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Blame the Superstar

30 April 2009

In response to my SI column yesterday calling out, among other early-season phenomena, the relentless booing and media-bashing of Mets superstar David Wright, I received a flood of emails from disheartened Mets fans, pointing out the reason for their frustration over Wright’s play.

Here’s a good one…

Dear Mr. Keri:

The reason Mets fans are booing David Wright is that he has been absolutely abysmal in the clutch. I agree that he won’t end the season with 8 home runs and 203 strikeouts but any self-respecting Mets fan could care less if he finishes with his usual numbers if he continues to fail miserably in big situations. This pattern of coming up empty in big spots was established two years ago and continues today. Unlike Beltran and Delgado, Wright was given the benefit of the doubt because he’s a home grown product and so-called face of the franchise. But, enough is enough, he’s long removed from his rookie season, and it’s time to stop treating him with kid gloves.

The reason Beltran gets booed is because he has the same reputation. The Mets thought they were getting the guy who carried the Astros in that playoff series but instead they got a player with solid season-ending stats that don’t reflect how few times he came through in the clutch during the year. I agree, however, that he does not deserve such wrath coming out of the gate how he has this year.

Bottom line, the fans don’t want to see Wright become their version of A-Rod: all personal numbers and no big hits when it counts.

Respectfully,
Angry Ward

To which I replied:


Hi Ward, thanks for the note.

The problem with the argument that Wright deserves scorn because he doesn’t come through in the clutch is that…it’s completely false. Here are David Wright’s splits from 2006-2008:

Overall: .312 AVG/.396 OBP/.537 SLG
Runners On: .313/.399/.546
Scoring Position: .304/.400/.504
Bases Loaded: .341/.392/.610

Oh, and while we’re here, here’s Carlos Beltran:

Overall: .278/.372/.537
Runners On: .290/.382/.558
Scoring Position: .292/.389/.537
Bases Loaded: .294/.333/.824

And here’s A-Rod:

Overall: .302/.403/.581
Runners On: .301/.413/.582
Scoring Position: .303/.433/.549
Bases Loaded: .426/.441/.851

If these three supposed chokers are so lousy in clutch situations, then why do the numbers say that they’re actually very good in clutch situations–about the same in those spots as overall, or in some cases even better?

The idea that Alex Rodriguez, and now David Wright, is a choker who never comes through in the clutch is a giant myth perpetuated by mainstream media, shrill talk show hosts and pundits who blow one at-bat or one game out of proportion, and refuse to acknowledge any hard evidence that contradicts their theory. Further, it’s a perfect example of the obsession of media members, and sadly, of too many fans, to vilify a team’s best player for no good reason.

If I were a Mets fan, I’d be far more pissed off about the colossally stupid managing decision made by Jerry Manuel yesterday, or on a larger scale, Omar Minaya’s inability to adequately address the team’s starting pitching woes in the off-season, than I would about David Wright, who’s one of the 10 best players in baseball and could be on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

If I were a Yankees fan, I’d be far more angry about management’s over-reliance on aging players and the team’s inability to collect adequate depth behind those aging starters than I would about Alex Rodriguez, a player who for all his interpersonal faults and rule breaking, is one of the 2 best players in baseball and one of the 20 best of all-time.

Thanks again for reading and for writing in. Looking forward to corresponding with you in the future.

Cheers,
Jonah

Now, one could certainly nitpick my reply. For one thing, bases loaded stats are subject to small sample size issues. For another, and forgive me if I’m wrong here, but I’d be willing to bet that hitters as a whole perform at least somewhat better overall with runners on base than otherwise, because pitchers as a whole would intuitively seem likely to fare worse while pitching from the stretch/monitoring baserunners/getting fatigued etc.

With that said, I think Occam’s Razor applies here. People want to pick on superstars, so they fixate on perceived weaknesses, none more so than a supposed inability to deliver in the clutch. Because, you know, if a $15 million player doesn’t hit .650 with runners in scoring position, then he’s not doing his job.

