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The Pat Tabler Experience

In 1983, Pat Tabler came to the plate 22 times with the bases loaded. He hit .579 and drove in 25 runs. A year later, he came up 13 more times with the bases loaded and he hit .556 and cracked his first grand slam. One year later, in 1985, he only came up seven times, but he got six hits — including a double, triple and home run — and knocked in 15 RBIs.

These 42 plate appearances earned him one of my favorite ever baseball cards — the Pat Tabler Mr. Clutch Donruss Card of 1986:


Pat Tabler’s glorious numbers with the bases loaded those three years — for the record, he hit .629, slugged .1029 and drove in 54 RBIs in 35 at-bats — was one of the joys of my Cleveland Indians childhood. Well, there weren’t many joys of my Cleveland Indians childhood. There was Len Barker’s perfect game. There was Rick Manning’s Gold Glove. There was Joe Charboneau’s rookie of the year. There was Duane Kuiper’s regular appearance in the fielding portion of “This Week in Baseball.” There was Andre Thornton winning comeback player of the year from the Sporting News in 1982, and that was a REAL comeback: Thornton endured personal tragedy (his wife and young daughter died in a car accident in 1977) and injuries (knee injuries kept him out of the entire 1980 season ) and, anyway, simply coming back at all to the Indians in those days took some moral fiber.

Then there was Pat Tabler’s Mr. Clutch streak.

I think about Tabler now because of an email sent by Tom Tango referencing a contradiction in my Strat-O-Matic post. On the one hand, I say I don’t like the horseshoes on Strat-O cards that reference a players ability to hit in the clutch (I have been told by several people that these were actually added to regulate a player’s RBI totals so that they somewhat mirror what happened during the season but it’s the same general thing). On the other hand, I say that I did like the fact that Statis Pro gave Matt Alexander a ridiculously awesome card in 1979 when he only had a few plate appearances. “Pick your poison,” Tom writes. “Do you want to reflect that card relative to what we observed? Or do you want to reflect the card after removing the ESTIMATED random variation?”

I told Tango that I fully embrace that I’m being inconsistent … but it’s mainly because I was 11 years old when I loved the Matt Alexander card. I think that card was ridiculous but wonderful at that point in my life.

In any case, Tango brought up Pat Tabler and I thought back to a question: How much of what Pat Tabler did those three years was luck and random variation? When I was a kid, I was pretty confident that NONE OF IT was luck. The guy was Mr. Clutch. It said so right on his card. Something came over him when the bases were loaded. True, the year the card came out he hit .200 with the bases loaded, which I recall was talked about quite a bit. It’s also true that in 1989, he went 1-for-11 with two double play grounders — and it seemed that whenever he came up with the bases loaded that year, the radio announcers talked about how he was Mr. Clutch which just accentuated the disappointment.

After all that, I started to go the other way — maybe it was ALL luck. We all know that seemingly crazy patterns emerge when dealing with the vagaries of probability. If you flip a coin a million times there will be some crazy run by one side — maybe heads or tails will come up 20 or 25 times in row. If that happened THE FIRST 20 times you flipped the coin, you would be convinced (with reason) that either the coin is tricked up or that you have mastered the art of flipping a coin.

In his whole career, Pat Tabler only came to the plate with the bases loaded only 109 times — a small percentage of his own career (Tabler had more than 4,300 plate appearances in the Majors) and an almost insignificant percentage of all that plate appearances of all the players in baseball. I wouldn’t know how to run the probability, but my guess is that it’s well within the standard deviation for SOMEBODY who is already a good hitter to have Pat Tabler numbers with the bases loaded.

But now I’m older … and I tend to take a more measured view of everything. I suspect that Tabler’s great run with the bases loaded (and he hit great again with the bases loaded in 1987 and 1988) was in part randomness but was in part something else, something like confidence.

In my upcoming book, The Secret of Golf,  I include golf lessons from Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus that I think of being a little bit bigger than golf. In quite a few of them, they talk about how instrumental confidence was in their rise to becoming the best golfer in the world. It wasn’t false confidence or bravado — they would visualize a shot and know that they could  hit it because they had hit it successfully so many times before in practice, in matches, under pressure, in the big moments. That’s what Tom Watson says he was thinking when he chipped in a Pebble Beach: I’m going to chip this in. I’ve chipped in shots like this many times before.

