Tuesday, March 06, 2007

 

Clutch Defined

Another whopper from the writers at NHL.com. Here's a snippet:

Dick Duff never won a scoring title. He didn’t win any individual awards. But Duff earned his place among hockey’s immortals because of his ability to come through in the clutch.


Tears are rolling down my face, I'm laughing so hard. But it gets better:

Great clutch players come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one critical, common ingredient – they define grace under pressure. As the clock ticks down and the fate of the game comes down to a single play, these guys are ready to make the difference.


And on and on and on and on...

Comments:

Pisani for the Hall of Fame. He's as good as Dick Duff.
 


Fuck Pisani, I know exactly what Grabia is getting at here:

WHY IN THE HELL ISN'T GLENN ANDERSON IN THE HALL OF FAME THEN, YOU DUMBASS TORONTO MEDIA TYPES?

Anderson not in the hall is among my list of "Great Hockey Tragedies". Among them:

- Bill Hunter is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Scott Stevens NOR Larry Murphy won a single Norris Trophy between them
- Steve Yzerman not winning the 2002 Conn Smythe trophy, after playing the entire playoffs on a bad knee
- Wayne Gretzky not winning the 1980 Calder Trophy (the infamous "final slap in the face" to the WHA teams) nor getting a share of the Art Ross Trophy that year.
- Mark Messier not winning the 1994 Conn Smythe trophy (note that I dispute the only two instances where a non-Canadian born player won the playoff MVP, and I've got a strong case in both instances).
- Not necesessarily the fact they won it, but the fashion in which the Dallas Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup.

And one minor tragedy that still pisses me off:

- Friday, November 3rd, 2006. Need I say more? (Screw you Magoo!)
 


Actually, I was getting at the fact that "clutch" is a completely overstated, unproveable and useless sports "fact", but Anderson did cross my mind when I saw the Duff thing.
 


.Actually, I was getting at the fact that "clutch" is a completely overstated, unproveable and useless sports "fact"

In baseball maybe, but I can't remember having heard of anybody disproving it in hockey, or any other sport for that matter.

So, once again, we have an example of somebody taking Moneyball/Baseball Prospectus conclusions and recklessly extrapolating them to other sports.

Bad form.
 


I think when a Toronto media person uses the word 'clutch', what they really mean is: 'won a cup with the leafs'.
 


In baseball maybe, but I can't remember having heard of anybody disproving it in hockey, or any other sport for that matter.

So, once again, we have an example of somebody taking Moneyball/Baseball Prospectus conclusions and recklessly extrapolating them to other sports.

Bad form.


Well, since you troll by on a consistent basis and tell everyone that nothing in hockey is verifiable, I'm actually complimented by your insult. I'm just going to drop this into one of my favourite bins: "Mclea. Ignore."
 


Oh, so the concept of a "clutch" player has been disproved in hockey?

By all means, please share.


And I'm not a troll, I'm a representative for the "Don't Let Grabia's Made Up Nonsense go Unchallenged Society."

But go ahead, ignore me. I'm sure it's a heck of lot easier than actually defending your statements.
 


I fail to see why it would need to be disproven, because I'm yet to see any evidence whatsoever that it exists, outside of the occasional newpaper article which uses "clutch" to explain what to the untrained eye looks an awful lot like "coincidence."

Hockey is a game of inches. Once in a while, a player will have a lot of good luck all at once. See: Fernando Pisani in last year's playoffs. I've never seen so many fluke goals in so short a time in my life.
 


I can't remember having heard of anybody disproving it in hockey

How the Fuck would anyone disprove that?
Clutchness is measurable?
 


And I'm not a troll,

You so lack self-awareness.

Oh, so the concept of a "clutch" player has been disproved in hockey?

It's a similar concept, regardless of sport. The idea is that a player can "play harder" and "do more" when it is "most important." I don't believe it. Simple as that. I don't go around talking up the theory, so I don't see why the onus is on me. Again, we're not here to please you. I know that's a hard concept for you to comprehend, but happily it's true. I didn't make anything up. In fact, those who talk about "clutch" performances in sport are making things up. All you actually care about is making yourself feel important. Feel free to tell me why "clutch" exists in hockey. Do it. In fact, do a bunch of posts on your blog about all the things you think. Seriously. Then all of us who hold you in such high regard can come by and comment. Oh, wait...
 


