The “Clutch” Myth


Richard Durrett has been supplying Nolan Writin’ with quotable material ever since the regular season ended, which for the Rangers was actually the day after the regular season ended. If you follow the Rangers, even casually, you previously knew Richard Durrett because of the hot takes he provided in his columns for ESPN Dallas.

But since legendary radio personalities — Ben and Skin — left ESPN at the beginning of 2013, Durrett has since doubled his role as part of the ESPN Dallas radio tandem with Ian Fitzsimmons, and in the process has become doubly insufferable. Forever a scrawny, attention-seeking hack in his columns, Durrett has transmogrified into a blowhard with a voice. It’s a lot like a butterfly leaving its cocoon, only he’s turning into a really ugly butterfly.

In his most recent hot take article, Durrett suggests Yu Darvish is not on the same level as either Adam Wainwright or Justin Verlander because “he hasn’t stepped up and pitched like they have in the key moments.”

Um, okay, I guess.

He furthermore states:

"He’s got the stuff to pitch just as well as those guys, but doesn’t have the big-league experience. It takes time. But it also shows that Darvish still has a way to go in his maturation process. His last handful of starts in 2013 showed that as he struggled to hang onto leads, albeit slim ones with an offense that was having trouble producing runs."

And that’s where he kind of loses me. As noted numerous times on this blog, Darvish lost a shitload of leads in 2013 because the leads he was staked to were normally no greater than one run. He lost 4 games by the score of 1-0 in 2013, which is just one shy of the most 1-0 losses of any Ranger pitcher in the history of the organization, and Yu accomplished that feat in just one year. So, for each time Yu Darvish surrendered the tying run in a 2-1 game, or 3-2 game — is that on him, or is that the fault of an offense that did an excessively poor job providing him run support? Logically, the latter is the only reasonable conclusion one can make a legitimate case for.

After all, the Rangers managed to score 3 runs or less in 15 of Darvish’s last 21 starts during the regular season. You can extract a narrative about Yu lacking the “killer instinct” or “the will to win,” or what have you, but there are few “aces” in the history of Major League Baseball that could have done more with so little help. It’s a small miracle how he ended up with 13 wins in 2013.

Secondly, the notion that Yu Darvish hasn’t proved to be on the level of Wainwright or Verlander is fucking ludicrous. He’s started only one postseason game in his brief two-year career — a 5-1 loss to the Orioles in 2012 — and in that game he allowed 2 earned runs in 6.2 innings on the bump, striking out 7 without issuing a free pass. The reason he’s yet to show playoff dominance is due to the fact that the Rangers haven’t been in the postseason in the first place.

It would be like saying Jurickson Profar isn’t on the same hitting level as Miguel Cabrera because he hasn’t proven it in the playoffs. I mean, it’s true, but it has nothing to do with Jurickson; it has to do with the position his team has put him in. Just because Richard Durrett’s statements are not false doesn’t inherently make them right, either.

Personally, I’m of the belief that “clutch” does not exist, but if it did, baseball would absolutely be the worst sport to test the theory on. Still, there are non-anecdotal ways to quantify how well or how poorly pitchers performed “in the clutch,” as shown by the WPA — Win Percentage Added — metric. So here we go:

In 2013, Yu Darvish posted a WPA of +2.31, which was marginally better than Adam Wainwright’s +2.15, and significantly better than Justin Verlander’s +0.80. To help illuminate how flaky and meaningless “clutch” is, in 2012 Darvish’s WPA was +1.49, Wainwright’s was -0.63 and Verlander’s was +4.04. How much can you read into stats that fluctuate so much? Doesn’t that kinda, by itself, show the problem of the Clutch Theory?

What I’m trying to say is: The Rangers haven’t had a pitcher of Darvish’s skill level since Kevin Brown was here in the mid- to-late 90’s, or Nolan Ryan before him. This franchise has maybe had three or four true aces since its inception. And now that we have one, it isn’t enough. There always has to be something. If Yu Darvish was a lesser pitcher — but a clutch one! — the media would complain about how he doesn’t strike enough hitters out, or that his ERA was a little too high. In 2013 Darvish pitched more than 200 innings, led the league in strikeouts by a mile, and finished the year with a 2.83 ERA — 4th in the American League.

If Ranger fans are still complaining about Yu Darvish, now would probably be a good time to reevaluate all the good in life.