Bill Simmons–inspiration to snarky sports bloggers, and later the bane of those same bloggers after they learn advanced statistics–did a lot to try to verbalize the feeling of losing a game via abject failure in deeply critical moments. It’s more gut-wrenching and deflating, because your team was handed a particular opportunity to display their mental and physical fortitude, and failed worse than ever.
And it is with this introduction, that we begin to broach the topic of Wednesday 2-1 loss of the White Sox to the Texas Rangers. The Sox ground into 3 double plays, including ones to end potential rallies in the 6th and 7th, Adam Dunn struck out in the 8th when all he needed to do was hit a fly ball to tie the game (totally something he would have done if he could make contact), and Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and A.J. Pierzynski all refused to let RBI situations get in the way of having their terrible offensive seasons.
Now, in fairness, Simmons was referring to especially important
games (not Wednesday get-away day games in May) and was talking about
the emotional aspect of fanhood, but obviously these failures are
happening all the time. Those failures are there in the non-descript
7-3 losses where the losing team is never closer than four, just as much
as they’re happening in 2-1 losses where literally one soft flare, one
misplayed fly ball (or one less), or just 12 more Neftali Feliz balls
thrown in a row could have change the result.
Tom Tango already pretty thoroughly talked out the importance of the clutch hitter,
or clutch hitting teams for that matter as well. It takes way too long
to discern whether clutch-hitting is an actual skill, and the increase
in ability players have in certain situations is such that just picking
the best overall hitter is still ordinarily the best way to go.
Given that the White Sox shouldn’t be inordinately bad at
clutch-hitting–they should actually be great at it seeing as they have
one of the best clutch guys of all-time (if you didn’t read the link,
it’s Vizquel)–then if they’ve been really, preposterously bad so far
(and it seems like they are), then they should regress to their normal
levels over the course of the season.
Well, at the initial cursory glance of run-scoring situations…no. The
White Sox are a below-average hitting team (93 wRC+, .251/.318/.391),
aren’t much worse when runners are in scoring position (89 wRC+,
.254/.324/.373), but are apparently strangely good when guys are at
first, prompting better numbers with just ‘runners on’ (102 wRC+,
However when you add the Leverage Index tool, a measure designed to assign a level of importance
on at-bats based on inning, score, number of outs, situation, then the
Sox become every bit the shrinking violets you’ve grown to loath.
In “high” leverage situations according to FanGraphs, the White Sox are
not just bad, they’re the worst team in the league. And not just the
worst team in the league, but the worst by a country mile.
They’ve racked up a 35 wRC+ or a .183/.253/.283 in 179 high-leverage
plate appearances. It’s hard to say ‘racked up’. 35 wRC+ is more like
the flight of a deflating balloon, or de-winged bumble bee, or the
numbers Brent Morel would post if he hit with a bullet lodged in his
To make this more clear, the Oakland A’s have a 60 wRC+ and a line of
.202/.259/.308. The Oakland A’s are the second-worst high-leverage
hitting team in baseball.
179 plate appearances is a barely adequate sample for some measures of a
single player, let alone a whole damn team. Also, this is a very
similar group to the White Sox team that finished 1st in high-leverage
hitting last season, so any conclusion other than this being a bizarre
stretch is a pretty massive reach.
Even if the White Sox were the worst team in high-leverage hitting, they wouldn’t be this bad.
51 wRC+ is the lowest team mark for a season I could find, and it
belonged to the 2003 Tigers….you know, the guys who lost 119 games.
They were notable for their ineptitude in low-leverage and
medium-leverage hitting as well.
High-leverage is less than 10% of game situations, so this isn’t exactly
the secret to dominance (see, uh, last year), but regression dictates
that more big hits should be coming.
If not, I’d start writing your book about this season now.