Andy:

You could disprove the value of game winning goals, at least that would crush that aspect.

Just take every player's stats per year by team, punt them if they played for more than one team in a season. Take the number of wins of the team and the total numbers of GF for the team. Calc the "expected GWGs" as a real number.

Then write a script using pseudorandom numbers to make mock seasons for each player based on the real opportunity. Compare the two and arrogantly mock your detractors! :D

In any case, going by game winning goals it's surprising how many ex-Oilers are up there (pure coincidence btw). Last I checked Buchberger was number one (somebody has to be, and about at that level, nice that it was Buchy).

He edges out even Derek Morris and Tom Poti. Of other ex-Alberta players Damphousse and Nieuwendyk are way up there too if my memory is right (and it may not be). Tikkanen as well I think..

Of the hundreds upon hundreds of players used. I remember that Lowe and MacTavish are amongst the least "clutchy" players to lace them up, they couldn't score game winners to save their lives. :P While Messier is in the bottom 10th percentile iirc.
 


Don't take it personally Andy, but I don't think the idea of "clutch" necessarily relates to a player (in any sport) doing more or trying harder a particular point in a game. Rather, I believe that it refers to the ability of certain athletes in any sport to perform in situations where the pressure to perform might freeze up lesser athletes. This doesn't necessarily mean that those athletes will try harder than at other times (although sometimes the increased pressure acts to motivate those individuals to accelerate and intensify their efforts), but what it usually suggests is that they may be able to retain the concentration necessary to carry on with their usual level of performance in otherwise stressful situations.

Take for example the clutch free throw shooter: the added stress of making a game-winning free throw, with no time left on the clock, is a clutch performance, exhibiting a level of concentration, focus and an immunity to the pressure of the situation. If that player is able to repeat that type of performance on a regular basis they will eventually be known as a clutch player. As soon as you add a heightened degree of pressure to a situation, therby altering the stakes of the performance, the clutch player will be able to deliver, while the non-clutch player will succumb to the stress of the moment.

This phenomenon is not the preserve of any particular sport; every sport has its clutch players: golf, baseball, hockey, football, etc... And clutch performances are not restricted to the field of sport - have you ever heard of people who deliver clutch performances at exam time? In a debate? During presentation?
 


Vic Ferrari,


Yah, that's what I was thinking. You could probably create a number for expected amount of GWGs scored as percentage of some other metric (total goals, ice time, whatever) and then see if he consistently out-performed this number year after year to the degree that it would be statistically significant.


Grabia,

I appreciate you trying to turn this into a pissing contest, but I can't help but respond when you start laughing at a columnist for referring to a "phenomenon" that hasn't proved or disproved either way. You said yourself that your non-belief in "clutch" was only an opinion, so I don't see where you can get off patronizing this guy when there remains a significant amount of uncertainty with respect to whether "clutch" performances can be delivered in sports other than baseball.

Anonymous,

I think the rebuttal to this argument, if I remember correctly, is if you couldn't perform under pressure you wouldn't make into the big leagues in the first place. Guys who crumble under pressure don't make it to the bigs. Period. So although anyone who has gone to university has witnessed the clutch (or anti-clutch) phenomenon when they observed their well prepared friends habitually blow themselves up on tests that they should have aced, this might not hold true in professional sports because of the whole "if they can't handle the heat they would have never made it" argument.
 


mclea said:

Yah, that's what I was thinking. You could probably create a number for expected amount of GWGs scored as percentage of some other metric (total goals, ice time, whatever) and then see if he consistently out-performed this number year after year to the degree that it would be statistically significant.


You'll find there is nothing in it. When I wrote "compare the two" above I should have written "compare the two distributions".

Seriously, have a go. For all the time spent writing hockey prose on the internet ... it's a pretty small investment of time. Maybe an hour or so if you have the data.

