Sports announcers already know it, and now Elan Fuld has proven it: clutch hitters really do exist.
The 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania junior studied the phenomenon of clutch hitting in baseball, and his calculations provided statistical evidence that players such as Eddie Murray, Frank Duffy and Luis Gomez were clutch hitters.
A surprising finding in the study was that Bill Buckner, who has gone down in history as one of the game’s worst “choke artists” for his Game 6 World Series error, was statistically proven to be a clutch hitter.
In his study, Fuld defined a clutch hitter as a batter who hits better at more important points of the game. He modeled the at-bat outcomes of players using the importance of the game situation to find out if clutch or choke abilities helped to explain their performance.
“Once situational importance rose to around at least a certain level, the player would start to think this is very important and start doing something that makes him hit better, if he’s clutch, or panics and does something that makes him hit worse, if he’s a choke hitter,” Fuld said.
Fuld has been a life-long fan of the game.
“I really like baseball and like statistics, and this struck me as interesting. Anytime you hear sports announcers, they’re always talking about who is a clutch hitter and who is a choke hitter. So I did a research project to determine whether there was statistical evidence for the existence of clutch hitters in Major League Baseball.”
Last summer, between his sophomore and junior years at Penn, Fuld studied playing statistics of 1,075 Major League players in the 1974-1992 seasons. He determined the situational importance of a player’s at-bat based on a team’s lead, which bases were occupied, how many outs there were in the game and which half-inning it was. He used six sets of assumptions that involved sacrifice flys and errors in different ways, allowing for only a 1 percent chance of a player showing up as a clutch or choke hitter if he was not.
“What I found was that, when I included sacrifice flys in the analysis, there was overwhelming evidence that there were clutch hitters,” said Fuld, a math and economics major from Brookline, Mass.
Fuld conducted his research as part of Penn’s University Scholars program, which provides intellectually dynamic students support and funding to conduct creative and in-depth independent research in many disciplines.