And I think Pat Tabler got a few hits with the bases loaded and he started to gain that kind of wonderful confidence. Hey the bases are loaded! I love it when the bases are loaded! I get hits when the bases are loaded! That sort of confidence doesn’t guarantee anything, of course, and there have been pretty convincing studies about the hot-hand in basketball that show that making your previous three shots doesn’t making the fourth shot any more likely to go in. But I do think that if you start off with a good hitter like Pat Tabler, have him succeed with the bases loaded a few times, build his comfort and conviction in that situation … well, maybe he can’t turn into the superhero Mr. Clutch but he can improve his chances just a little.

I guess this comes back to the question of clutch hitting … For years, announcers and players and analysts and sportswriters jammed the “clutch hitting” narrative down our throats, insisted that certain players had that ability to come through when it mattered and certain players did not. I don’t believe that. I am thoroughly convinced that there is no magic switch that turns on or off for hitters in key situations.

But I don’t believe that there’s nothing at all to performing under pressure. I do believe that confidence, faith, nerve, preparation (both mental and physical) does give an athlete a better shot of succeeding. There’s no doubt in my mind that Pat Tabler in those three years didn’t FEEL like a statistical anomaly. He felt like a guy who turned on, like Popeye with spinach, every time he came up with the bases loaded. That boost of confidence couldn’t turn someone like you or me into Mr. Clutch. But for a player like Pat Tabler, a first-round pick who twice hit .300 in full seasons and reached an All-Star Game, that boost of confidence just might have made a real difference.

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52 Responses to The Pat Tabler Experience

  1. Cleveland Love says:

    Thanks Joe. One of my favorite Indians.

  2. Evan says:

    The probability is actually pretty easy. Table was a .285 hitter overall from 1983 to 1985. If we assume that this was his TRUE batting average, the probability of him hitting .629 in 35 at-bats is 1 in 187,037. Since Tabler only had 112 different groups of 35 at-bats in his career, that’s pretty remarkable. A standard statistical test would easily conclude that Tabler had special clutch hitting abilities from ’83 to ’85.

    • Pete says:

      So how is it easy?

    • Spencer says:


      You’re presenting the problem wrong.

      Yes, for Pat Tabler to have that kind of run is remarkable and I’ll accept your number of 1 in 187,037. That’s the answer to the question “what are the chances Pat Tabler would have this kind of run?”

      But that’s not the number we want. The question we want to ask is “what are the odds that ANY player in baseball history would have this kind of run?” I suspect those odds are close to even.

      If a different player like Tony Fernandez or Tom Brunansky or Dick Groat (or anyone) had this kind of run we’d be having the same conversation.

      In fact even the situation isn’t special. We’re looking at based loaded situations as our “clutch” indicator but we know there’s plenty of other situations that we’d call clutch. The anomalous performance could have been observed in “hitting with RISP” or “playoff hitting in general”.

      It’s actually kind of inevitable we’d see a performance like this, by someone.

      On a similar note Stephen Gould figured out that we’d see Joe Dimaggio hitting streak once every 200 years (I think that’s the number). So we basically had a 1 in 2 chance of someone doing what Dimaggio had done.

    • tangotiger says:

      No, that’s not how it works. You’d have to include ALL MLB hitters of that time period. And then you’d have say 50,000 or 100,000 sequences. And out of all those, Pat Tabler was #1. That you ended up picking the one guy who was at 3 SD after seeing all the results isn’t that impressive. Someone will be at 3 SD.

    • MikeN says:

      That wasn’t the question. It was the probability of someone to be in that range. There are many players that have that batting ability. And there are many different runs of 110 at bats. What is the probability that someone will get numbers like that?

    • Randy Hill says:

      Another problem with the 1 in 187,037 number is using .285 as Pat’s expected batting average. IIRC it’s typical for batters to hit for higher averages when the bases are loaded, pitchers usually don’t want to walk in a run so batters tend to get more hittable pitches.

      In 1983 for example the AL batting average was .266, but league batters hit .305 with the bases loaded. That implies Tablers expected batting average with the bases full was in a range around .350, which would reducing that 1 in 187,037 calculation by a large amount

      • Clay says:

        Also keep in mind that BA with the bases loaded is inflated by sacrifice flies that would count as outs in other situations.

    • doncoffin64 says:

      He had 112 groups of totally independent ABs in his career, but 3875 (overlapping) groups of 35 ABs. I think it’s necessary to use the overlapping sets of ABs in making this calculation. If were to go 23 for 35 in one set of ABs and then start the next set of 35 with a hit, he’d have a .679 set of ABs. So it’s really 1-in-48, or about a 2% chance.

