Despite what it may feel like, this Reds season is far from over. To be exact, 96% of the season has not been played yet. But we have already reached a point where doubt and concern have reared their heads. Injuries, roster decisions, and poor play out of the gate have led to some pessimistic feelings, despite a strong off-season and favorable projections. Others are looking on the bright side, like our own Nick Kirby, who likes what he has seen despite the poor results.

Aside from how we choose to feel about the Reds so far, there are objective observations we can look at to try and understand what we have seen. Small sample sizes for individual stats make it impossible and illogical to predict what will happen based on five games, but there are other facts we can look at. One of those is Win Probability Added.

As Nick pointed out in the article linked above, three of the four losses were very close games, all decided by one run. To get a sense for just how close the games were, I used individual Win Probability Added, which considers the leverage of each at-bat and quantifies how much it contributed to the result, either positively or negatively. Looking at some key player’s performances in the Milwaukee series, the results are very telling. These games had very high leverage situations, and given the quality players that under performed, things could have easily gone the Reds way. The player details show just how close and volatile the games were.

Raisel Iglesias

Iglesias trended downward for most of 2018, giving up more hard contact and more home-runs per fly ball than ever before. Only time will tell if he will return to his dominant form from 2016 and 2017, but his appearance on Monday was certainly a step in the wrong direction.

April 1st was the 8th worst game in terms of WPA (-0.30, or a 30% decrease in win probability) in his career. Iglesias gave up a 9th inning double to Ryan Braun which broke a 3-3 tie and earned himself a loss. In his career, Iglesias has 26 losses or blown saves, and this was a bad game even relative to those as this fell into the bottom 4% of all games he has ever played. A poor performance in a very high leverage situation proved too much to overcome for the Reds.

Joey Votto

Votto is another Red who had a forgettable 2018 (at least for Joey’s standards) and looks to bounce back this year. No stranger to slow starts, Joey failed to convert on some crucial opportunities this week that could have not only boosted his stats, but given the Reds some wins.

On Monday, Votto came to the plate against Josh Hader in the bottom of the 9th with a runner on second, needing just a single to tie the game. Wednesday, he also had an at-bat with a runner on in the bottom of the 9th. Both appearances ended in fly outs.

Both games are in the bottom 2% of -WPA (total negative WPA) for his career. He didn’t have awful games overall, but those plate appearances had high enough leverage to drive significant negative value, something that Votto does not normally do.

Michael Lorenzen

Lorenzen has not been quite as reliable as Iglesias in the Reds bullpen, but he is still a valuable asset who has been above average each of the past three seasons. On Tuesday, Lorenzen entered the game with two outs and two on, coming on to face Orlando Arcia, who blasted a three-run homer to break the 1-1 tie. That reduced the Reds chances of winning by 34%, and contributed to the 7th worst game (bottom 4%, in terms of WPA) of Michael’s career.

Eugenio Suarez

On Wednesday, Suarez was the Reds last chance with two outs and a runner on, needing an extra base hit to avoid the shutout. Eugenio had gotten his first homer in Tuesday’s game, and given he went five straight games with a dinger last year, a walk-off was not out of the question. He could have improved the Reds chances of winning by 80% and had the highest WPA game of his career.

Unfortunately, he grounded out and ended the game. Given the poor result and amount of leverage tied to that at-bat, it came in as his 12th worst WPA, or bottom 2% of his career. Interestingly, his strong game on Tuesday is in the top 2% of his career, as his performance improved the Reds chances to win by 31%.

Scott Schebler

A Reds post this week would not be complete without a mention of how poorly Scott Schebler has played. I personally am still high on Scott, but his WPA this week (along with every other stat), particularly against the Brewers, was very, very low.

Some key at bats were his RBI groundout with bases loaded on Tuesday (-0.019 WPA), 8th inning strikeout on Wednesday (-0.063 WPA), and his 9th inning strikeout against Hader on Monday (-0.163 WPA). All told, these game totals of WPA are the 14th, 17th, 19th worst of his career, all in the bottom 5%.

The Brewers

The Brewers are a good team who won 96 games last year. Given their shutdown bullpen, it is no surprise they went 33-19 in one run games in 2018. And while Josh Hader pitched well and picked up two saves this week, it was a starting pitcher and outfielder who did the heavy lifting.

