Friends, Cincinnatians, countrymen, lend me your ears. Too often, lately, have we fought amongst ourselves. We are brothers and sisters. Mothers and fathers and children. We should be friends and not fight amongst ourselves.

Still, there is a rift within the community and it is centered upon none other than Joey Votto, the Prodigal Son. It pits us against one another and must be dealt with. This, fair countrymen, is my modest attempt…

The arguments we have been having are statistical arguments. I know many of you don’t think of yourselves as “stats” people, but you are. What I mean by that is that you have stats that you trust (like average with RISP and RBI) and you think they are better than the stats some of the rest of us trust (OBP, WAR, etc.). The argument we are having is over which of these stats better tells us how good a player is. I hope we can agree on that. If not, then I don’t know how this discussion can move forward.

The argument many, including myself, would make is that RISP and RBI aren’t good stats because though they might tell you what has happened, they don’t tell you how likely something is to happen in the future or how much control a player really had over that.

Now, before I start my real argument, I want everyone to pause and ask yourselves a question: Can you be persuaded? That is, is there anything that can convince you that how someone has hit this season with RISP or how many RBI a player has are not numbers that really tell you much of value about that player. If not, then you aren’t really willing to engage in a debate. You are taking these stats as articles of faith and we can’t have a constructive conversation about it. You should probably leave now. (For the record: Yes, I can be persuaded and am willing to change my mind. Doing so requires statistically significant data.)

Okay, let’s get started…

Clutch Hitting Is Real

If you’ve been paying close attention to what I’ve had to say about clutching hitting lately, you’ll have noticed a lot of qualifiers, “most,” “nearly all,” that kind of thing. This is because clutch hitting does exist. At least, a little.

Brace yourselves, there’s about to be math (though, frankly, I’m an English teacher. If I can handle the math, you ought to be able to).

Still the best discussion of clutch hitting that I am aware of is from a book called Baseball Between the Numbers that the Baseball Prospectus team put out in 2006. The particular chapter is written by Nate Silver. And here, basically, is what he did…

In looking at what constitutes clutch hitting, Silver did not use numbers like average with RISP. The reason here is fairly simply and I’m sure most of you see it now. A solo homer in a tie game in the ninth is way more clutch than a bases clearing double in 14-3 blowout. So he looked closely at those plays that actually affect how likely a team is to win a game. This is called Win Expectancy and you can see a version of it in the Fnagraphs charts that are posted at the end of many recaps here at RN. For instance, here’s yesterday’s game:

Source: FanGraphs

You’ll notice that Votto grounding into a double play really killed the Reds chances of winning.

Silver looked at many players and many seasons in compiling his data (this is the value of advanced stats, they let you look with many pairs of eyes instead of just one). And he did find evidence of clutch hitting. In the seasons he looked at (1972-2005), Mark Grace provided the most clutch value with an extra 13.68 wins happening over the course of his career because he hit better in the clutch (it comes out to about one win per 650 PAs). That’s significant, but it’s not gigantic.

The next important point to make here is that there are extreme seasons. For instance, at the time the book was written, David Ortiz had also been good for about one clutch win every 650 PAs, but much of that came from his remarkable 2005 season, when he produced 3.63 clutch wins.

So while clutch hitting exist, what Silver found is that a good clutch hitter enhances his offensive value about as much as a good base runner. It matters, but not a ton. Additionally, the in-season samples are so small that it fluctuates a lot from year to year so that in a given season, only about 10 percent of what you see is actual clutch hitting ability and the rest is chance.

So, has Joey Votto hit poorly in the clutch this year? Yes, he has. In fact, as some of you have pointed out, Fangraphs has a stat showing this. However, in their explanation of the stat, it’s made clear that this doesn’t have a predictive value except over very long periods of time. Therefore, when discussing whether or not Joey Votto has any clutch ability, we should look at his entire career and not 2/3 of a season. What we see then is that, yes, he does seem to have some positive clutch ability.

But don’t read anything into this year. It’s almost all noise and how he has hit in the clutch so far this season tells us so little about his abilities that we can’t make any kind of worthwhile inferences about how he’ll do for the rest of the season.


But there has been some new research since the Silver piece discussed above. Most notably, we have a better sense for how long it takes certain numbers to stabilize. That is, how long does it take before we can reasonably trust a number? You might be balking at this internally, but we all account for this mentally at the beginning of every season. For example, when a player goes 5 for 5 with 2 homers on opening day, no one assume he’s going to bat 1.000 with 324 home runs. That’s all stabilization is. It just tells us when we can actually expect that a player’s numbers have useful meaning.

Over at Fangraphs, you can find an article that tells you how many Plate Appearances a player needs for certain stats to being to stabilize. The threshold it uses is such that in the given amount of plate appearance, you can assume that half of what you see is the player and the other half is chance. This was determined by looking at mammoth amount of data and it’s a good gauge. A fair bit of it “feels” right, too. For instance, swing % stabilizes in 50 plate appearances. That is, if you’ve been watching games for, say a week and a half, and it feels like a player has changed his approach and is swinging at different pitches, you might very well be correct. That kind of change can be seen over a very small sample.

Let’s go back to Average with RISP. If you look at the figures in the linked Fangraphs piece, you’ll notice the absence of batting average. That’s because batting average doesn’t stabilize to the stated threshold in a full season (650) or less of PAs. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you, but let me put it this way: In 1987, Tony Gwynn hit .370. In 1988, he hit .313. He won the batting title both years, but that isn’t a stable batting average. The National League hit .261 in 1987 and .248 in 1988, so 1988 was clearly the tougher year for hitters, but it doesn’t explain away all the difference.

