WAS TONY PEREZ A GREAT CLUTCH HITTER?
Tony Perez played first base for the “Big Red Machine” during the 1960s and 1970s and had a lifetime batting average of .279. Such an average does not often lead to a Hall of Fame selection, but in 2000 Perez was elected to the Hall of Fame while some of his contemporaries who have similar statistics (such as Andre Dawson and Dave Parker) have not yet been elected. One reason Perez made it to the Hall of Fame was that his manager, Sparky Anderson, said that Perez was the best clutch hitter he had ever seen. Is there an objective way to determine whether Perez was a great “clutch hitter”?
Let's define a batter to be a great clutch hitter if his performance in important situations tends to be better than his overall season performance. In Baseball Hacks Adler defines a clutch situation as one in which a batter comes to the plate during the ninth inning or later and his team trails by one, two, or three runs. Then Adler compared the batter's OBP in these situations to his overall season OBP. If the batter did significantly better during the clutch situations, then we could say the batter exhibited clutch hitting ability. The problem with this approach is that the average batter only encounters ten clutch situations per season, which does not provide enough data to reliably estimate a hitter's clutch ability.1
In reality, each plate appearance has a different level of “clutch” importance. When a player goes to the plate to bat when his team is down by a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, this is obviously a clutch plate appearance, while batting in the top of the ninth when his
1 Adler, Baseball Hacks, 345.