After last week’s post, you all got me thinking. Many of you agreed that the Reds will never make the playoffs while continuing to start Jose Iglesias or Freddy Galvis. Others disagreed, citing Iglesias’ clutch-hitting as his offensive value. And a few of you changed the subject entirely, pointing out Joey Votto as a bigger offensive sinkhole than Iglesias.

Well, I’m happy to announce that all of you (and me) are right. Also, you (and I) are all wrong. Let me explain.

FanGraphs calculates a stat called “Clutch” that measures “how much worse or better a player performs in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” In other words, does a player elevate his play at the plate when the game is on the line. As a stat, Clutch tends to follow the eye test rather closely. Fans know which situations are high leverage and which aren’t, so we remember more acutely those hits that a player has in big moments. When Jose Iglesias hits a home run in the ninth, it registers in our mind that Jose Iglesias knows how to hit a homer when it counts and thus ascribes a positive mental association to Iglesias’ offensive talents. The same but opposite principle works when Joey Votto strikes out in the ninth but homers in the fifth of a 7-0 blowout. Iglesias : Clutch :: Votto : Not. No advanced stats needed.

Except we have advanced stats, and as many of you rightly pointed out, Jose Iglesias leads the Reds with 150+ plate appearances in Clutch, and it’s not even close. Also of note, Freddy Galvis didn’t appear on this list because he doesn’t have 150 plate appearances with the Reds, but his -1.72 Clutch would rank dead last.

So yes, those of you who opined that Jose Iglesias is worth keeping around because of his clutch hitting are right. Also, those of you who pointed toward Votto’s lack of contributions being a bigger problem than Iglesias also score a point.  However, some caveats need to be made.

First, Clutch holds almost no predictive value. It is purely a stat that measures what has happened, with no guarantees that the player will continue to replicate a performance of similar Clutch level. To wit, Iglesias’ Clutch numbers over his last six seasons are -1.09, -0.67, 0.64, -0.69, 0.24, and 0.95, while Votto’s are 0.31, -0.34, -0.03, -0.80, 0.36, and -0.92. Essentially, it’s a crapshoot.

Second, Clutch measures elevation in performance, not just performance. A .300 hitter who hits .300 in high leverage situations will not earn a high clutch score because he’s simply performing at his average level. As such, worse hitters have more opportunity to be clutch because they have a lower baseline to clear. It doesn’t always work that way — Bryce Harper, a good hitter himself, leads the league in Clutch because he’s otherworldly with the game on the line. But that phenomenon partially explains why the above chart shows the heart of the Reds batting order as the least clutch members of the team.

To measure a player’s contributions at the plate, regardless of situation, FanGraphs uses a stat called WPA/LI. For every in-game event, a team’s win probability changes. For instance, if Josh VanMeter grounds out in the fifth during a tie game, the Reds’ win probability could drop by 0.05. If VanMeter grounds out in the ninth of a 10-0 blowout, the win probability would likely stay the same. Thus, VanMeter’s WPA goes down by 0.05 in the first instance and stays constant in the second.

Hopefully, you’ve noticed that WPA is context and situation dependent. WPA/LI neutralizes that, dividing a player’s WPA by his Leverage Index, which measures how large of a swing in WPA any event can cause. VanMeter’s at-bat in the tied game obviously carries more leverage than his at-bat at the end of the blowout.

With WPA/LI, we can measure how a player hits in a context neutral environment, or in other words, how much that player contributes to winning purely on their bat’s merits, not their “Clutch.” Here are the Reds ranks in WPA/LI, with 0.0 being average, 1.5 being above average, and 3.0 being great:

Intuitively, this chart makes more sense because the Reds’ best hitters are at the top. As we can see, even though Joey Votto hasn’t shown up in high leverage situations this season, he has in other situations. By WPA/LI, Votto is the fourth most impactful bat for the Reds in 2019. On the other end of the chart sits Jose Iglesias. His 0.00 WPA/LI defines average, despite his demonstrated clutch hitting. (Galvis ranks a bit better here, his -0.28 WPA/LI mark sliding above Jose Peraza’s just dreadful season.)

