Bobby Abreu: Mr. Clutch 2011

Yes, you read the title correctly. Bobby Abreu of the Los Angeles Angeles was Mr. Clutch during the 2011 season. He ended the season with the highest clutch rating in the majors, as measured here at FanGraphs.

I stumbled across this nugget while writing this Thanksgiving-themed post for our friends at Baseball Nation. I was hunting for players who’d accomplished little-noticed feats last season. I revved up the leader boards, sorted for clutch, and found, to my great surprise, Bobby Abreu’s name at the top of the chart.

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of “clutchness” in sports and otherwise. People who can take their game to the next level in the most pressure-packed situations. Indeed, not just ones who can do it; ones who must do it; ones who thrive doing it.

At FanGraphs, clutch is defined as how well a player performs in high leverage situations in comparison to how well he performs in non-high leverage situations. It’s calculated using WPA, pLI and WPA/LI, as explained here. So if a player is a .330 hitter in non-high leverage situations and a .330 hitter in high leverage situations, then he may be considered a good hitter, but he wouldn’t be considered clutch.

Bobby Abreu’s clutch rating for 2011 was 2.70. Here’s the link to Abreu’s season stats since he debuted in 15 games with the Astros in 1996. Putting aside his first two seasons in Houston, Abreu posted career lows in 2011 in batting average (.253), wOBA (.325), wRC+ (104), slugging (.365) and ISO (.112). The slugging and ISO numbers, in particular, are so far below Abreu’s career averages before the 2011 season, they suggest a rather ignominious end to very good career.

Yet, Abreu delivered for the Angels time and again in 2011 in the clutch. He had 259 at-bats in low-leverage situations, 195 medium-leverage ones, and 48 high-leverage at-bats. In low-leverage, his wOBA was a measly .288 but in those precious 48 high-leverage at-bats? A wOBA of .454.  Bases empty? His wOBA was .300. Men in scoring position? .375.

I know what you’re thinking. The clutch statistic measures how much more effective a batter is in high leverage situations, so it’s not surprising to find a player like Abreu who has an overall down year and just happens to perform exceedingly well in high leverage situations that season.

That’s true, but it’s the exception more than the rule.

There have been 18 players who recorded a clutch number of 2.5 or higher in a season dating back to 1982. Only two of those players ended that season with a wOBA lower than Abreu’s .325 in 2011:

Kirby Puckett‘s 1985 season with the Minnesota Twins, in which he recorded a wOBA of .319.

Glenallen Hill‘s 1997 season with the San Francisco Giants, in which he recorded a wOBA of .315.

Troy O’Leary with the Boston Red Sox came close in 1996, when he ended the season with a 3.23 clutch rating but only a .328 wOBA.

The other 14 players with clutch scores at or above 2.5 had wOBA of at least .344 and, in many cases, much higher. Indeed, Albert Pujols‘s wOBA in 2006 was .448 for the entire season, and yet he still recorded a clutch rating of 3.30.

Bobby Abreu has had a very good career. He’s accumulated 62.6 WAR in 2,242 games. The only outfielders to have accumulated more career WAR in the past 30 seasons are Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez, Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton and Sammy Sosa. Pretty good company.

And yet it took his worst year offensively to do something he’d never done before — to be known as Mr. Clutch.




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Wendy is also a contributing writer for Sports on Earth. Her writing has appeared on ESPN.com, Baseball Nation, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Score, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

21 Responses to “Bobby Abreu: Mr. Clutch 2011”

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  1. Corvelay says:

    Maybe Abreu is clutch. Maybe he is 37 and after almost 10,000 ABs he only really gives full effort when it really counts. Probably a bit of both.

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  2. Crumpled Stiltskin says:

    Your definition of clutch is flawed. A .400 wOBA guy who maintains his hitting prowess in high leverage situations, neither improving nor declining, is more clutch than a .300 wOBA guy who improves to a .330 wOBA guy.

    “Clutch” means the guy who comes through in a high leverage situation. (Irregardless of how he bats in other situations.) Let’s say that a hitter hit a home run or walked on every occasion he touched the bat. In normal situations. In clutch situations. Your definition would preclude him from being clutch and yet there’s no hitter you would rather have with the bat in his hands in such a situation. That’s only a little bit ridiculous.

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    • Santos says:

      Just an FYI, if you want people to take you seriously don’t use the word “Irregardless”

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Santos says:

      Irregardless is included in the dictionary. It doesn’t mean you should use it. The word has a prefix of “Ir” (implying a negative), and a suffix of “Less” (also implying a negative). If you use a word with a double negative, it doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t mean regardless. People have been using it incorrectly for decades and thus, it has become part of the lexicon. Lastly, I never said it wasn’t a word, I said if you want people to take you seriously you shouldn’t use that word. It is considered nonstandard.

