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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The clutch gene exists and Jack Morris is proof of it, existence of 'clutch' is dividing line for baseball thinkers-MLB.com, Lyle Spencer

1/22/13, "The clutch gene exists, and Morris is proof of it," MLB.com, Lyle Spencer

"A few hours before Game 3 of the 2012 World Series in Detroit, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was asked if his team’s extraordinary ability to elevate its performance level in October was evidence of the existence of the clutch gene.

“Well,” Bochy began, weighing the question with characteristic restraint, I agree in the fact there are clutch players. I'm not just talking about our club -- I think [it exists] throughout baseball, whether it's a pitcher or a position player.  Some seem to be better players in a critical part of the game. You need a hit, some guys have a knack for getting a big hit.

“Our guys have done a better job the second half. If you look at the first half, we had a tough time at times with men on base, even putting the ball in play, but they've done a better job the second half. In fact, they've done a tremendous job.

I disagree with those who don't think there are clutch players and players who are better players when something good has to happen for their team to win a game. I think your great players, for the most part, are those types of players. They seem to play better when the club needs them. The higher the stakes, the more they do elevate their game -- hitters, pitchers alike.”

On the strength of timely hitting, pitching and defense, the Giants completed a sweep of the Tigers, lifting Bochy to his second World Series title in three years.

Soon a familiar debate, framed around a Hall of Fame election process that yielded no inductees, was raging again.

Nowhere do New Age thinkers and Old School lifers collide more harshly than in the realm of clutch performance. Although it is an essential element of any Old Schooler’s view, it generally doesn’t exist among New Age advocates who make reference to something identified as "random variance." And even if it does exist, they claim it is impossible to accurately measure clutch performance given the relatively small sample sizes.

If this is where the rubber meets the road in the clash of the two schools of thought, the fellow standing in the middle of the intersection is Jack Morris.

The debate long has been focused on clutch hitting, with relatively little attention paid to clutch pitching. Bill James, the acknowledged godfather of stats, has adopted what amounts to an agnostic approach on the subject.

“I take no position whatsoever about whether clutch hitting exists or does not exist,” James once said. “I simply don’t have any idea.

“There is so much clutch ability in Major League baseball that it is difficult to identify and quantify. Major League baseball players are a very select group. Even the worst Major Leaguers are among the most elite baseball players in the world. The difference in ability between the best and the worst big leaguers is not that great.”

James, at turns, has been somewhat critical of his disciples in the numbers community for the stridence of their anti-clutch stances.

Morris is the model of the pitcher who rises to meet the highest challenges. And although this endears him to those who live inside the game, the analytics movement isn’t nearly as impressed, claiming he is no more qualified for enshrinement in Cooperstown than a number of pitchers who fell off the ballot long ago.

A durable craftsman who racked up 254 career wins in 18 Major League seasons, Morris has seen his Hall of Fame candidacy routinely quashed by the numbers fraternity pointing to his 3.90 lifetime ERA.

No man has earned induction with an ERA that high -- but none of those immortalized pitchers spent an entire career in the American League in the ERA-inflating designated-hitter era,
as Morris did.

It is not known how heavily, if at all, this anti-Morris analytics campaign factored into the voters’ thinking in the 2013 election. But he once again fell short of the 75 percent requirement in the balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Attracting 67.7 percent of the vote -- a rise of only one percent after a jump of 13.2 percent in 2012 -- Morris was left facing the likelihood of falling short in 2014, his final year on the writers ballot. Only Craig Biggio drew more votes (three), but Morris’ prospects are dimmed by the appearance on the next ballot of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Morris’ best shot at Cooperstown now might rest with the Veterans Committee. For those who played both with and against him, Morris’ inability to break through the Hall of Fame gate is perplexing. They point to his remarkable durability and reliability as well as his October brilliance....

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, no stranger to clutch hits and Morris’ teammate in Detroit, is an impassioned supporter of the pitcher’s Hall of Fame candidacy....

October, in part, defined Morris, but he also delivered in September during stretch runs. His 3.26 ERA in 102 career games in September and October was his best of any months.

Although the postseason is, indeed, a relatively small sample size, some of the greatest pitchers of the past 70 years -- notably Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Mariano Rivera -- would not be as revered without their October resumes."...

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