Still, BA does stabilize over time. I mean, we know Tony Gwynn was a better hitter than Zack Cozart. But would it surprise anyone if one year Votto hit .290 and Cozart hit .295? It would be odd, certainly, but we’ve seen stranger things. So BA takes a while to line out and even one season of it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about a player’s true talent level.

Then you take average with RISP, which is a subset of batting average, and well, you can’t tell anything from one year. The sample is just way too small. In his career Joey Votto has 914 PAs with RISP. That is maybe getting to the level we need to have some kind of reliability. In those PAs, he has hit .346 compared to .303 in all other situations. So, over his career, he has been better.

The problem is that we have to take such a wide view to get a good sample, other stuff changes. Votto now is not Votto when he was 24 or 25, so those samples aren’t especially valid, but take them out and we don’t have enough information to tell us anything.

And then there are the inherent RISP problems. Fielders are not ideally positioned as they may be holding runners on. Good pitchers allow fewer batters to reach and thus there more opportunities against bad pitchers with RISP. Also, if runners are on, the pitcher is laboring more, can’t throw balls in the dirt, etc. Which is why the league, as a whole, will tend to hit just a little better with RISP than without (.256 w/ RISP this year vs. .249 otherwise). In general, expect a four or five percent offensive improvement relative to average with RISP from any given player (that’s basically like saying an average player will have an OPS+ of 105 when batting with RISP). It’s tiny, but it needs to be accounted for.

So what does all this tell us?

1. Don’t worry about numbers with RISP. The samples are too small to tell us much.
2. Clutch hitting is an ability, but it only becomes apparent over the course of a career.
3. Joey Votto has done poorly in clutch situations this year, but that doesn’t tell us anything about how he’ll do during the rest of the season because the sample is too small.
4. Over his career, Votto has performed well in clutch situations and, at this point, his career has been long enough that this does tell us something about what we can expect from him going forward.

I don’t know if I’ve persuaded any of you, but this article is offered without malice. Questions are welcome and I’ll do my best to answer, but if you come in making assertions with no evidence, I may get a little prickly. Tomorrow, I’ll tackle RBI.

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at

Join the conversation! 102 Comments

  1. I don’t see anything in this article that I disagree with.

    One thing I don’t understand is:

    Votto has an exceptionally gifted eye. He makes the pitchers come over the plate or he takes his walks. I know the small sample size plays here, but why then is he having such a tough go at it when the bases are loaded THIS YEAR when he knows he is most likely gonna get strikes?

    • @RedTitan19: It’s because it’s a small sample. Everybody is gonna miss sometimes and sometimes they’re going to miss a few times in a row, even if they know what’s coming.

      Basically, he’s gifted, but not perfect. What you’ve seen this year is the imperfect, but it’s nothing to get stressed about because it is almost certainly just chance.

      I know you want a reason. We all want a reason. But there isn’t one, that’s just how baseball is sometimes. It’s why a ball smoked into the outfield is sometimes a rally-killing out and a dribbler off the shortstops glove scores two. That’s just the way it is sometimes.

      • @Jason Linden: OK. I know you say there is no reason but I’m not so sure. I know it cannot be proven by statistics but isn’t it at least possible his head isn’t right? He did miss considerable time for depression before so it is at least possible.

        I remember 2010 when he was a beast. I was in Iraq for most of the 2011 season so I didn’t get to watch many games that year. Last year from May-June he was unstoppable. And I am probably off, but it seemed like every 2-0 or 3-1 count, damage would follow. This year, with the exception of May, he is watching those go by. I think some of that could be that he feels pitchers won’t give in to him anymore because of his past success but he has stared at at some very hittable pitches en route to eventual walks. This is what Frustrates me this year.

        I do not oppose walks and I think Joey is having a very good offensive year but I, maybe unfairly, expect even more.

        And, like you said, I do look for a reason. It is my nature. Therefore I have a theory. I think he is not being aggressive enough on hitter’s counts because he is afraid he might be wrong and do something horrible (like pull a foul ball). Sounds silly, I know, but that stuff matters to him.

        • @RedTitan19: Sure, it’s possible that his head isn’t right.

          Here, let’s make some things explicit:
          1. You seem willing to acknowledge that, sometimes, a player is just going to miss or the hit won’t fall or whatever. It’s baseball, it happens.
          2. I will totally acknowledge that all players likely go through periods of not having their heads on right. That seems reasonable.

          The question is, how do you tell the difference. Either number one or number two can give you streaks of poor performance and neither seems to have long term consequences or it would show up in the stats.

          So, if his head isn’t right or if it’s just chance doesn’t matter. As far as all the information we have can tell us (and there’s a lot of information), we should expect him to be today what he has traditionally been.

          There will be good runs and there will be bad runs and we don’t really know why (that gets into something called Chaos Theory which I do not have enough college math to understand).

        • OK. I know you say there is no reason but I’m not so sure. I know it cannot be proven by statistics but isn’t it at least possible his head isn’t right? He did miss considerable time for depression before so it is at least possible.

          He won the MVP after missing some time (not, as many games even as last year) for his anxiety/depression…. related to the death of his father. I’m hard pressed to see what one has to do with the other in the current discussion. I just feel like that’s a crummy card to play to explain someone’s performance until Joey himself says something about it.

    • @RedTitan19: Not sure it’s fair to say that Votto will get strikes in that situation. He has walked twice in eight plate appearances with bases loaded (which you conveniently don’t mention). So with bases loaded, in one-quarter of his opportunities, the pitcher has chosen to walk him instead of throwing strikes.

      • @Steve Mancuso: Steve, when you use phases like “conveniently failed to mention”, you make it sound like I am purposely trying to degrade the guy. I have never done that. Just an honest question.