While WPA/LI is not the greatest predictive measurement, it does show far less variance than Clutch does. Looking at Jose Iglesias’ last six seasons again show WPA/LIs of -0.47, -0.88, -1.45, -1.54, -0.99, and 0.00. This season is the first season of Iglesias’ career in which he has not actively cost his team wins at the plate. Votto’s last six seasons meanwhile show WPA/LIs of 0.86, 6.42, 4.30, 6.09, 1.77, and 0.84. Yes, Votto is on the decline as is any 36-year-old player, but he still contributes to Reds’ wins with his bat.

So no, Jose Iglesias will not fix the Reds’ middle infield problem. If anything, think of this “clutch” season of his like you thought of David Hernandez’s and Jared Hughes’ clutch seasons last year: Fun and magical but unlikely to be repeated. And no, I’m not super worried about Joey Votto just yet. He is declining and much of his power seems to be gone, but he’s still less of an offensive sinkhole than Iglesias (and Galvis) figures to be.

Everyone is right and everyone is wrong. I’m okay with that as long as the Reds find someone, anyone who can hit and play shortstop for 2019.

29 Responses

  1. RichS

    So all you have shown after all of the data psycho-babble is who is the better on a bad team. Here is a better suggestion, put all of them on the trading block and measure their return on investment.
    I am a 50’s – 70’s player and fan. I see the game much differently. Clutch was an optic…without need of measurement. I think I still see the same way today. I do not see anyone on this team who would qualify as a clutch player under any metric. My eye only measures the win/loss effect.

  2. RochS

    Perfect. How would you measure Iglesias Raisel last nite?

  3. TR

    Hitting has never been a strong suit with J. Iglesias despite this excellent season, but he does continue the long Reds tradition of having a great fielding shortstop.

  4. Vancouver Dave

    I grew up in the seventies. Reggie Jackson was supposedly the epitome of clutch, “Mr. October.” In the eighties, I discovered Bill James, who studied clutch hitting and showed that the eyeball test cannot be trusted on the subject, that there is virtually no player for whom distinctions in clutch vs. not-clutch performance is statistically significant. Exhibit A: Mr. October himself, who hit an astounding .357/.457/.755 in 116 World Series plate appearances but a pedestrian .227/.298/.380 in 181 ALCS plate appearances. These days, I pretty much just roll my eyes whenever someone talks about what a clutch hitter Brandon Phillips was, or what a choke artist JV is, or how what the Reds need to contend is a good clutch hitter.

  5. Big Ed

    Klugo, the logic is that if a guy could actually and consistently elevate his performance in a “clutch” situation, then why couldn’t he do so in a “normal” situation? If all a guy needs to do, in other words, is to flip the switch, then why doesn’t he keep that switch on with every at-bat?

    A surge in “clutch” stats is not so much “luck,” as it is a small sample size. If Iglesias is in fact “clutch,” then his stats ought to reflect that every year. But they don’t.

    As I have said, I do believe in “negative clutch,” or a variation of choking. Some guys can’t perform when the chips are on the line, out of stage fright or nervousness or inability to control adrenaline — however you want to describe it. Peraza, for example, looks lost at times in these situations, and Wes’s stats reflect this.

    Thus, to me, a “clutch” player is a guy who can deliver his normal performance in a big situation. Derek Jeter was the perfect example of a guy entirely comfortable in the big moment. He could take his normal AB to the plate in a big situation, against a pitcher who may or may not have that same ability. He wasn’t “better” in the clutch, he was his normal self. And I would put a lot of the Big Red Machine guys in that same boat.

  6. Big Ed

    Or it could be that this Reds team is sub-par at hitting elite fastballs, which is what most of the guys who pitch in innings 7-9 are featuring. I will concede that the runs-by-inning thing with the Reds is odd.