    • Statistically I would view that 35 at bat segment as a statistical outlier. It would show up in the corner of a scatter chart. While you would spend some time understanding it, it would typically be dismissed as a random occurrence & excluded from any conclusions. Your conclusion that he had some “special clutch hitting abilities from ’83 to ’85 is not what I’d typically expect a statistician to conclude. That “something happened” is obvious, but drawing a causal conclusion on it would not be typical.

  3. Rich says:

    Exactly. Talking about basketball and the hot hand…take a made-up player who shoots 50% for a career. If you look at his makes and misses, it IS going to look like a coin toss exercise. But some games he will be “feeling it”, and some games he won’t, mostly because of confidence, with other things in the mix…matchups, 1st or 2nd night of back-to-backs, etc. Most of those who deny the hot-hand phenomenon have never played the game. I think I’ll get backed up here by the players (rec hacks like me, to the pros).

    • David says:

      It’s fairly clear that you haven’t bothered to examine any of the hot hand studies, which have shown that making a shot actually makes you LESS likely to make the next one, not more.

    • Spencer says:

      I believe one of the main problems for non-professional athletes understanding professional sports is them using their own athletic experiences to understand sports at the highest level.

  4. In his 109 career PAs with the bases loaded he had a 0.507 wOBA. For player with at leafs 75 PA (since 195) only Rich Rollins had a higher wOBA, 0.515

    if you regress his 0.507 wOBA to the mean, you get something like 0.375. Eddie Murray, A-rod, Willie McCovey, Richie Sexson, Manny all have higher regressed-to-the-mean wOBAs. David Ortiz, Lee May, Matt Stairs, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire are all right there in the same ballpark.

  5. tarhoosier says:

    Rec league player here. Basketball was my game and I (somewhat) recall two occasions when I was in that place that is called “the zone”. For several possessions I felt I was floating on the court. I did not run, I was transported to a spot. The ball came to me as if on a string. Every shot went in. I was not breathing, it seemed, nor did I sense that I was running, though I must have been. I had no tiredness. It was magic. Then the clock stopped for some reason, I went back to the bench for a team huddle and the spell was broken. Teammates congratulated me and I knew not why. This kind of thing happens to athletes and dancers and all kinds of physical performers and I am sure it happens much more often to the very gifted. I think Pat Tabler was in his “zone”.

  6. MikeN says:

    You contradicted yourself in the last two sentences. If there is no such thing as a clutch hitter, then those other things don’t matter. Of course, there is the possibility that the non-clutch hitters fall apart under similar circumstances instead of the great ones elevating.

    I think we get your point, but without running the numbers I can quite confidently say that
    it’s not well within the standard deviation for SOMEBODY who is already a good hitter to have Pat Tabler numbers with the bases loaded.

    Such a performance I suspect would be outside the standard deviation.

  7. Robert says:

    My answer to this is usually the same: if clutch hitting is real, in the sense that players can turn it on whenever they want, why don’t they turn it on every at-bat? Wouldn’t the value in getting on-base every time up, regardless of situation, be immense? 109 is a puny number of at-bats, not even a quarter of a full season. So basically this is like a guy having a hot six weeks, and declaring him the MVP based on that. (Of course, that’s basically happened before, as long as the six weeks fell at the end of the season.) It’s hard to want to ascribe everything to randomness, since that really seems to reduce players to numbers on a page, talking about the odds of a certain number “coming up” as though the player wasn’t a human with control over their own destiny. But if Pat Tabler could “decide” to be great in the clutch, couldn’t any halfway-decent hitter? Why didn’t he “decide” to do it in 1986 or 1989? Or with the bases empty when the team needed a home run? There’s also the pitcher’s role in this, of course, which is that it’s much harder to pitch with the bases loaded than with nobody on. Maybe Tabler was particularly good at hitting the kind of pitches that pitchers throw when they don’t have anywhere to put you. That kind of skill, I’d buy.