  2. Thank you for this article, Jason. I would like say one thing though (has little to do with your article): part of the reason the “traditional” stats still carry so much weight is that many of the sports writers, radio and tv announcers, and other public figures believe in them. Part of the problem is that they’re set in their ways; the other part is sheer laziness. If they simply did proper research into these stats with an open mind, they would be able to appreciate them a whole lot more (I’m looking at you, Marty and Thom).

    The effect then trickles down to the fans, many of whom are predisposed to believe in the “traditional” stats to begin with. When they’re told that the newer, more reliable stats are nonsense, they take it as fact. That’s part of the reason Marty and Thom are able to get away with their outdated views, as well as their attacks on players. They believe that if someone has the appearance of not hitting well in the clutch, then it must inherently be his fault. In particular, they make these assumptions after a Bruce or Votto SO, which makes it stick in the listeners minds more. People remember the bad moreso than the good, after all.

    In the end, I don’t believe that Thom and Marty are entirely to blame. The problem is far too widespread, and they’re both a symptom of the “old timers” views. They become a cause, however, when they go to no ends to ruin their listeners opinions of specific players.

    I wrote this without planning, so sorry if it’s rambling or doesn’t make sense.

    • @rhayex: I totally agree with you and know this is the case. I’m trying to convert people slowly and with reason and hoping that me and others like me will eventually win against Marty’s screaming.

  3. Nice post Jason. I agree with 99% of it. The one place I disagree is characterizing Joey Votto’s performance this year as not clutch. By any historical standard, his slash-line in “high leverage” situations (as defined by Baseball-Reference) this season is better than career performances by other hitters who have been suggested as “clutch.”

    These are career numbers in high leverage situations:

    Kevin Mitchell – .282/.364/.498
    Ron Gant – .255/.331/.480
    Dave Parker – .313/.368/.517
    Pete Rose – .318/.404/.428
    Johnny Bench – .271/.337/.475
    David Ortiz – .295/.393/.555
    Tony Perez – .300/.359/.491
    Roberto Clemente – .324/.374/.489

    Joey Votto – .361/.470/.661

    That’s Votto’s amazing career performance. What about this year?

    Joey Votto (2013) – .329/.450/.519

    Unless one is a prisoner of the RBI statistic or looking at small samples sizes (six AB with bases loaded), Votto is making an enormous contribution to the Reds offense this season, including in important situations.

    • @Steve Mancuso: Steve, I’m just using the Fangraphs definition of clutch, by which Votto is not doing as well as he “should.”

      • @Jason Linden: The problem with that is that it evaluates Votto with respect to his own (unbelievably great) past performances instead of other players. So you get people like one of the commenters below who thinks you’re saying Votto has been bad in key situations this year. When in fact he has been great, just not quite as great as usual.

        If any player were to replicate Votto’s high leverage performances this year for an entire career, it would be one of the most fabulous careers in baseball history.

  4. My primary confusion about the whole idea of a clutch player has nothing to do with statistics. It is a general confusion about how a player can hit well in clutch situations and poorly out of them.

    The players that Charlotte put forth were generally great offensive players: and they hit better (some of them slightly, but some significantly) in the clutch. For such great offensive players, they must be intense individuals, etc. So why do they not hit equally well in all situations? Is there some mental thing such that a player cannot focus on every at bat the same, so these “clutch” hitters choose to focus more in high leverage situations?

    Think how much better the Reds would be if Phillips hit as well with no one on as he does with RISP. Bruce would have 10-20 more RBIs. The team would have won a couple more games. Sure, if I have to pick ABs where he’s good, I’ll choose the RISP ones for Phillips, but I’d rather he always be good.

    The whole thing intuitively doesn’t make sense to me, because if a great player can hit better in key situations, and I mean significantly better, then it seems like a missed opportunity for the great player to be even greater—if they treat their other at bats in the same way.

    • @Hank Aarons Teammate: Something I didn’t have room for in the piece, but that I did find interesting is that clutch hitting correlates well with a high walk rate and a low strikeout rate. That is, players who control the strikezone and can make adjustments tend to hit better in the clutch.

      Given that, it may be that those players are simply better at hitting around shifts, adjusting to the ace reliever, etc. But it’s also one of those things that we haven’t figured out how to measure all the way. It is also, really, really tiny. I mean we’re talking about one run every 16 games or so, and that’s from the very best clutch hitters in the game.

      • @Jason Linden: Like you, I’m willing to be convinced. It’s just not very intuitive. That is, why does controlling the strike zone lead to outperformance in the clutch? The answer could be out there, but as you say, it’s not known at this point.

        • @Hank Aarons Teammate: I believe some of that is explained by the clutch walk Votto took the other day. There are situations where you need a homer. Then there are times when a single or walk is just as good. When a player can trade home run power for more contact (or whatever) where that is necessary, then that player is going to have especially good clutch numbers.

  5. In the other thread, I made this statement:

    One thing I would really like to see is how many RBI chances Votto has had vs how many actual RBIs he has generated and then compare this to other hitters around the league who also bat 3rd. I think this stat would go a long way to resolving what kind of offensive player Joey Votto tuly is.

    I also noted that Phillips has a ton of RBI because he has an OBP machine like Votto hitting in front of him, thus giving him more chances to drive in runs.

    I also pointed out that Votto has is own OBP machine hitting in front of him in the form of Shin Soo Choo, yet Votto has a significantly lower number of RBI in comparison to Phillips.

    Is there a stat that tracks actual number of RBI generated in RISP situations? It would seem Phillips is better at it than Votto just on the basis of raw numbers. Is this something you are going to address in the RBI article?

    • @CI3J: Yeah, that’s coming tomorrow.

