The Tigers And High Leverage Power

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

I’ll give you my biases up front. I don’t really believe in “clutch” as a skill. It’s not that I don’t think high pressure situations are more difficult, it’s that 1) the opponent feels pressure in high pressure situations and 2) if you get better in clutch situations, why can’t you perform that well in non-clutch situations? It is possible to get a “clutch hit,” but clutch hits just describe how important the moment is, not anything about the skill of player, in my view.

But let’s take a peak at a table of statistics entering player on June 3. This is the performance of the Tigers in low, medium, and high leverage situations and the league averages in the same. If you don’t know about leverage, it’s based on how much the game currently hangs in the balance with 0 to 0.7 being low, 0.7 to 1.5 being medium, and 1.5+ being high leverage. It’s a pretty useful proxy for clutchness of the situation:

Tigers Low 5.8 18.9 0.323 0.420
Tigers Medium 8.4 16.1 0.326 0.419
Tigers High 9.9 18.6 0.348 0.469
MLB Low 7.8 20.7 0.313 0.391
MLB Medium 7.9 19.9 0.314 0.394
MLB High 9.9 20.7 0.309 0.384

Well what do we have here? Notice that most teams and players tend to walk a little more in high leverage situations, but perform a little worse overall while also hitting for a touch less power. The Tigers, for some reason, don’t walk in low leverage situations. They make up for it by getting more hits and have pretty equal wOBA in Low and Medium leverage.

But look at the slugging percentage column. The Tigers out slug the league across the board, but their Low/Medium slugging ratio is typical. Their High Leverage slugging is off the charts. What gives?

The Tigers hardly out BABIP the field in High Leverage situations, but the ISO is obviously much larger. If you peak into home runs, the league hits a home run once every 43 PA in high leverage situations. The Tigers hit one in every 29 PA. We’re talking about a very small sample (6 HR in 172 PA) for the Tigers, but that gap soaks up most of the difference. The Tigers and the league hit doubles are roughly the same rate.

So this doesn’t seem like a super sustainable thing. Instead of flying out a couple of times, the Tigers launched a home run in a high leverage spot which did wonders for their splits. It’s a little weird how little they walk in low leverage spots and weird how much power they have in high leverage spots. It probably doesn’t mean much going forward, but it clues you in to what has happened to date. It’s way more important to look at their collective success across the board than in any one type of situation. The Tigers hit pretty well even when the game isn’t on the line.


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