Personally I think that there is such a thing as "clutchness". And that it exists in hockey. But at a really small level, barely perceptable, but there. Certainly nowhere near enough to matter when rational people are comparing players IMO.

The mythology in sports is king of a beautiful thing though. And as long as people don't try to bring it to reasoned conversations, that's fine.
 


Its an interesting argument each way.

I would say that if a guy can be a choker (I have a buddy who even at what we call 'sport' gets tight when things get tense) then a guy can indeed be clutch.

And not just by measuring his stats, although that of course is a starting point, but just in general overall play.

Guys who I would consider clutch - Sakic, Nieuendyck, Gretzky, Yzerman, Scott Stevens - don't know if the numbers would prove it or not but I would want any of those guys on my team in a big game. Or is that just a function of talent and the ability to play to that talent in the big game.

Being clutch, whether a truth or a myth, is a big part of sports - I for one, believe that Pisani is a clutch player or was for two months anyhow. It wasn't a run of fluke goals, with all due respect, Allen - did he get in a zone and have some luck? Absolutely. But in almost every big game who produced? Two goals in period three of G6 against Detroit. Gamewinner in G5 in overtime of the SCF. A goal in the third period of G7 and then almost another.

A player getting on a roll? yes. Getting some luck? yes. But also performing time and time again in big game after big game. Absolutely. I think there is something to that.
 


I didn't mean it was just blind luck, Pat. Just that luck was the difference between his usual production and the numbers he put up in the playoffs.

Pisani is a guy who's always creating chances, and it seemed like he was creating a bit more during the playoffs than he did during stretches in the regular season, but a lot more of them were going in than generally would have. His play was excellent - better than during the regular season by my eye (but I think that was partly due to being used differently). I just can't see how his shooting percentage more than doubled without luck having a significant hand in it.
 


Andy - a "columnist" now.

You've hit the big time! I guess we'll have to start treating you with a bit more deference.
 


Don't take it personally Andy, but I don't think the idea of "clutch" necessarily relates to a player (in any sport) doing more or trying harder a particular point in a game.

I don't. I'm happy to have the debate/argument with those who actually want to have the debate.

Grabia,

I appreciate you trying to turn this into a pissing contest,


Again, laughable. Again, put up some ideas on your own site. We'd all love to see them. I dare you.
 


Here, I'll even get you started, Mclea. I'm eager to see you quantify "clutch":

1) Define "clutch."

2) Explain how the concept of "clutch" is different in baseball and hockey, and therefore provable in one sport and not provable in the other.

3) Prove that clutch exists in hockey. Be descriptive, predictive, and use a sufficiently large sample.

4) If able to prove that "clutch" exists, then prove that is statistically relevent to the outcomes of games.

5) Send us the link.

I'm sure others can add in some other suggestions, or do some fine tuning. Oh yes, please keep the misogyny out of your analysis. We know how you like to slip into that habit. We eagerly look forward to your post.
 


You could disprove the value of game winning goals, at least that would crush that aspect.

Vic, isn't the value of GWG crushed from the start? We throw it around like it tells us something, but as the Assistant GM from Carolina says in the article, “a game-winning goal could be the fourth goal that is scored in a 4-1 game that ends up being the game-winning goal if the other team scores a couple of goals late in the game." I mean, why do we consider GWG's at all?
 


Re: the GWGs - that's one thing I would discount for sure.

But can you quantify it, Andy, or use statistics to prove or disprove it.

For example I would consider John Smoltz to be a "big game" pitcher. Not to say that he had a twenty and one record in the playoffs because if would bet its close to .500.

But I would think that if you looked at his playoff starts, one by one, he would likely have had very good to great outings in the vast majority.

Mow of course is that even true and in any case is it just because he is John Smoltz.

Having said that - is he more clutch then Greg Maddux? Two guys with great careers. Maddux likely the better numbers in the regular season. But in the playoffs I would rather have Smoltz. Is he more "clutch"? Is his game just better suited to the postseason? Luckier?