      However, I can pretty much tell you that sample size is going to come into play there, too.

    • @CI3J: There can’t be any doubt that the reason Phillips has so many more RBIs than Votto is a combination of: (1) more opportunities, and (2) hitting .400 with RISP, along with (3) far fewer walks in ABs with RISP. A difference of 30 RBIs can’t be explained merely by opportunities, and the numbers back that up. I don’t have the precise numbers you want, though.

    • @CI3J: The stat you’re looking for is on baseball-reference.

  6. I agree about the laziness with the stats. I would love to see the Reds tv broadcasts introduce a “Stat of the Month” or something like that, and use it to educate their viewers. I don’t know if it would work. I watch games from other markets and they use other stats, they show the % of each pitch a pitcher has thrown that night, etc. Be worth a try.

    • @Bill Lack: Sure, wait for the local Cincy press. As a word of caution, don’t hold your breath (as it finally took ESPN to force Cozart out of the 2 hole). Dusty has the local press corp trained, that’s why it’s paramount to change the current regime and instill some new blood (hard nosed and driven would be a great place to start – sound familiar -instead of taking on your manager’s meandering personality) before it’s too late.

      So sad that when the Reds finally do have new blood, both on and off field management will have moved on, a huge chance will have been missed, and Red’s fans will be left holding an empty (check out MiLB – not one hitter in collective lot, great Winkler is hitting .271 at Dayton – used to see Red’s minor leaguers who were tearing it up hitting .325 to .350) bag.

  7. First of all, I like stats, but if anyone has a complaint about Joey Votto for any reason… (he’s cold toward fans, he doesn’t throw balls into the stands, he hit into a rally killing doubleplay, whatever).. then all I have to say is “What is the matter with you? You are watching this generation’s Joe Morgan or Vada Pinson or Ernie Lombardi right before your very eyes.”

    I’m not saying these are first world problems, because right now this isn’t a first world team in the NLC universe. I’m just saying, it was a loss. Think of how many other losses there would be if Votto was not a Reds. No one’s perfect. Geesh. Let it go.

    • @TC: Hallelujah!

      I was just saying that this morning. Instead of griping about every perceived slight and every failed at bat, we should be thankful every day to be fans of a team with a Hall of Fame caliber player like Joey Votto. You’re going to be miserable as a fan if you find complaint with Joey Votto.

      • @Steve Mancuso:
        I would say “expectations” is the reason that people were upset with Votto yesterday. Let’s be honest; if Cozart or Paul or Corky hit into the double-play, you were already prepared (half at least) for it. But Votto? You expect much more. You do not expect him to fail in that situation

        • @DK in Erie Pa: This is in no way directed at you. I understand you are simply explaining why others are complaining.

          But… Joey Votto’s not paid to meet the unrealistic “expectations” of fans.

      • @Steve Mancuso: Thanks for the article. I’m still struggling the RISP part but I can agree with the rest.

        The reason I write in response to Steve is that I think using absolutes like, “every perceived slight and every failed at bat” are neither true or helpful Joey catches very little grief around here. In the last couple of days? Yes but so did Johnny Bench during his career and the poor guy was recovering from cancer surgery when he got the worst of it.

        Yesterday was a very painful loss and we are used to Joey providing more in that 8th inning situation than he did. Some folks were angry and vented. I wasn’t even in the original group but when I witnessed how those guys were treated, I jumped in. They had a right to their own opinion, rightly or wrongly. The opinions, IMO, were not totally without merit. Why should JV or anyone else for that matter be off limits? We are grateful to get the opportunity to watch Joey play for our favorite team. Doesn’t mean we are enamored with everything the guy does.

        This is nothing winning 8 out of the next 10 games won’t cure.

        • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Tell me why you’re having a hard time with the RISP part and I’ll try to clarify/give more info.

          • @Jason Linden: I coached Little Leaguers for a long time. I noticed that some of the boys really struggled with runners on the bases because the crowd gets going, the coached and other players are screaming (rooting you on) at you, the opposing pitcher gets a real mean look on his face, etc. The boy would try to turn his bat to sawdust he would grip it so hard. Invariably he would fail but with the bases empty he would relax and hit as well as his skills would allow.

            I think this is human nature as we are not machines – even MLBers. So when I looked up guys with very good RISP, I started with the ones I thought would be good by my experiences and memories of watching them. Some were a disappointment: Tony Perez, Albert Pujols but I was mostly correct on the ones I chose: Clemente, Rose, Cabrera, Aaron, Y. Molina, Youk and even Joe Rudi as that SOB killed us in (2) World Series. So the guys that I remembered as “clutch” by my definition, were. They hit with RISP better than they did otherwise.

            Over the years, I have remembered so many big and game winning hits by JV, I knew that he must also be very proficient with RISP and lo and behold, he was. Except this year. Not terrible by any means but not Votto-like. I realize that is it anecdotal but it seems to me he wasn’t having the same success this year. This is by eye not stats and as such is not reliable. I’m not seeing the line drives deep in the gaps or going to the fences, but maybe my memory is lacking.

            Thanks for being so patient with a newby.

          • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: There’s no doubt in my mind that there can be huge RISP differences with little leaguers. The issue, I think, is that the “natural chokers”, if you will, are long gone by the time you get to MLB. It’s a very select group of people.

          • @Hank Aarons Teammate: Yeah but I wasn’t focused on the other end – chokers. But I probably know where to start if I did. Which I won’t. I like to focus on the achievers. I’m comfortable where the issue is. I’m seeing a lot more respect for people’s opinions on both sides and that is cool.

          • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: The issue with RISP is an issue with batting average. As I noted above, it takes a long time for batting average to stabilize. More than a season.

