Looking to take your mind off of, um, current events?

Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs has a new post up about Allen Craig. As you undoubtedly know by now, the Cardinals’ first baseman/outfielder is in the midst of a couple years of outstanding (unprecedented, really) hitting with runners in scoring position. Craig, to be sure, has been an excellent hitter overall, but he’s been particularly effective when runners are at second and third.

His accomplishments fuel the debate about whether hitters are “clutch” — meaning, not just that they hit well in high leverage situations, but that they hit better than they normally do in those spots. Research shows that few hitters can sustain hitting above their normal rate for long. For example, Tony Perez had a line of .279/.341/.463 over his career. With RISP in all cases, he hit .284/.364./470. With RISP and two outs, he hit .258/.352/.430.

Turns out that the qualities (eye-hand coordination, pitch recognition, focus, discipline, handling pressure, etc.) that made a hitter like Pete Rose or Joe Morgan great were evident all the time, not just with RISP. And that’s the case for the vast, vast, vast majority of players. That’s not to say you can’t find players with higher average with RISP than overall, but you’d expect that with a normal statistical distribution. When you flip a coin 1000 times, it rarely ends up heads 500 times.

So what to make of Allen Craig? Is he just at the extreme tail end of the Bell Curve, or has he mastered clutchiness? Sullivan’s post systematically goes through possible explanations for Craig’s profound RISP split, including quotes from Craig himself. Sullivan’s conclusion eventually is standard stats stuff:

This is the part I hate writing: Allen Craig has a really interesting career split. It’s my belief that, over time, things will balance out. That’s such a stereotypical analyst perspective, but the fact is that most things regress, and regression spoils a lot of would-be fascinating stories. Craig, for his part, denies his approach changes much depending on the situation. The guy who gave Craig his contract doesn’t think there’s more to good hitting than good hitting. The only reason to believe something’s different is what the numbers say, and the numbers are based on limited samples. And so on and so forth — you know this part by heart.

But take the time to read through the entire piece to better understand the argument, how he reaches his conclusion, and the uncertainty around it. For those of you who are skeptics of the modern theories about this, you can at least better appreciate how it’s approached.

Please — before you comment — this is a thread about the Sullivan article. I’d appreciate it if you don’t skip reading it and just post one-sentence snarky opinions on clutchiness. (We all know that the place for one-sentence snark is the recap or game thread.) If you’re going to comment on this thread, please read the article and give it some thought.

It beats rehashing the base running mistakes.