Allan - oh, I agree he had some breaks but he just was well, so, clutch (Grabia screams)

Mythology of sport - maybe. Pisani is an interesting case because he is not an elite player like so many of those considered clutch - I would like to see a nice long playoff run next season and perhaps in the seasons following to see if he can do it again.

What say you, hockey gods?
 


Wait...mclea has a blog?
 


Andy: Although your challenge is directed at mclea, I believe that I attempted to describe and define "clutch" as largely related to the mental fortitude of an individual player to perform under stressful situations. But for some reason I guess that comment doesn't merit a response from you; I apologize in advance for not being able to get into the in-depth statistical analysis that your challenge requests. But I believe that an earlier commenter stated it correctly: if you can agree to the existence of "chokers" in professional sport, you must agree to the existence of the "clutch".

Only mclea responds to my point by insisting that if you couldn't perform under pressure you wouldn't make it to professional sports in the first place. Obviously mclea would not find any distinction between the first week in November in the NHL to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. He would like us to believe that comparing players' respective abilities to perform under pressure has no merit; that by simply making it into the league you are ipso facto a clutch player. I rarely approve of resorting to ad hominem arguments, but that, sir, is the thoughtless opinion of a boob.

The fact that you make it to a professional league means that you're more talented that 99% of the general population at your athletic metier. Is it not conceivable, though, that of that top percentile some may be more "clutch" than others? When they are stacked up against each other, professional athletes make each other look like chokers or clutch players - that is the nature of high level sports.
 


In Andy's defence, when talking about being "clutch" we need to keep in mind where the onus should be.

It's on those who seek to advance the positive statement that clutch performances exist and are repeatable for certain players, and not for other ones.

They've got two choices, I think. They can assert it exists, but is unmeasurable (either in principle, or due to deficiencies in how we measure or the data available), or they can assert that it exists and is measurable, in which case I'd like to see the proof.

The rest of us (and count me in with the doubters) are free to sit back and poke fun at silly nhl.com columns. If we like, we can run the numbers on GWG distribution and demonstrate that our doubts are well-founded. But beyond that, our work is done.

Meanwhile, if Jason Karmanos believes that "You come to know the guys that step up in the big games," and Dick Duff's recollection is that "During the times when everything was at stake, I played my best hockey," because "The clutch player...will take it upon himself to make the winning play," then they're welcome to their views. But absent data, it's just so many words. And if I was a team owner, I'd be more than a little distressed to see my money invested on their hunch.
 


The big problem with clutch, IIRC, is that anybody ever identified as a "clutch player" has never had any relevent stats argue in favour.

I remember once in response to the notion that Derek Jeter was a real "clutch player" (while A.Rod was not...though that's a proposition that's easy enough to prove), whenever you started looking at his stats, it never was borne out.

Sure he was the only Yankee to remain productive vs. Detroit last year, but when you decide to evaluate the numbers, he doesn't come through. How's his batting average in the 8th and 9th inning with his team either losing or tied or only up by one? Nope, lower than his usual average. Does his basestealing improve when there's 2 outs and he's down by a run? Nope. Maybe his slugging percentage increases when his team is down by 2 or more runs, or he doesn't commit as many errors when runners are in scoring position, or maybe... you keep coming up with possible clutch situations, and apply the numbers, and come up short every time.

And then whenever you find somebody who matches one of these "clutch" stats, they suck at the other ones. I suspect the same is true in hockey. Find somebody good at drawing penalties in the last 10 minutes of a tie game, and it will turn out their ES production falters in that same timeframe. Every metric you can invent turns out to be independent of other "clutch" metrics.
 


There was a great discussion on Tom Benjamin's blog a while back about "clutch".

http://www.canuckscorner.com/weblog/nhllog/archives/2005/05/in_the_clutch.html

I liked what Tom said about how calling a player clutch is damning him with faint praise, because you're saying he can play better at certain times than others, and if that's the case, why isn't he playing to his hightest level all the time?
 


Don't take it personally Andy, but I don't think the idea of "clutch" necessarily relates to a player (in any sport) doing more or trying harder a particular point in a game.