            AVG w/ RISP is really just another kind of batting average. But players see RISP infrequently enough that it takes years for there to be enough plate appearances to accurately judge how well a guy hits with RISP. That creates more problems because players, being human, change with age.

            And then there’s the fact that nearly all players end up with career numbers in RISP that mirror their other numbers (plus or minus a few percent as mentioned in the article).

            It’s not that we can definitively say there is no change among players when hitting with RISP it’s that we can never have a good enough sample to know. You just can’t judge a player on 80 or 100 at bats. It doesn’t tell you anything useful.

            Also, what Hank said.

          • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: There’s a huge difference between what you undoubtedly saw in Little League and the major leagues. By the time players reach the majors, you’ve pretty much weeded out the people who can’t handle stress. Anyone who can even hit .230 in the major leagues is substantially better able to handle stress than the average non-major leaguer.

            That’s why there is so little evidence that certain hitters (or teams) can sustain a higher average in big situations than at regular moments. Over time, it levels out. But Jason’s main point here is that for long stretches of the season, sample sizes are so small that random variation makes it look like one thing when it isn’t.

        • @CharlotteNCRedsFan: Thanks so much for your wonderful insight Charlotte. Absolutely knew that we had something related to baseball in common and that is the patience required to coach little leaguers and ‘manage’ the parents. It is also so sad when current major leaguers make horrendous mistakes that would not be tolerated from little leaguers (for example, Mesaroco’s horrible base running like passing 2nd base before a ball hit to the OF hits the ground). Dusty continues to wonder what these ML players are learning in the minors – try asking what they learned in little league.

          • @cincyreds14: Managing the parents is the hard part I’d bet… As for Mes’ baserunning blunder, yeah it was pretty dumb. I’d bet that Mes would be the first person to tell you he screwed up. It’s not like these guys don’t know better. I made a very similar mistake at 32 years old in an over-30 league. I was sure it was a gapper when it left the bat and I was busting it to try to score from 1B. In actuality it was caught easily and I was doubled off to end the inning. I got back to the bench to “What were you thinking?” All I could say was “I wasn’t.” as I put my catchers gear back on.

          • @LWBlogger: Thanks LW, it’s pretty simple though, players have to use their heads when playing ball (and its sad when they don’t as it may often cost them a ballgame as well quite possibly a post season berth). That’s why it would be great to have a stricter manager – Pete and Lou would have been up Mez’s you know what after not once but twice making boneheaded base running plays.

          • @cincyreds14: Not to go all “teacher” here, but there’s a ton of educational research (which also covers the coaching fields) to say that negative reinforcement has only negative effects. People respond overwhelmingly better to positive feedback.

            Think of it like this: Coach is always yelling. That coach probably doesn’t say anything when you do something good. You hate him and resent him. You make a mistake and want to hide, but tune out when he corrects you.

            Coach notices the good things, makes you feel good about who you are. You love him and want to please him. You make a mistake and feel terrible because you let him down and then try hard not to do it again.

    • @TC: Dude, please don’t compare JV to Morgan,Perez, Bench or Larkin … all Red’s Hall of Famers (and also bearers of WS rings). And with JV’s performance yesterday, as well as his recent fielding errors and drop off in power #s, he will simply not be among Reds greats.

      • @cincyreds14: I knew someone would drop something ridiculous like this eventually.

        1. I promise you all of the players you mentioned had really bad days. They didn’t come through every time, no one does (did you even read the post you’re commenting one).

        2. Votto currently has the 4th highest BA in a Reds uniform, the highest OBP, the second highest slugging percentage, and the highest OPS. He has, frankly, been among the best hitters the Reds have ever seen and absolutely belongs in the conversation with those players. He got a later start and has a ways to go before he is a Hall of Famer, but his career has a Hall of Fame start.

        • @Jason Linden: He’s trolling. Seriously. Mancuso posted high leverage stats yesterday, someone asked where to get them, and this guy posted “He just makes them up.” Plus the post saying Perez is a better clutch player than Votto…it’s pretty obvious to me.

      • @cincyreds14:

        Also, I do hope you’re aware that Morgan was traded by Houston because his ability to get on base wasn’t valued. Hmmm, who does that remind me of…

      • @cincyreds14: Please don’t call me dude.

      • @cincyreds14: Why do people troll their own team’s fan pages? In fact, why do people troll at all?

  8. Excellent post. I think in this long standing debate more people are in agreement than it would appear. Aside from your great explanation of stats, the key to your post as pertaining to the continued arguments here is point 3: “Joey Votto has done poorly in clutch situations this year.” I think that is the point that a lot of people, myself included, have tried to make, but we’re treated like war criminals for suggesting Joey Votto is anything but awesome. “ZOMG OBP!!!”

    Also like you said, his problems now are no predictor of future performance, but I don’t see many people arguing otherwise. Yeah, there are a few who are questioning his contract, but they are a small few. I think the majority are just Votto fans who are frustrated seeing him struggle, but most of those same people realize that Votto “struggling” is still a great ballplayer and the Reds are lucky to have him.

    • @RedZeppelin: Yes. I think we agree. I’ll also point out, however, that the use of a word like “problems” is what gets a lot of us going. There’s no evidence that he’s had problems. Instead, it’s probably just the Luck Dragon and nothing to get worked up about.

      • @Jason Linden: Agreed. But I think at some point it gets down to semantics. Saying somone has done poorly in clutch situations this year could be shortened to “having problems.” Neither is saying that the condition is permanent or statistically relevant over the long haul — just an observation of a small sample. But again, most teams would be thrilled to have Joey’s “problems” in their lineup.

      • @Jason Linden:

        I tend to agree with this. There is no underlying problem, just the “Luck Dragon.”