  7. Big Ed

    On Iglesias and Galvis, the Reds do have a very live in-house answer at shortstop, in the 21-year-old Jose Garcia, who is having an excellent season at High A. His wRC+ is 133, good for 4th place in the Florida State League. He has 37 doubles, 8 homers and is 14-for-16 at stealing bases, and carries an excellent glove.

    In 91 August ABs, Garcia is slashing .396/.444/.604.

    The Reds can live with Galvis or Iglesias for another year or so, with Garcia on the way.

  8. RedNat

    great topic Wesley. I think we as a fan base get confused sometimes between clutch and situational hitting. situational hitting like hitting a grounder to the right side with a runner on second may not even show up in the advanced stats or like we old timers like to say “wont show up in the box score”.

    even the biggest JV fan would probably admit he is not known for his “situational” hitting and that can be frustrating for the old fans like me. Iglesias to me appears to at least “have a plan” up there and is willing to slap a grounder to the right side to advance a runner. in our minds that may be a “clutch play” even though really it is just good old school situational hitting.

    • da bear

      JV benefited greatly from Billy Hamilton, for the cheap RBIs opportunities BH provided JV, and the fastballs to hit. And even then, as Steve Schoenbaechler pointed out above, Votto only brought in more than 90 runs in 4 seasons despite hitting in the three spot.

      Tony Perez or Joe Morgan, JV is/was not. Ken Griffey Sr., perhaps. Still potentially a key cog in an offensive machine. Just not the engine that drives the train.

  9. Don

    Great article to drive discussion.

    Iglesias hitting numbers this year are very close to his 2015 numbers (he missed all of September 2015 with an Injury) which came after being out all of 2014 with an injury. He also was out all of September in 2018 (last year) with an injury.

    Before deciding on a 2020 or longer contract the team should wait to see what September brings. Iglesias is a career .237 hitter when he has played in September and he missed September in the one year that compares statistically to 2019.

    If Iglesias hits the .237 for the rest of the year that will be about 23 hits in 100 PA.
    That would lower his average to low .28x from the current .295.

    Even at .28x that would be 15 to 30 points higher BA than any year but 2015 at an Age of 29.

    The Iglesias question is will 2020,2021,2022 (age 30 to 32) @ 7 to 9 mil a season be a repeat of age 29 season or more like his 4 season for 2016 to 2019, age 26 to 28?

    The FO has a decision to make.
    If they keep Iglesias and Galvis that would result in JVM,Winker,Aquino, Senzel and Ervin sharing time in the 3 outfield spots.

    Bell will start 150+ games Suarex, Iglesias, Galvis and Votto in the infield unless one or more has an extended injury time.

    Does that infield in 2020 strike fear in opponents or confidence in fans?
    I do not know which is why I ask the question.

  10. Doug Gray

    Yes – pitchers have the same clutch stats that hitters do.

    The top reliever in baseball this year in WPA/LI is Giovanny Gallegoes of the Cardinals at 2.03. Here’s how the Reds guys stack up:

    Michael Lorenzen: 0.70
    Jared Hughes: 0.40
    Amir Garrett: 0.31
    Robert Stephenson: -0.09
    Raisel Iglesias: -0.11
    Wandy Peralta: -0.23
    David Hernandez: -1.66 (second worst in baseball among relievers),a

    • da bear

      Let’s keep in mind the Yankees signed David Hernandez to a minor league contract. I won’t be surprised if he ends up pitching for them this season. Hernandez’s K rates, swing and miss rates, velocity are as good as they’ve been. Early in the season he was effective for the Reds, and often when he wasn’t it was due to cheap flares that found open spaces or ground balls that found holes in the shiftiness of the Reds defense.

      Bell overused Hernandez, often part of the 4 inning attempt to close out games after Iglesias failed during Bell’s experimental use of RI in high leverage situations (like Francona effectively used to with Andrew Miller). It was Hernandez, Lorenzen, Garrett & RI. Being on the front end of holding a lead, Hernandez was used three days in a row at times, more often than the others. His arm and shoulder eventually gave way, pitches had less movement, the gopher balls piled up…..DFA.