Anonymous, I didn't mean to ignore your point. My apologies. I think some of it has been addressed by others, but I'll wade in a bit here. I think the conception of clutch is in fact that certain players will "step up" at certain times in a game and determine the outcome. I'm intrigued by your notion that it isn't so much that they "step up" but that everybody else "steps down," but it still doesn't persuade me. Clutch has more to do with situation, opportunity, small sample sizes and the ignoring of other "clutch times" when the player fails than it has to do with mental toughness and fortitude. It's about myth-making, like Pat says. The only difference is that I don't see these myths in a positive light, whereas Pat does.

Here's my scenario: you are a GM at two different drafts. One is baseball, and one is hockey.

In the baseball one, your choices are as follows: the career of Barry Bonds (legendary "choker") or the career of Derek Jeter (legendary "clutch" player). Who do you pick?

In the hockey one, your choices are as follows: the career of Joe Thornton (legendary "choker") or the career of Dick Duff legendary "clutch" player). Who do you pick?

Doesn't it have to be Bonds and Thornton? Taking a large sample size, which is the entire career, not just playoff performance, how can you come to any other conclusion? Another perfect example is Peyton Manning. Remember when he wasn't "clutch?" Superbowl MVP this year. What happened this year that made him so clutch over past years?
 


Andy, there are arguments to discredit the media's over-reliance on labels like clutch or choker. However, completely disregarding a player's ability to raise their game in key situations OR disregarding some player's inability to do so really hurts your credibility in discussing it. It's something that is used too much and irresponsibly. But that doesn't make it completely irrelevant. To state as much is almost as wrong as saying being clutch is more important than regular performance.
 


However, completely disregarding a player's ability to raise their game in key situations OR disregarding some player's inability to do so really hurts your credibility in discussing it.

How, Shawn? I mean, if the "clutch" players can "raise their game," why don't they do it all the time? Can't there be other reasons why a player succeed or fails in certain situations besides being "clutch"? Reasons like who they are with on the ice, how tired an opponent is, who their opponent is, how talented they are to start with, or just plain luck? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the concept is completey unimaginable. But I think there are much more compelling reasons why people succeed or fail in certain situations than their ability to "turn it up a notch." People coming from the other side of this might say that saying a player's ability to raise their game in key situations OR not raise their game in key situations should be attributed to his "clutchiness" really hurts their credibility in discussing it.
 


Andy: I am enjoying this debate, as well as the opportunity to clarify the arguments.

I agree that if I were drafting players to start my team I might select Thornton and Bonds, despite the fact that they may have reputations as chokers. But that in no way disproves the existence of the clutch player; what it suggests is that the ability to perform in the clutch, while a valuable trait in a professional athlete, in not the only one, or even most important. (Insert discussion on the value of regular season performance relative to playoff performance) Let's not forget that in order to have the appropriate setup for a clutch play (eg. down a touchdown with 45 seconds to play) the team needs to be close in the first place. Bonds and Thornton bring all sorts of qualities to the table and the fact that they may not be able to perform in the clutch does not diminish the fact that Bonds hits home runs and Thornton racks up points. In order to make it to that final play of the season where everything is on the line, you first need to make through the first 58 minutes of the hockey game? Or through the first 17 weeks of the football season? Pick your analogy.

I never said that the ability to be a clutch performer is the sine qua non of a great player, or that you would necessarily want to build your franchise around someone whose only redeeming skill is the ability to hit the clutch shot when called upon.

I go back to the comments of an earlier poster, who stated correctly that you cannot have a choker without a clutch player. You may or may not believe that chokers exist, but certainly you can agree that the pressure on a player to hit a game-winning foul shot is much greater than having to hit one at the beginning of a game? One's ability to put aside the context of the circumstance and perform (or perform in spite of it) is in my opinion the definition of "clutch". In some instances it may entail a greater effort on the part of the athlete (the so-called "raising their game"); in other instances it might entail just a more focussed effort. Whatever the reason the circumstances of the game/match matter. Athletes are not robots who are unaware of the relative importance of a given play. They know it and carry it with them when attempting to perform. Those who can push that context aside and do the job are clutch players.

