What is clutch? Despite the advances in statistical analysis and sabermetrics, we still don’t know. High leverage statistics can be measured, and looking at the splits for pitchers in those late and close or potentially game changing situations can give some indication of a pitcher’s ability to dial it up when the pressure is on. Other pitchers seem to fold like a lawn chair when runners reach second base, but is that more than bad luck?
I decided to look at the best and worst high leverage pitchers since 2010 per FanGraphs, but know that leverage statistics are not considered predictive.
Leaders using FIP:
It was interesting to see Jesse Crain on the list, but he did have four solid seasons from 2010-2014 before retiring, posting a 2.39 ERA and 3.20 FIP in 218 innings pitched. Even though the other pitchers make sense by their name, the only starter is Max Scherzer. He’s faced 313 batters in “high leverage” situations since 2010 and has allowed a .243 wOBA.
Here are the pitchers who have been the worst in high leverage situations.
These high leverage splits might be some reasons why these pitchers have struggled recently. Run prevention relies heavily on high leverage success, although it is difficult to predict high leverage results. An interesting thing to note is that many of the pitchers on this list are not necessarily “strikeout” pitchers. When you must rely on pitching to contact, it becomes much more difficult to control the outcome of an at-bat.
Now for left on base percentage with 70-percent being around the mean, but less in high leverage situations since 2010. These numbers could depend on clustered hits, also known as luck:
Betances has been one of the most dominant relievers in the league during his young career. He has struck out 13.7 per nine in 180.2 big league innings. When the pressure is on and you need an out, the strikeout is the only sure thing.
Here are the leaders this season (min 20 IP):
Again, many of the pitchers on this list have excellent strikeout stuff. The importance of the strikeout in limiting damage in high leverage situations cannot be stressed enough. Anything can happen when the ball is put in play, but only one thing can happen when strike three is in the books.
Pitchers’ success or failure in high pressure situations is something interesting to look at, but don’t go into the postseason watching for trends in high leverage spots. These numbers can flip at a moment’s notice.