“Clutch” is one of those metrics that has been largely dismissed in baseball circles, set on the clearance rack with pitcher wins and RBIs. A 2004 article by Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus probably serves as the touchstone for the anti-clutch crowd, in which he argues that all major leaguers are clutch hitters by definition, but there is no “discernible change” in their abilities in clutch situations. Nate Silver’s 2005 article “Is David Ortiz a Clutch Hitter?” determined that yes, clutch hitting ability exists, but it isn’t the panacea one might expect, making up maybe 2% of success at the plate. Silver suggests it might be more appropriate to call this ability a product of “situational hitting,” if anything. However, given the ability to measure the leverage of any particular at-bat and being able to map those results to particular players over time has given rise to the “clutch” stat at Fangraphs, and with this influx of data has come somewhat of a softening of the old hardline stance on clutch. So what do the numbers say for Edgar, owner of perhaps the most clutch hit in Seattle sports history?
Part of the problem with the “clutch” metric is that the results can vary wildly from year to year, indicating clutch hitting is probably not a repeatable skill. This is the case with Edgar’s numbers; despite his reputation as a clutch hitter, his clutch score (where 0 is neutral) waver from -.14 one year to .13 the next, to .74 to 1.41, then back down to .09. 1995 is recognized as one of Edgar’s best years and yet his clutch score was only .9, compared to the 1.41 he earns for 1990. This suggests that the data is mostly noise, unless taken with something else. You can think of clutch stats like absinthe: unpleasant and licorice-y and oh god why would anyone drink this on its own, but perfectly delightful in a Corpse Reviver or Sazerac.
The gin to clutch’s absinthe may be found in Win Expectancy, or what Baseball-Reference calls Base-Out Wins Added (REW). In this category, Edgar appears on the leaderboard at BB-Ref for the AL for the years 1992 (8th), 1995 (1st), 1996 (3rd), 1997 (4th), 1998 (5th), 2000 (6th), 2001 (6th), and 2003 (10th). In all but three of those years, Edgar also posted a positive clutch rating. In 1995, he led the AL with a Win Expectancy of +7.10. just a hair shy of Bonds’s 7.42. It was the best mark put up by an AL batter since Eddie Murray’s 7.17 in 1984. Unlike the clutch hitters leaderboard, which is populated with names like Rick Cerone and Tim Foli, the win expectancy leaderboard contains more overlap with the hitters we know as Hall-of-Famers. In a list that covers 1972 - 2005, Edgar places 15th, alongside names like Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Rickey Henderson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Piazza. “Clutch” may still be a squirrelly metric, but Win Expectancy is not. Win Expectancy puts a number to that feeling you have when your team is down a run and a certain player comes striding to the plate and you think, that’s the person I want up to bat right now. It is as close a measurement to hope as we have, and it places Edgar firmly among the players who were his peers—players who are in the Hall of Fame. Edgar Martínez should be, too.