        This is a bit off the path, but one thing that also bugs me is when people attribute BABIP as “luck.” Votto has the 2nd highest BABIP (.376) in the NL behind Allen Craig’s .378. Anyone who has watched Votto’s season wouldn’t describe him as a “lucky” hitter. Probably the opposite. I like to think more along the lines of “Players with high BABIP wait on pitches they can handle, rather than hacking at anything close.” So, then I look at walk rate to determine if a player is particularly selective. Craig has a walk rate of 5.3% while Votto has a walk rate of 17.0%. Perhaps both luck AND selectiveness go into it, as I think most will agree.

        Great post, Jason. I enjoyed reading it. Can’t wait for RBIs and I hope to see something about wRC and/or wRC+ sometime. 🙂

      • @Jason Linden:

        Instead, it’s probably just the Luck Dragon and nothing to get worked up about.

        I mentioned earlier that the Old Cossack was in the stands, expecting Votto to rightfully deliver the game to the Reds and Reds’ fans during THE AB.

        Today, I reflect back to the opening night game against Washington when Davey Johnson opted to pitch to Votto with 1B open the winning run on 2B with 1 out. Votto hit a weak bround ball that just evaded the firstbaseman ranging to his right and was deflected into RF. The winning run scores, Votto is a hero and the Nation rejoices.

        Yesterday, Votto hit a weak ground ball that the firstbaseman fielded ranging to his right and turning it into a DP. The Reds lose, Votto is the scapegoat and the Nation demands a reason.

        Sometimes stuff just happens.

    • @RedZeppelin: Joey Votto has not done poorly in clutch situations this year compared to other players. He has done less well compared to his own astronomically high career numbers. But Votto — even this year — has been one of the best high leverage performers in either league.

      • @Steve Mancuso: Take it up with Jason. I only quoted him.

      • @Steve Mancuso: Very few if any have said otherwise. The poor guy has just set such a high bar. (Smiley Face).

      • @Steve Mancuso: Yeah, Steve, but when looking at clutch numbers, it’s really only valuable to compare a player to himself.

        • @Jason Linden: I disagree completely with that.

          If a player comes through in high leverage situations more than all the other players, that player is “clutch” in my book. If that’s the guy you want up there in a key situation, that’s clutch. Which of these guys do you want up there when the game is on the line:

          Player A: hits .320 in high leverage, hits .340 the rest of the time
          Player B: hits .300 in high leverage, hits .280 the rest of the time

          In my book, player A is more clutch because he succeeds more often in important situations. Which of those players “rises to the occasion” more than the others?

          It’s just flat wrong to say that it’s only valuable to compare a player to himself.

          • @Steve Mancuso: I think we’re just asking different questions. You’re asking: Does a player hit well in clutch situations? I’m asking: Does a player perform better or worse in clutch situations. For the first question, you only need to know if a player is a good hitter in general. For the second, you need all the stuff in the article.

  9. I love this article. One of my favorite pieces I have read here, which is saying a lot.

    • @Kyle: Agreed. Even if you’re not a buyer, you have to love Jason mediation skills. All the guys who write for RLN are aces. At times like these, with heated disagreements, it is important to see the larger picture. I appreciate the writers and the posters at this great blog.

      Nice thing is there is a brand new game tonight and will be a new book in itself. Reds are starting to show signs of life and hopefully the team is set to go on a serious roll.

  10. Just saw this article. Seemed appropriate.

    • @Bill Lack: I think Steve wrote that… Fess up Steve.

      • @RedTitan19: Ha. I wish I’d written it. You know that I didn’t though, because I don’t put myself through the torture of ever listening to Thom. This weekend, without Brantley, to avoid Brennamans I watched the games with no audio.

        • @Steve Mancuso: Most of the Reds games I’ve watched on TV have been without audio this year. I’ve been listening to music while watching the game. You miss some “sounds of the game” but I can’t even listen to Thom.

    • @Bill Lack:

      “As the kids might say: LOL.”


      That walk-off GS mentioned in the article is actually the subject of a 2013 Votto baseball card.

    • @Bill Lack: I am going to see about having that article tattooed on my arm.

  11. I’ll disagree mildly Jason that advanced stats are ‘predictive’. I like advanced stats for what they can reveal about the layers of how a players season has gone. Was it a bad year, or just an unlucky one? I think they are great at that.

    However, advanced stats are built on the foundation of previous results. (tangent: this is why I love the name of Basball Prospectus, past performance does not insure future results). So they might have some small meaning when a player is on a flat stage of his career, but can be meaningless when a player is on the upslope or downslope of his career, when their performance can not be modeled based on what has gone before. I liken it to the Heisenberg uncertainty priciple in particle physics, which basically states, “you can know a particles position or movement, not both.”

    WRT to votto this year, his is having problems (not an insult to him, just fact). Some he can overcome or they will even out over the long haul (ie luck), but others there is not much he can do about; the GIDP’s out of the 2-hole, IBB when phillips is slumping, carlos gomez making a great catch). We all have problems in our jobs and occupations, Votto is no different. He can only do what we can do, keep up the good fight. That’s all as fans we can ask for and expect.

    • @Lost and Found: They do have plenty of predictive value, though. I’m not going to go deep into that right now because that’s a whole nother article, but you can find plenty about this online if you want to look. They aren’t perfectly predictive, but they tell you a lot more about how good future performance is likely to be than most traditional stats. Also, there’s plenty of work done with aging curves that account for the non-flat portion of a player’s career.

      Otherwise, pistols at dawn.