    • Delabar's Weighted Balls says:

      Russell Martin recently had a quote saying that the Jays were a 80-something win team last year already, so all they need to do is squeeze out a few extra wins here and there, and they’re right where they need to be. This, in my opinion, is the attitude of clutch performance (i.e. Derek Jeter) You pick your spots. Everyone knows you’re not going to hit 1.000. And in fact, if you’re hitting .667 or some ridiculous #, you’re going to get the Barry Bonds treatment (intentionally pitched around). As a “Clutch” player, you definitely pick your spots. As much as pitchers set up hitters, hitters can also choose when is the most ideal time to “show your stuff”, which if revealed in the 2nd inning, would change the way you’re pitched to in the 9th.. not saying that’s the only way, but one way of looking at it. it’s a chess match, and you gotta be at your best & hopefully have things set up perfectly for the MOST pivotal moments, the moments of highest leverage.

      Your teammates, strategical decisions, the batting line-up (who’s on deck), the match-up, who’s left in the bullpen, previous at-bats vs. that pitcher, etc., are all variables that can make hitting in a certain situation extremely easy at times, difficult at others, and sometimes, you can really see the way things are setting up BEFORE they happen. Great players are in tune with this energy of the game, & know how to go with the FLOW of the games to achieve their desired outcomes. Heck, all players are part of it, it’s just that some are better than others… maybe it can’t be explained.. maybe words do not do justice, but there’s definitely something to it. AND if you haven’t experienced it, it would exponentially more difficult to understand. So really this entire reply could be pointless..

      • Delabar's Weighted Balls says:

        and it may not always be as complex as this, sometimes hitters just zone in better in the big spots (i.e. David Ortiz). Physical + Mental skills!

  8. yazmon says:

    If you come to the plate with the bases loaded, your mind immediately notes that the bases are loaded. Whether you like it or not or are aware of it, your mindset has changed. Your brain makes adjustments relative to the situation. It can’t help itself. In some cases the conscious and unconscious adjustments meld with particular skill sets to produce positive results more often than not. A player that does this often enough gets a deserved reputation as a “clutch hitter”.

    • I doubt there are many players above Little League don’t love batting with the bases loaded. I mean, basically if you put the ball in play a run will score (assuming less than two outs). And there is a big opportunity to put a big number up with one swing (and it doesn’t need to be a homerun to do so). A bases clearing double is a beautiful thing. You get to stand on second with your hands on your hips and survey the damage you’ve just inflicted as the crowd goes crazy & the other team regathers itself from a huge body blow. On the other hand, I don’t believe many pitchers would like this situation. Bases loaded is an extremely stressful situation. You have to throw strike 1 or the pressure multiplies. The situation is, relative to most at bats, slanted heavily towards the batter.

  9. Peter says:

    wow, for someone that has not played an inning of professional baseball, let me tell you that you can not gauge clutch. try as you might, you could never tell that a batter or pitcher could win that battle with game on the line if you wanted to. If you could Pete Rose would be rich.

  10. Cliff Blau says:

    I think the most amazing statistic in baseball history is that Mickey Mantle had 165 plate appearances with the bases loaded in his career, and drew 32 walks. Let’s see Pat Tabler do that!

    • nice!

      how about this one; in 239 career bases-loaded PAs, Barry Bonds was intentionally walked once. in 96 career bases-loaded PAs, Josh Hamilton was intentionally walked once. Every other player combined (retrosheet years only, i.e. since 1950); 223845 bases-loaded PAs, 0 intentional walks.

  11. You know, there’s a difference between flipping a coin a thousand times, in which random chance is the entire reason for the outcome, and a task performed by human beings, with an infinite number of variables influencing the outcome. It’s apples and oranges. Sure, with random chance, you’re going to get crazy streaks from time to time. After all, people hit the lottery, even though the chances of picking the right numbers are astronomical.

    But put the human element into the equation, and chance plays a much smaller percentage. Duane Kuiper could get a hundred billion at bats with the bases loaded and never match Pat Tablers numbers. Over a hundred billion at bats, at some point Lou Gehrig probably would match Tablers streak and then some. It ain’t just chance.

    So the answer to the question “Why was Pat Tabler such a good hitter with the bases loaded?” isn’t “That question is meaningless!” which is the all-purpose useless answer favored by stat-heads. Let’s actually try to answer the question of why it was Pat Tabler who did those things, and not someone else.

    Joe has a good point about confidence. Pat Tabler had some early success in big situations, and so he felt comfortable in those situations. It was positive reinforcement. Success breeds success. He didn’t need to prove anything, so he could be relaxed at the plate.

