Much has been made of the Brewer's supposed inability to hit in the clutch and how it has cost them numerous baseball games this year. The theory goes that if the Brewers could simply play up to their potential with runners in scoring position (RISP) they would have a much better record. As proof of the Brewer's woes with RISP, their batting average with RISP is usually offered up. Currently the Brewers have a .244 BA w/RISP, tying them for last place in the National League. On the surface, it would appear that there is merit to the anti-clutch theory. A little digging actually gives a much different look, however.
To gauge a team's ability to produce runs, OPS is a metric that is commonly used. In measuring a team's abilities with RISP, however, the use of OPS has been criticized by some. The reasoning is that a team will inherently inflate their OPS w/RISP because of the increase in walks in that situation. To adjust for this, I will use BA+SLG w/RISP to gauge "clutch ability." I will then compare that to the Brewer's overall BA+SLG while comparing both to all other NL teams.
National League, Clutch Comparisons
First, let's look at batting average:
The first thing to note is that the Brewer's overall batting average is very low, ranking them 13th (tied) out of the 16 NL teams. With runners in scoring position, the Brewers lose 12 more points, lowering their batting average to .244 and their rank to last (tied). While 12 points isn't insignificant, its actual effect from game to game is almost 0. If the Brewers had hit 9 more hits in their 747 AB w/RISP so far in 2005, their BA w/RISP would have equaled their overall BA. That's one extra hit w/RISP for every 10 games! Even over estimating the impact of those 9 hits would only give you a difference of about 2 wins.
But batting average is only half the story of "clutch ability." The other half is how much power a player hits with w/RISP. After all, with RISP, more extra base hits equals more runs. The Brewer's SLG is actually 1 point higher w/RISP. Also, considering BA is a part of SLG, they actually hit for significantly more power w/RISP. The use of the stat "Isolated Power" (SLG-BA) illustrates this:
So, while the Brewers have had less hits w/RISP, they have compensated by hitting for more power in those instances. What's the overall effect?
Milwaukee's "clutch ability" is almost exactly inline with their overall performance. In fact, only one other team (Washington) has a smaller difference between their BA+SLG w/RISP and overall. Milwaukee's BA+SLG difference works out to only one base hit w/RISP every 18 games.
Instead of the Brewer fans and media focusing on the Brewer's inability to hit in the clutch, perhaps they need to focus on the Brewer's inability to hit for overall average. The notion that the Brewers are anti-clutch is a fallacy; all players in the majors fail to get a hit w/RISP about 73% of the time. Don't blame the Brewers for that, blame the nature of the sport.