for 30 that deals with the topic.
I would simply suggest to all of you that maybe, just maybe, you don't know as much about this topic as you think you do, and that at the very least,and any prolonged discussion of clutchness without discussing the intersection of advances in sports medicine shows a woeful lack of understanding on the part of the participants.
Now you are free to call me any names you want.

ssln said...

Here is a quote from one of MLB's great young stars.

"The mental game is what separates the good players from the great players. So, anything I can do to get that mental edge to help me stay my best, I am going to try and do it."

This guy goes to a sports psychologist. Whose quote is this?

Ole PBN said...

I'm not sure I'm buying the "randomness" explanation of this of this argument. I think if A-Rod's 280 postseason AB's (roughly half a season), is enough to get a fair judgment of a player mid-way through any given season, then it's enough for this exercise. Especially since it spans a player's entire career. We on this blog often give Nats players, at the start of the year due to small sample size, until June or July to make a call on their performance. I think the David Price example fits right in with A-Rod. In 2009, the Yankees won the WS with A-Rod hitting well above his dismal numbers, hitting .365 with 6 HR in 52 AB that postseason. Did he flip the narrative entirely? Or just had a good stretch of games? I'd bet the latter because he reverted back to normal postseason performance in following years.
I'm with everyone on chiding the media for saying Price flipped his choker narrative this season, because he didn't. He just had a good stretch of games. His good 26 innings this year don't outweigh his poor 73 innings in his prior postseason experience. Same with A-Rod. If we're complaining about sample size (A-Rod's 280 career postseason AB's as being not enough to draw judgement), then certain 8 games in a single postseason isn't enough to swing a narrative one way or the other. It isn't random when looking at the entirety of one's performance over his career. It is when random when looking at David Price's 2018 or A-Rod's 2009 postseason success.

Josh Higham said...

Something that should be obvious but apparently is not is that there's a confidence interval around any statistic that you want to use to represent something larger than "this is exactly what happened in the specified number of events." Statistically, there is not a difference between a .290 in the postseason and a .298 in the regular season over a long career--the sample simply is not big enough. There's also not a difference statistically between hitting .084 in the NLDS and hitting .320 in the regular season, because that .320 is going to contain a bunch of stretches of .084 and a bunch over .400. That's just baseball.

Anonymous said...

Josh, but what if the "bunch of stretches" are consistently during the same time of the season? What would you conclude from a hitter who hits well below his career norms every June? Nothing? Or that he hits poorly in June? Now substitute June for October and you can say that he hits poorly in the postseason. Its not a perfect correlation or a rock-solid stat, but I think it's a fair assessment of a players "clutch" performance. I side with PBN on this one.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, we're being asked to conclude that sports psychologists have an effect because (1) some athletes use sports psychologists and (2) some athletes that use sports psychologists say they have an effect. This is anti-science malarkey.

BxJ and Harper are the ones conveying truth on this thread. There are oodles of examples of players who perform poorly in the postseason and then revert roughly to their career norms when the sample size is large enough. Similarly, there are oodles of examples of players who perform well in the postseason and then revert roughly to their career norms when the sample size is large enough. There are exceptionally few players who satisfy two conditions: (1) they have a large enough sample size of postseason ABs; and (2) their postseason numbers are meaningfully different from their career numbers. ARod has been floated as a possibility, but I don't think his postseason sample is large enough, and a huge percentage of his ABs were backloaded to the latter parts of his career when he was with the Yankees. I bet if you compare his postseason numbers to the average of only the regular season numbers after which his postseason ABs occurred, they would look much closer. This would cut out most of his Seattle seasons and all of his Texas seasons (when he was at his best and did not play the postseason).

Here are things I believe that I have not seen tested or convincingly shown with data: (1) ability to perform in pressure situations is a skill distributed across the population just like any other skill; (2) it stands to reason that this skill is distributed across the population of MLB players too; (3) MLB players are selected for this skill, the same way they are selected for other skills (the distribution of throwing arm strength is very narrow across the population of MLB players compared to the population as a whole); (4) there are some MLB players who are better than other MLB players at performing in pressure situations, but these differences are exceedingly small and are unlikely to show up in the data (note: the proper measure for ability to handle pressure is the difference between the player's performance in pressure situations vs that same player's performance in non-pressure situations); (5) MLB players can get both better and worse at handling pressure situations, for myriad reasons; (6) given my (postulated) assertion that the difference in ability to handle pressure among MLB players is small, combined with the assertion that players' ability to handle pressure is not fixed (it can go up or down over time) and the relatively small sample of postseason ABs that most players have (not to mention the fact that these ABs may not be evenly distributed throughout a career), it's essentially impossible to show that "ability to perform better in the postseason" is a real, predictable thing. Derek Jeter is probably the best test we're ever going to have: tons of postseason ABs all throughout a very long career, and his postseason record is very similar to his regular season record.

Absence of proof is not the same as proof of absence, however. It's certainly possible that some players are meaningfully better (or worse) clutch performers than others and that they stay that way. But literally ALL the careful data/analysis that has been done fails to reject the hypothesis that "clutch" performance is no different from "ordinary" performance for all players. The existence of sports psychologists is much too weak as evidence in the other direction to force updating priors (indeed, it's not really evidence).

Ole PBN said...

For the sake of friendly discussion, I'll go along with Jeter being the only viable candidate for this analysis. But still, his numbers are only equivalent to one season. So that's enough? Compared to a career? Where are we drawing the line? My point was that people were comparing RISP numbers to career numbers. I was attempting to refute that comparison as illegitimate. RISP is strictly dependent on game situation (late-innings, key matchups, etc.) - similar to how RBI's are not a good measure of player production due too many surrounding factors. I chose postseason as the entirety of a 9-inning game is factored in, with the postseason games representing higher-leverage situations in contrast to regular season games.

Even then, when you look at Jeter vs. the top 10 players with the most postseason plate appearances, he is essentially the only one where is his postseason numbers align with his regular season production. Everyone else on that list (aside from Ortiz and Yady) are considerably worse performers in the postseason. This leads me to conclude (and fairly I think) that it is harder to deliver in the postseason, or in the clutch, than normal circumstances during the regular season. Duh right? Well that makes a player like Jeter all the more impressive. That he is consistent regardless of the "pressure." The argument I presented originally was not so much what makes someone "not clutch" but what makes a player "clutch."

Bottom line, I think the postseason analysis, while certainly not perfect, is the closest thing we can use to determine what a "clutch" hitter means. Sample size-dependent of course.