“Clutch” in baseball is a touchy subject. There are a lot of studies showing that “clutch” is something that is made up, by fans and the media. While we are believers in advanced statistical analysis and will occasionally use it here on this site, we have long had a problem with the anti-clutch argument.
Our problem with these studies is simply their definition of “clutch.” To us, a “clutch” player is not somebody that is able to elevate their game. Rather, we believe somebody is clutch if they are able to remain calm, not be affected by the increased pressure, and are able to maintain their ability when it matters most.
Let’s take Evan Longoria. In his career, Longoria is a .274 hitter with a home run every 18.5 at bats. In “close and late” situations, Longoria is a .276 hitter with a home run every 13.4 at bats. The average is nearly identical and the home rate is better. However, that rate varies wildly from year-to-year.
The point is, Longoria doesn’t elevate his game. But he is “clutch,” in the sense that he doesn’t feel the pressure that some players might feel in those situations.
And it is that mental toughness that came through when Longoria hit his historic, playoff-clinching home run against the Yankees last week.
It was during Longoria’s at bat that the crowd at Tropicana Field learned of the Red Sox’ loss.
“I just couldn’t believe that Boston lost the game,” he said. “I had to step out of the box, really, to comprehend what had just happened and refocus on trying to get a base hit. When I hit it, I was like, ‘No way this just happened.’ “
Longoria owes much of his mental serenity to Ken Ravizza.
Longoria wanted all of his swings to be flawless until he met Ken Ravizza, who has trained athletes’ brains for decades by convincing them to forget failure and embrace calm…Ravizza holds a Ph.D. in kinesiology and teaches at Cal State Fullerton. Longoria met him his first season playing at Long Beach State, when he was roommates with the team’s shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, who had worked with Ravizza.
When asked about Longoria’s mental toughness, BJ Upton seems in awe…
“He’s so strong upstairs…He’s always up. We all get a little frustrated at times, but it doesn’t affect him. I think if everyone could figure that out, we’d all be pretty good. Most of us can’t.”
Longoria may not be a better player when the game is on the line. And really, that is fine. All the Rays ever need is for Longo to be Longo and he will come through when it matters more often than most. And that is clutch.