Freddy Peralta is beginning just his second season in the big leagues, but his performance Wednesday (0.64 WPA) nearly doubled his next best WPA output from last year (0.37 WPA, also vs the Reds). That’s what happens with 11 strikeouts over 8 innings and only one run of support. Peralta put Milwaukee on his back in a big way.

Ryan Braun, who has played over 1500 games in his career, turned in the 21st best WPA of his career, breaking into the top 1%. Braun’s late double off Iglesias on Monday ultimately gave the Brew Crew their first of three victories in what proved to be a disappointing but very closely contested week in Cincinnati.

23 Responses

  1. Show Triple Slash

    Interesting analysis, Matt; a very good read.

    • Alexander McEntire

      Good read. Do you think Reds have any chance of correcting this poor play before another 3 – 18 start happens?

      • Matthew Habel

        I do not think it is something that needs correcting. They have lost close games that could have gone either way. They have good players who will perform better.

        (Almost) Every team goes through a 1-5 stretch. We are reacting to it this much because it is the only thing we have to react to.

  2. Big Ed

    I agree with the research that shows that there is really no such thing as “clutch.” If a guy could improve his game simply by bearing down harder, then he should always bear down harder. A guy gets a reputation for being clutch by performing in “clutch” situations the same way he would perform in a normal situation. Without looking it up, I would guess that Derek Jeter generally performed similarly in the post-season as he had in his regular seasons.

    However, I do believe in “negative clutch,” or choking. Some guys can’t perform when their back is against the wall. We’ve all seen players miss free throws, when they are too tight to shoot their normal shot. And anybody who remembers Calvin Schiraldi on the mound in Shea Stadium in the 1986 World Series knows that the “clutch” can completely intimidate some players.

    I heard a theory yesterday that the first 3 weeks of the season are important, as “clutch” type games. In April, players are trying to get into their rhythm and self-conscious about how they are doing. From then until about September for the contenders, the players all get into grind mode, where they are what they are. But April and (for contenders) September are the months where the pressure of the game can get to a player.

    The Reds’ hitters are a good example of this. They aren’t playing with any confidence, and just basically stinking the joint up. They haven’t yet found a way to relax enough to get through the “negative clutch” mode that they are in now.

    I think it is going to get uglier before it gets prettier. You can even see it with Backfire Bell as manager. Pinch hitting a replacement level guy in a clutch situation for Jesse Winker? Removing Mahle (78 pitches in) for a pinch hitter, when you could justify a bunt? Bell is not inspiring confidence in his players or in the customers.

  3. Scott Gennett

    I think these few first weeks will be perfect to assess the roster capabilities and look into the near future to find out, for example, what to do when Wood returns from DL if Mahle performs well or about the OF if Ervin smokes in Louisville.

  4. Michael

    All these geeky stats and excuses can’t betray that the team was built with older and declining pitchers, castaways from other teams, and a continued complacent attitude by the players. There is no fire for winning. Hasn’t been for some time. And there is no excuse. Millionaires don’t care on the field and in the front office. Money and analytics have ruined baseball.

    • Matthew Habel

      Thanks, Michael. Have a great day!

  5. seadog

    Great article.

    Yes, 96% of the season left. Plenty of time to turn it around. Kind of off the subject. But, did anyone else hear Kemp (during his at-bat last night) tell the catcher “I just work here”. Did I imagine he said that? Did anyone else catch it? Does anyone have the game on DVR? I swear I heard/saw him say that plain as day… I may be wrong. Let me know. I am a Kemp fan. I feel he should be out there everyday. That said. Not what I wanted to hear from him… Thoughts?

      • seadog

        Correct, does not matter in the long run. Just found it very odd. Not a good sign. Almost sounded like “I am just here to collect my paycheck”. Kemp could be just trying to lay low. He could be trying to say-I don’t care, My $ is guaranteed. I don’t think he would say the latter…Just hope it is not a sign of discontent.

    • seadog

      Agreed-would like to know what he asked?

  6. Matthew Habel

    This type of analysis describes what happened, and yes, Reds players did not get hits in important situations. But research on the subject has shown that it has no predictive value on determining if a player will continue to hit (or not hit) in future high leverage situations.