      (I think we mostly agree)

      • @Jason Linden:

        Sorry, imperfect predictions don’t really get me excited one way or the other (ie lies, darn lies, and statistics). As I mentioned, adv stats enhance the history lesson, but beyond that, I not sure their value is worthy (perhaps some broad qualitative worth, but what’s the point then). ie you mention aging curves, where one tries to predict a players future perfor?mance based on ‘other players’ yet just a few posts above you say that cluchness can only be compared within a players own stats.

        Thats my biggest issue with any metric (trad or adv), is they tend to be broad/narrow when it suits them. So I watch/listen to the games, enjoy the good times, forget the bad, and generally try not to get caught in the weeds.

        “Always in motion is the future, difficult to tell.” sums it up nicely.

        • @Lost and Found: In the earlier post, I meant that if you’re measuring how clutch a player is, it only makes sense to measure his clutch performance against his other performance.

          If Zack Cozart was the clutchiest player in the world, you’d still rather have Votto at the plate because the gap is so wide. Even un-clutch Votto is better than the vast majority of major leaguers.

          If you just want stats that tell you about what happened, that’s fine. But there’s more there is you want to look for it.

          • @Jason Linden:

            But I think you miss my main point. The foundation of adv metrics are on what has happened, and as long as that is the case, their predictive value is undermined.

            I’m more in the camp of CI3J disclaimer below the one about the stories stats can and can’t tell.

          • @Lost and Found: Some statistics, while not perfect predictions, do give you an indication (at varying degrees of confidence) about the future. It’s not really about the sophistication of the statistic though, it’s about what they measure.

            Example: Who is going to hit more home runs next year, Jay Bruce or Brandon Phillips? You’d look at the statistic of home runs (measuring past seasons) and see that Jay Bruce regularly hits many more home runs than Brandon Phillips. So you can predict — again, not perfectly — that Bruce will hit more home runs than BP. That’s because hitting home runs is a repeatable skill.

            The home run is hardly measured by a complicated statistic, yet because the skill is so well defined, it has relatively strong predictive value from year to year.

            Just because a statistic doesn’t have perfect (I think you mean predict with certainty) predictive value doesn’t mean it has no value. We make statistics-based decisions every day that are on odds, not certainties.

          • But I think you miss my main point. The foundation of adv metrics are on what has happened, and as long as that is the case, their predictive value is undermined.

            I think you’re making a flawed assumption about whether past performance can predict future performance, under any circumstances.

            Extreme example: The sun has risen in the east for 5 million consecutive days. That is something that “has happened,” but I can comfortably use that data to predict tomorrow’s sunrise. There are statistical ways of evaluating a relationship between prior performance and future performance, and when the math lines up, we can (to a varying degree of reliability) predict future events.

  12. When I first saw this headline I was like Geez, can we move on from Joey Votto and the clutch thing. I was wrong. Thanks Jason, this was very good and informative.

  13. This is extremely interesting….

    On al’s reccomendation above, I checked out some advance batting stats on about Joey Votto and situational batting.

    In particular, I zeroed in on a few situations: Votto batting with baserunners and how often they scored.

    For this season, he has had 272 baserunners when he came up to bat. Of those, 32 ended up scoring for a rate of 12%. The MLB average is 14%. Votto for his career has an 18% success rate, but the telling thing is, before last year, he had 21%, 18%, 19%, 20%, then 19% again. Remarkably consistent.

    Then last year, when he was injured,the rate suddenly plunged down to 16%, then this year it’s at 12%.

    Very interesting indeed….

    For the record, Phillips’ career % is 16%, but this year he is having a 21% success rate. That would seem to be unsustainable.

    The other thing to note is that Votto, for his career, is exactly average at getting a runner in from 3rd with less than 2 outs (51%) while Phillips is quite a bit better than average (59%).

    These stats I think are getting closer to the heart of the matter.

    • @CI3J:

      By the way, I want to make something clear:

      I am in no way bashing Joey Votto. I love the guy bordering on homoeroticism. The day the Reds locked him up for 10 years, I was on a high for a solid week afterwards. I honestly could not believe the Reds could lock up a player of his caliber like that.

      That said, I think it’s fascinating to discuss his offensive output. Joey Votto is such a unique player that his output warrants deep study as has been the case on RLN of late. We live in an era where so much information is available that it is almost paralyzing, and that’s what makes this all fun. We can dig and find statistics that we think can help us to better understand what we are witnessing on the field.

      (I do want to add my usual disclaimer that I don’t think stats can or will ever tell the whole story about any given player, but boy is it fun to try to piece together what we can from the stats we do have available.)

    • @CI3J: Careful on one thing: BR’s stats call a walk with a guy on 3rd a “failure”, I believe.

      • @Hank Aarons Teammate:

        True, they are talking about how often the runner scored. If the bases aren’t loaded, walking with a runner on 3rd is, by this stat’s definition, a “failure”.

        Again, this goes back to what I said of expectation vs reality: I think it bothers people that a hitter of Votto’s caliber chooses not to swing and attempt to drive in runs but instead elects to walk and lets the job of driving in runs fall on those who bat behind him.

        • @CI3J: That sounds a lot worse than I think it is. I’m not sure Votto “chooses” to walk, it can be dictated by what the pitcher does.

          In addition, I’m not certain that Votto *could* drive in the runs that many want him to, but fishing either (1) out of the zone, or (2) at pitcher’s pitches.

          One instance is yesterday, when he fouled off an excellent pitcher’s pitch on strike 1 (a pitch he normally doesn’t offer at), and then rolled over a good cutter that jammed him on the second pitch. If he’d have taken both of those and they were called balls, he might have walked. Technically, that leaves the job of driving in most of the runs to others, as you put it.

          You pointed out he’s not Pujols, and I agree. He’s not the kind of powerful hitter that can go out of the strike zone and drive the ball into the gaps and over the fence.