I actually laughed out loud as a I constructed this post, because I was simultaneously reading a screed from a Cleveland writer who argues that Grady Sizemore — GRADY SIZEMORE!!! — is overrated, and gets too much sympathy from local fans for being the golden boy du jour. You can’t make this stuff up.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. angryward permalink
    30 April 2009 2:37 pm

    I say to-MAY-to, you say to-MAH-to. I’m not saying that Wright deserves to be booed out of Flushing but you are kidding yourself by simply looking at statistics. They only tell a very small part of the story. For instance, maybe A-Rod has hit .303 with runners in scoring position, but what if the lion’s share of those hits came in games when the Yankees were blowing someone out or were otherwise comfortably ahead? And what if the outs he made were in situations where it was late in the game and the Bombers desperately needed a hit and rbi? Can you come up with those splits?

    If you have been watching the Mets at all (and I guess that you have) you know that Wright has been (I won’t say lousy) less than dependable in important late-game situations. I am pulling for him to turn it around, but for now hopefully he’s mentally strong enough to suffer a few boos.

  2. Jonah permalink*
    30 April 2009 2:42 pm

    No question Wright has struggled in clutch situations this year–just as he’s struggled in non-clutch sitations so far this year, and just as many of his teammates have struggled so far this year. Only thing is “this year” = three and a half weeks. He’ll come around. Handwringing, booing and media bashing won’t help.

    Short answer to your A-Rod question: CONFIRMATION BIAS. Everyone in the world has decided that A-Rod hits 3-run homers when they’re playing Kansas City in a meaningless May game, up 9 runs in the 9th inning. So people make a point to remember any and all similar occurrences, and pretend that A-Rod walk-off homers and September hits didn’t happen. I could bring out all the data in the world, and no one will be satisfied.

    “A-Rod is a choker.” To shrill talking heads and far too many fans, that’s as true a statement as saying the Sun rises in the East.

  3. sorekara323 permalink
    30 April 2009 9:16 pm

    Excellent post here Jonah. The A-Rod bashing in New York is laughable..people who just don’t understant that the Yankees failure in the playoffs is due to having starters like Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano the past few seasons…on the other hand, in the Angels series and Tigers series A-Rod laid a stink bomb..but he’ll be back and will contribute to the 27th championship in October, I have no doubt.

    Criticizing Sizemore is a joke..wish we had him!

    Btw..how are you liking Josh Beckett’s 7+ ERA so far this season? He and Boy-Wonder Lester are not off to great starts..still too early for us Yanks fans to gloat?

  4. Jonah permalink*
    30 April 2009 9:35 pm

    I’d say the standings are a little more relevant right now, wouldn’t you James?

  5. sorekara323 permalink
    30 April 2009 11:46 pm

    Will repeat what I put on the Yanks blog tonight:

    “Huge win, 3 in a row now. 12-10 April with NO A-Rod, half-a-Tex, Cody “Vortex” Ransom, Brett “Spunky” Gardner, semi-CC, not-quite Mo, so-so AJ, dysfunctional Wang… I have to say with all that to deal with this has been a VERY successfull month” 2 back of Boston is nothing and their starters will not match ours over the long haul..Beckett and Lester as 1 & 2..will they stay healthy? Beckett, for all his post-season heroics..how many great seasons has he had? Lester only has one year behind him..Boston 92 wins, NYY 97.

  6. nym712 permalink
    2 May 2009 2:09 pm

    Thank you! I am so sick of the booing and all the “unclutch” talk. Wright has struggled thus far this season and did struggle with RISP last season, but all the “he’s never been clutch” stuff is absurd. Even last yr when he struggled his numbers were still vastly better in close games than they were in blowout games, so the various “stat padding” and “he only gets meaningless hits” stuff that gets thrown around is equally ridiculous. And people are criticizing Beltran as well? Carlos is a pretty streaky guy, but he’s been plenty clutch, and he was great down the stretch last season.

    And even as a Mets fan I find it laughable how much criticism A-Rod’s on the field play gets. Yeah he creates his own circus off the field, but all the not clutch stuff is silly.

Trackbacks

  1. Topics about Baseball | Blame the Superstar
  2. Dear Fellow Met Fans: Stop It. | umpbump.com

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