  7. Phil

    It is difficult for me to get my head around the idea of there not being such a thing as a clutch player.
    The numbers for Derek Jeter, a player most would consider “clutch”
    Career regular season 310/377/440
    Career playoffs 308/374/465
    So maybe he wasn’t necessarily a “clutch” player, he was just good all the time?

    Clayton Kershaw’s postseason numbers, on the other hand, look much worse than his regular season.
    Regular season 2.73 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 3.19 xFIP
    post season 4.32 ERA, 3.75, FIP, 3.38 xFIP
    (looking closer at his number, such as 8.2% hr/fb regular season vs. 14.9% in the postseason might explain some of this rather than just not being clutch. that’s past my understanding of the stats though)

    Are there many examples out there of players with much better or worse numbers in “clutch” situations than their career averages?

    • Big Ed

      Steve expressed the research findings that over the long run, players do not perform measurably BETTER in the “clutch” than they do normally.

      They can perform WORSE in the “clutch” than they normally do. Ask Steve Blass, who developed an extreme case of being unable to let his body do its thing.

      The Reds’ hitters are pressing, and will eventually break out of it. But it could get worse over the short term.

  8. Vada

    So what’s wrong with this picture concerning the Reds? There’s a simple explanation. Curt Flood. Single-handedly he brought FREE AGENCY to the game and it instantly became a business instead of players having FUN. Like all businesses there is greed along with a narcissistic attitude among the employees. Instead of players having FUN the driving force has become securing a WS ring (at all cost). Who is to blame? No, not the owner, not even the GM. Not the coaches either. Not even the players are to be blamed. The fault lies at the feet of the fans who every year keep paying to observe employees of a business go to work on the diamond. They subscribe to cable TV packages and online streaming services to watch these employees perform. All this takes place because the fans have become ADDICTED. And who do we see “running to the bank”? Certainly, it’s not the fan. Go ahead and enjoy the game but don’t expect narcissistic ballplayers to care about the fans. We can thank Curt Flood for this NEW AND IMPROVED business we call baseball. I miss the game of the 60s. Think about this: a World Series between the WORST team in each league would be no different than the current system.

    • Doug Gray

      I’m incredibly happy that the people we want to watch are getting their piece of the pay today rather than like in the 60’s when they barely got any of the revenue generated by the game. The owners aren’t ever going to give you back the money, even if they somehow find a way to cut the players piece of the pie.

      The game today is FAR better because the players get paid properly.

    • Big Ed

      Curt Flood lost his case in the US Supreme Court. He inspired Andy Messersmith and others to do what they did in ultimately winning free agency, but Flood didn’t win his case. He played a couple of more seasons with I think the Senators, then retired.

  9. PhP

    My only beef with relying too much on analytics is the assumption that the methodology or interpretation behind the statistics is the correct one. It could be that “clutchness” doesn’t exist, but it could also be that a correct methodology to measure it hasn’t been developed yet.

    Everyone intuitively knows stress or high leveraged situations exist and the human body is geared to have a physiological reaction to stressful situations. I would agree with the poster above who said they believe there are such thing as “chokers”, so I do believe the inverse is true to some extent.

    • Big Ed

      There may well be a qualitative factor that is being missed. Jeter, for example, performed pretty much equally in the post-season as the regular season, but presumably the pitchers he faced in the postseason were better than the league average he faced in the regular season.

      Or perhaps the Jeters of the world can smell when the pitcher is cowed by the “clutch” situation, and uses it for a competitive edge (such as figuring that pitcher would overthrow his breaking pitches).

      But those things haven’t been measured.

      • PhP

        Exactly. I’m not saying there is or isn’t. But I feel like with all the possible variables out there, and some that are nigh on impossible to measure, that is a disservice at the minimum and borderline arrogant to parrot these statistics like they are the be all end all.

  10. Jay

    Why is Tanner Roark pitching? Its meshing up the rotation. Don’t they realize that Sonny Gray needs reps to stay sharp if he’s going to overcome that ugly start?

  11. Matthew Habel

    Exactly. Clutch hitting exists, but it is not a skill.

    In the Reds case this year. they have been very unclutch so far, but that doesn’t mean they will continue to be.