  11. george

    Wesley writes,” as long as the Reds find someone, anyone who can hit and play shortstop for 2019.”
    Too much analytic research has fried his mind. I really don’t care about a 2019 shortstop. I want a 160 game 2020 shortstop that hits .289, 22 HRs, 90rbi’s and less than 4 errors. If the Reds can get that done who will care about the analytics, they will be too busy counting the wins. Just a thought .

    • Rob

      Interesting way to look at it. I was thinking Jose and Freddy would provide a dynamic duo at Ss and 2B. And Freddy may provide the stats you noted. But the key takeaway here may be that we need some pop (and speed) at SS. We have too many other positions that don’t bring this to the table. I am excluding Ervin and Aquino from this discussion because they haven’t proven their long-term value as yet. But the combination of Votto, Winker, and Barnhardt are slow and probably won’t average 270 and 15 HRs between them. If they hit 25-30 HRs with 90 rbis, then maybe Jose and Freddy would fit just great. But now I am beginning to lean toward Freddy/Jose playing one of the two spots and somebody like Trevor Story playing the other. I think we have plenty of strong young trade chips amongst Ervin, Winker, Stephenson, Sims, and Greene to get the missing pieces.

    • Wesley Jenkins

      Whoops, meant to write 2020 though I do believe you could have figured that out for yourself without the snark. We’re on the same page re: 2020 shortstop.

  12. Scott C

    I had already thought this but this article strengthens my opinion that we should let Iglesias walk and pick up Galvis’ option. Galvis may never be an offensive juggernaut but he hits the ball harder and is much less likely to have a steep decline as is Iglesias. Hopefully by 2021 someone like Garcia will be ready. Or maybe they can trade for a Lindor or Turner or sign Didi.

  13. CFD3000

    I don’t see this situation as being nearly as complicated as some commenters. Both Iglesias and Galvis are much better options at SS than Peraza. One of them should be the starting SS next year, the other (perhaps) should be the backup SS / utility infielder. Peraza should be moved, maybe to AAA. JVM should start at 2B every day. Anything else is a big mistake. If the Reds acquire Lindor, Turner, Gregorius or another big upgrade at SS then Iglesias or Galvis (not JVM) is expendable. The same may be true if / when Garcia or another minor league stud arrives.

    As for Votto I don’t understand all the howling at the moon. First, he’s not going anywhere, so why keep calling for him to go? I get that we all wish he was still 2017 (or 2010) Votto but if wishes were horses… So push for Votto to bat 5th or 6th instead of second if you like, but remember that his OBP is better than anyone but JVM and Jesse Winker. So if Winker leads off and JVM hits 3-5 along with Suarez and Aquino, then Joey fits in nicely where? Oh yeah, how about in the 2 hole? I’m fine with Votto 5th or 6th, but also 2nd. Any further down the lineup is a waste of his OBP, even though it’s lower than normal. If it bounces back even a little he might make more sense at leadoff than anywhere else. But he’s sure not leaving. Who is definitely on first base.

    • Mason Red

      I agree with you on Votto. He is going to be here and I also think he’s better than what he’s shown this year. He’s no longer elite and won’t produce the power numbers that you want from a 1B but he can still be decent if given time off and moving him down in the order. The Reds do need more speed and pop offensively and I wouldn’t take any position player on this team off the table for possible trades. Simply put the Reds won’t win with what they have as it stands. They have to improve the overall talent level.

    • Bigbill

      And this line of thinking is why the Reds will not be winners. Votto is one of the worst ranked 1st baseman as far as production in the majors. This exposes a need for SS and catcher to be a much better than average hitter.

  14. Hot Chili

    OMG, the world is coming to an end!

    Finally, like an episode of X-FILES, the truth is out there!. And the old-new sabermetrics is the smoking gun, nonetheless.