It should be noted that clutch plays do not always involve scoring goals. They can also be receiving/making key passes, effectively playing the point in a key powerplay, making an important defensive play.

This is all written with the understanding that perhaps the notion of clutch is tossed around far too liberally by the media, fans, etc... Prime example is Manning this year. While in the past he's been criticized for not having the jelly to get it done at key times, when he finally gets a key victory against the Pats and ends up winning the Superbowl he's suddenly described as clutch. While I think he was certainly able to perform in the clutch against the Pats, that lone event does not make him a clutch player. That determination will be made nearer to the end of his career when one can consider all of the "do or die" moments in which Manning has performed and delivered (or not).

Lastly, I will give you two examples of areas in which we might find a statistical basis for defining the clutch. Example 1: Tiger Woods is no doubt the number one player in the world, and last year became the youngest in history to reach 50 victories on the PGA tour. It took him 196 tour events to reach that accomplishment - around a 26% success rate. 10 of those victories came from playoffs - where he has an astounding 91% (10/11) success rate. Leaving aside the fact that in a 2-player playoff, all things being equal, equally-skilled players should have a 50% chance of winning (to get to the playoff one can assume that the players entering the playoff are playing equally well at that particular moment), we can look at Woods' record and marvel at his ability to close the deal when needed. Sure the other player may falter and open the door, but the fact that Tiger so rarely does himself speaks to his ability to turn in clutch performances.

Example 2: I don't have any of the stats to back this up, but I would be suprised if, measured over his entire career, Michael Jordan's FG% was not substantially superior in the dying moments of a particular game, when called upon to make a last-second shot, than the FG% for that entire game. Or his FG% over the last 2 minutes of every game he's ever played in vs. his entire career. Those types of stats could definitely help in trying to prove or disprove the notion of the clutch, or at the very least allow us to re-evaluate a particular player's reputation.
 


if the "clutch" players can "raise their game," why don't they do it all the time

Adrenaline, perchance? I mean, why are we completely discounting human nature in this discussion? Humans aren't robots. You can't turn it on and off for any given situation. Natural physiological responses to stress will improve/worsen a person's performance. I don't think this is in any way refutable.
 


As for Peyton's case, the stress response is something that can evolve over time: there is a definite psychological aspect to it. How else do you outgrow childhood fears? Same concept here. Whereas the stress of a winner-take-all playoff situation might have caused Payton to freeze up in years past, he developed new responses to similar situations and was able to perform where previously he could not. This is all perfectly scientifically explicable, and while I may not be able to give you a blow-by-blow of the biochemistry and physiology involved (yet), I challenge you to find evidence to the contrare, i.e. that physiological and psychological stress responses are irrelevant in sports. That is the very essence of choke vs. clutch.
 


The best argument I could make in relation to the NHL is looking at players who have substancially increased their PPG output in the playoffs (when arguably the hockey is tougher and against more difficult opposition) as opposed to how most other players are close to the same or drop.

I'm not talking about over one playoff, but significant time. There's a very good list of those numbers out there that I saw on HFBoards in the history section, but I don't have it at my disposal now.

As for why someone would "bring it" more in the playoffs and not be at their best all the time... well that's sports man. You may be willing yourself to be the best all the time, but we're human beings. When the crowd is extra loud or the games mean more... you can just get that extra mental edge you need to take it to another level.

It sounds like a bullshit cliche but it's true. I mean that's why a mom can be physically stronger when her kid is dangerous. Our minds and bodies react to certain situations differently, and some players react to clutch situations with elevated play.

That said I'd never ever take Dick Duff ahead of Joe Thornton. But I would take Dick Duff ahead of someone else with similar regular season numbers.

Make sense? I don't think I'm way off the deep end becuase I hate people who talk about Derek Jeter as much as the next guy ;)
 


When her kid is IN DANGER not dangerous.

Must proof read...
 


if the kid's dangerous he can fend for himself.

i have nothing worthwhile to add
 

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