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      • delv says:

        Morphological “negation” isn’t always logical negation. Logical negation is a characteristic of languages in which “two negatives equals a positive.”

        A lot of languages have “concord negation,” in which multiple negatives increase the intensity of the communicated content. For example, in AAVE, “You ain’t got nothing” and “You got nothing” are both utterable and grammatical sentences, but the former is stronger in intensity. Another kind of negation is “agreement negation,” as in Standard French, in which two negation particles are needed in order to ensure grammaticality (eg. Je ne said pas). Ne and pas are both negation particles.

        Irregardless is probably a good example of concord negation in Standard English occuring at the sub-word level (“ir” and “less”).

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      • Ian R. says:

        Many languages other than English use double negatives. English, when spoken correctly, does not.

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      • delv says:

        language is a matter of reality, not shoulds and idealizations

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      • ToddM says:

        “Language is a matter of reality” is completely non-functional. Everything speaks somewhat differently, with their own idiomatic and bastardized slang. A particular “language” is the core everyone claiming to speak that language draws from, which needs some kind of basic rules.

        I hope, by being techincal and douchey myself, you’re noting what a douche you sound like.

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      • john says:

        ^H.I. Hayakawa is rolling in his grave.

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  3. AA says:

    Can also look to Abreu’s approach. He’s a more aggressive hitter in “clutch” situations. Indeed, Abreu is a guy who may be a little too patient. This is particularly true late in his career, where he probably needs to guess a bit more to speed up a slower bat.

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  4. mettle says:

    Just wanted to say I liked how the article was written.
    It had a nice flow, an nice narrative and it was a pleasure to read.
    I’d say it was on par with scribatory fangraphs giants Klaassen, Woodrum and Cistulli.

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  5. Greg says:

    Two words: sample size.

    You discovered a baseball statistical anomaly in a sample that consisted of 59 plate appearances. I don’t know how one can glean much of anything from 59 measly plate apperances. Abreu’s BABIP in high-leverage situations in 2011 was .378. Even by Bobby Abreu standards, that is an outlier. I think it’s more persuasive to argue that Abreu was just plain lucky in high-leverage situations in 2011 – luck that wasn’t with him in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2010, when he never had a wOBA higher than .340 in high-leverage situations.

    In his career, Abreu’s high-leverage wOBA is .389. In medium leverage, it’s .389. In low leverage, .363. And he has only 650 PA in his career in high-leverage situations. So we’re talking about the equivalent of one season. To put this in perspective, Abreu has had six seasons when his aggregate wOBA was higher than .389. His career aggregate wOBA is .383.

    Abreu’s career numbers show that he has been a very productive hitter and difficult out. And as one would expect, Abreu has been a very productive hitter and difficult out in any situation. But he fails to meet the Fangraphs definition of a clutch plater.

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    • Wendy Thurm says:

      Any clutch rating for a season is going to have a small sample size issue. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth noting. Of course clutch changes from season to season, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is luck. Otherwise, you’d see the same players on the clutch single season leaderboard. Still interesting, IMO.

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      • Greg says:

        Wendy,

        You are a very talented writer, and I enjoy your work. I agree that it is somewhat interesting, but I still don’t think it’s very relevant. And by relevant, I mean adding to the debate as to whether there is a such thing as a clutch hitter. But I’m not so dim-witted to understand that wasn’t the point of your article.

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  6. Kyle says:

    As an Angels fan I read the headline and immediately thought, “Huh?” I guess I’m still stinging from Scioscia’s mid to late season decision to bat Bobby in cleanup and watch him ground into double plays like it was his job. Still, he’s had a fantastic career and I’m certainly not *too* unhappy with him continuing to wear the Halos jersey.

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  7. I Smell Douche says:

    Hey guys. I come to Fangraphs everyday to correct peoples grammar on the comment section. I went to college but I have no friends and am allergic to vagina so instead I instigate arguements based on the premise that I am smarter than everyone and I alone know the intricacies of written word. I accuse other people of being a douchebag but in reality I am the huge bag of Summer’s Eve. Just thought you guys would like to know. Sincerely, Half The People That Read This Site

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  8. Drew says:

    Which half?

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  9. I Smell Douche says:

    Not our half Drew. I’m sure the majority of readers here a sabr heads and baseball enthusiasts such as myself but I just can’t stand the “I’m Better Than You” grammar police ruining the conversations over and over again.

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