    Joseph Daniel Votto, the God of the hitting, the King of walking, IS NOT CLUTCH. Sounds like after all, Mr. Marty Brennaman and a pretty large crowd of velified Reds fans were ALWAYS right.
    So was my brother, who was banned by this site for just telling the truth, something many here, including some arrogant former editor couldn’t handle.
    In his honor, his own words: NEVER, EVER, WHEN IT COUNTS!!
    By the way, used by the author. LOL

    p.s. I dunno if I post again, but it’s certainly refreshing to see that the Mancuso dictatorship is over and some diverse opinions are allowed in what used to be a very fine site to discuss Reds baseball before he took over.

    • Doug Gray

      Just going to point out that one season does not a career make, and that for his career, Joey Votto has indeed been clutch and that Mr. Marty Brennaman and a pretty large crowd of vilified Reds fans who said he wasn’t were indeed wrong even if Joey Votto hasn’t been clutch in this particular season.

      • Hot Chili

        First of all, Mr. Gray, I appreciate your kind answer and willingness to allow different opinions. Certainly refreshing.
        Now, I’ll use some quotes from the article to respectfully differ:
        “The same but opposite principle works when Joey Votto strikes out in the ninth but homers in the fifth of a 7-0 blowout. Iglesias : Clutch :: Votto : Not. No advanced stats needed.”

        “while Votto’s are 0.31, -0.34, -0.03, -0.80, 0.36, and -0.92.” Last 6 (six) seasons. 4 with NEGATIVE value, only ONE above average according to the expressed value in the article (0.75 above average)

        Once again, good luck with the site Mr. Gray.

      • Doug Gray

        For his career he’s at 1.84. In 2016 the -0.03 mark is statistically league average. If we want to be nitpicky I guess we can be.

        Now, much of his “clutch” came earlier in his career, rather than later in his career. But a big chunk of the “not clutch” also came in 2013, in which he was “more unclutch” than any season in which he was “clutch”.

        Of course, there’s also the whole issue with how “clutch” is being defined. We’ve all got different versions of what it is to us. In this case, clutch is simply “how much better or worse are you than you are in these situations versus a neutral environment”. That would mean that a terrible hitter who just happens to get a few hits with runners on is going to be considered significantly more clutch than a good hitter who did literally that exact same thing. Joey Votto’s a very good hitter. So in order for him to have a good clutch score he has to be even better than that. He and Luis Castillo could both be .300 hitters with 5 doubles in “clutch” situations over the same exact number of trips to the plate, and Luis Castillo would be considered to be significantly more clutch because of how the stat is measured. Good hitters have to be way better than bad hitters in these clutch situations to be given the same clutch score. That’s rather flawed in my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

      • Hot Chili

        Many stats to choose from both sides, but the truth is that in the last 6 seasons he’s been not clutch. Unaceptable. Now the facts beyond the “cherry picking”:

        High leverage situations: 2 Abs: 2K, 2 fastballs right in the middle.
        This season with RISP; .267
        Career avg. with RISP/2OUTS; .277

        Like it or not, his legacy will be one of good eye, no clutch. Sorry, not my favorite player. (nice guy, though).

      • RichS

        Doug : didn’t Votto have a bad year last year as well? I seem to recall him apologizing in spring training and insisting he would be better this year.

  15. Hot Chili

    No, it doesn´t. It means exactly what the article says. Votto ain´t no clutch.

  16. da bear

    Wesley, the WPA/LI stat has to be ‘normalized’ to be fair in application to all batters. The opportunity to enhance WPA is much higher for those batting at the top of the order, when the game begins with the score often tied, and always tied when the Reds are the away team.

    With the Reds #1 in scoring in the first inning, holding onto those leads a good chunk of time (reds have been terrible at closing deficits, few and far between come from behind wins) results in larger number of opportunities to score well in WPA as those early runs affected the outcomes the most.

    Batting near the bottom of the order, Jose Iglesias has not had anything remotely close to the same number of opportunities to pad his WPA stats as Winker, Votto, Suarez.

    Otherwise, I like analyzing the WPA factor. Like all other stats, it has to be normalized for opportunity.