          • @Hank Aarons Teammate:

            I do wonder about this. The long held theory on this board is that the reason Votto walks so much is because pitchers don’t give him anything to hit. However, I also think it’s because Votto’s eye is so good, he won’t even chase borderline pitches that he would actually be capable of doing something with.

            There are stats out there telling how many hits players get on pitches outside the zone. I would be curious to see Votto’s. As I said in the other thread, I sometimes feel Votto might be a little TOO selective when he’s hitting.

          • @CI3J: Don’t remember the exact game but Pete Rose was being intentionally walked one game (possibly in 1974 by the Giants) when he alertly hit an ‘intentional ball’ for a single that led to a rally and eventual Red’s win. Really have appreciation for aggressive sound baseball. Sorry but this team doesn’t appear to have have it and has instead has taken on the personality of their manager who sits on his can when he should be out arguing a call that could be a game breaker. As it is, the boys on my Little League teams always knew I would fight for them (and told me more than once they appreciated it). As such, I definitely feel a lot better than yesterday as I have greatly lowered my personal expectations of this team as they don’t appear to have ‘IT’ this year (after mistakenly thinking they had). Die hard Reds fan, but it looks to be another Cardinal year (as they have a tough nosed manager and also show they have ‘IT’).

          • @CI3J: Maybe, but also maybe that’s Votto’s MO. That is, he might hit best by guessing along with the pitcher, and him letting a pitch go is because he guessed wrong. And to fix that would be to make him a completely different hitter than he is, which might not be an improvement overall. I don’t know.

            It is true that he swings at a lot fewer pitches than he used to; ~30% of pitches outside the zone, and 68% in the zone in 2010, and 21% and 60% now. The problem with definitively concluding that he’s completely just passive now and wasn’t then is that because of his great 2010, along with Phillips backing him up (not a real power hitter), it’s possible that he sees a lot more bad balls, and a lot more pitcher’s strikes. Again, I do not know.

  14. When you get right down to it, how valuable is examining Votto’s “clutch” (oh, how I hate that word) numbers without a close look at how he’s being pitched in those situations?

    Who’s giving him anything to hit with RISP? Is he being retired on bad pitches, or just missing good ones?

  15. Aside: one reason that RISP for a typical player should be slightly higher than overall is that some balls that would be outs are either hits (infield in) or sac flies, with RISP.

    • @Hank Aarons Teammate: Actually, the NL RISP BA is .251 this year, slightly below the overall NL BA of .252. I haven’t looked at any other years so I don’t know if this is the norm. Maybe the factors you mention are offset by the impact of later inning RISP situations where the batter is more likely to be at a platoon disadvantage facing a fresh reliever.

  16. Excellent article. Speaking only for myself; I have commented this year (not yesterday – missed the game) how it seems like Votto hasn’t been “himself” in do or die situations. If this is normal career regression to his norm, that is fine and I hope/somewhat expect a 2nd half adjustment. But since it coincides with his injury it does make you wonder if there is something physical/mental that has changed from his 2010-12 “clutch” numbers. Time will tell.

  17. I’m on board with every point in this article and as I said in the recap yesterday, Joey Votto is an elite hitter who deserves to be paid what we’re paying him even in this market. But as much as I adhere to stats, there are players that have certain intangibles. There are guys who, when they come to the plate in a tight spot something in your gut just KNOWS they’re going to come through. As much as I hate to admit it, the first name I think of in that category is Yadier Molina. Pujols was that for a long long time too. Both of those guys are locks for the HOF and part of it is those intangibles. Joey will put up great hitting numbers for a log time to come and help us win a lot of games, but I just didn’t get that feeling in my gut when he came to the plate in the 8th yesterday. It is the opposite of scientific, but its how I’ve come to see Joey. Consistent, elite player but not one that gives me goosebumps anymore. And I wonder if opposing pitchers feel the same way.

    • @eric nyc: I don’t think that Molina is a lock for the HOF; a couple more great seasons, yes.

      Plus, I still suspect him of PEDs. His career arc is one that almost never, ever happens.

    • @eric nyc: I don’t think opposing managers feel that way. In the 20 plate appearances with the highest leverage this season, Votto has been intentionally walked 7 times. Unfortunately, these are the plate appearances that people are going to remember the most, and in the remaining ones he has underperformed, striking out 6 times to go with a HR and 2 singles.

      I really think it is just a small sample size issue (like when he was 1 for 8 with bases loaded in 2011), but I understand why people think he has done worse than he has since these situations are the ones where they will be paying the most attention.

      • @MentalGuy: I think Molinas defense and championships, plus playing a premium position, will put him in the HOF. Hea probably mt a first ballot guy, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t make it eventually. In any case he seems to be a guy that just always gets it done when he comes to the plate in a tight spot. At the very least against us.

    • @eric nyc: But how much is your own feeling the result of this season. What is Votto all of sudden dropped a couple of game winners? What if that homer hadn’t been caught against Milwaukee? I bet your gut would start saying something different.

  18. Here’s a thought that I haven’t really seen brought up: Maybe Votto is due to stabilize the rest of the way. There’s still about 40% of the season left. Maybe if Votto’s “clutch” statistics have any predictive value, they might suggest that he is going to hit .450 in those situations the rest of the year.

    • @mdgwsu: That would be awesome, but sadly it doesn’t work that way.

      Simple example:

      Player A has a “true talent” OPS of 1.000. Meaning, that’s how good he really is.

      Luck Dragon takes vengeance on player and he finishes the first 81 games with a .900 OPS.

      Given that his true talent is for 1.000, we would expect him to have an OPS of 1.000 for the rest of the season meaning he’ll finish around .950.

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About Jason Linden

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at


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