    Secondly, there’s the situation—bases loaded. This is a unique situation in baseball. A walk means a run. So the pitcher needs to be around the plate. The batter will generally see more fastballs, especially if he is ahead in the count. Fastballs that might be thrown with a little less zing and catch more of the plate. If you’re a hitter who likes to zero in on a fastball, hitting with the bases loaded is an ideal hitting situation—provided you’re relaxed and not overanxious.

    Some batters press in big situations and expand the zone, but Pat Tabler never did strike out much. He had a good eye, a balanced swing, didn’t try to do too much with a pitch (he didn’t homer much either). If he got a pitch he liked—a fastball over the plate say—he was likely to make good contact. He hit the ball where it was pitched, used the whole field, so he wasn’t easy to defend against either.

    That’s the other thing about Pat Tabler—he was a good hitter, but not a great hitter. He didn’t have enormous power. You would pitch to Pat Tabler with the bases loaded in a way you wouldn’t pitch to Mickey Mantle or Barry Bonds. Get behind Pat Tabler 2-1 or 3-1 and you’re not going to fool around, you’re going throw him a fastball over the plate and dare him to hit it. And to his credit, he usually did.

    Finally, there was the Pat Tabler Mojo. After awhile, hitting with the bases loaded became Pat Tabler’s calling card. Pitcher’s were aware of it. I have to feel it got into some pitcher’s heads, like a hitter who has a pitcher’s number. “Wait, isn’t that PAT TABLER I see coming to the plate with the bases loaded? Uh oh!” Because with people, the equation works both ways. Success not only breeds confidence in your own abilities, it can also foment doubt in your opponent. For instance, Rickey Henderson walked a ton, even though pitchers knew it was the last thing they wanted to do to him. They were so scared of walking him that they couldn’t throw the ball over the plate (of course, Rickey himself played a big part, crouching to make his strike zone smaller, taking a lot of pitches, and doing enough damage when they did throw him strikes that they couldn’t just groove one down the middle. Like I said, it works both ways.)

    So there you have it—an actual answer to the Pat Tabler conundrum. Now I will throw it back to the number crunchers who will make fun of the whole premise, because nothing ever happens for a reason, it is all just evidence of random variation.

    • Rick, great common sense commentary. Tabler was something else in that spot.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      You can’t be serious. If Pat Tabler was Ted Williams or someone, you might have a point. But he was nothing more than an above average hitter. You are saying that Tabler had some sort of “mojo” with the bases loaded that made pitchers particularly afraid of him? Talk about talking through your ass. What you seem to be saying is that, if I were the manager of the team, I would rather have Pat Tabler up with the bases loaded than Barry Bonds or Mickey Mantle. Really?

      I think your point is that there is often a difference in skill level and that accounts for differences in performance in clutch situations. Obviously, a better player is more likely to perform better than a worse player. That’s true but it’s sort of misleading. Pat Tabler was a decent hitter but certainly not at the level of a Babe Ruth or Ted Williams that would account for his hitting with the bases loaded. Saying that over a hundred billion at bats, Lou Gehrig would probably have a streak like that actually disproves your thesis because it suggests that it’s just random. That’s such a ridiculous number it’s pointless; What if you took only a million? Mark Lemke once hit .417 in the World Series; does that mean he was a great clutch hitter because he had a few good games. If you look at hitters in post-season, you will find a wide variation in their performance. Here are Mickey Mantle’s post-season (WS) BA: .200, .345, .208, .200, .250; .263; .250; .400; .167; .120; .133; .333. So, by your standards, Mantle sometimes rose to the occasion, but more often did not.

      And, one other thing: calling people names, ie, “number crunchers” doesn’t make your argument any stronger. It just makes you more of a jerk.

  12. Peter says:

    Pat Tabler Mojo, that’s funny

  13. tangotiger says:

    It’s clear that Joe has two very distinct fan bases:

    1. Those that start with the idea that everything is random variation around a mean, and look for evidence that this mean shifts somewhat in various conditions. A true .350 OBP hitter might be true .310 or .370, etc under various circumstances.

    2. Those that start with the idea that what they observe is close to the true mean, and might accept a small amount of random variation. An observed career .360 OBP might be observed at .500 OBP or .210 OBP, etc, under various circumstances, and so, the presumed true mean might be shifted say 10 or 30 points toward the overall mean.

    • A “hot streak” can be within normal variations. A “streaky” player might have lots of ups and downs. Several ups and several downs every year. A scatter chart would show the ups & downs plotted and an “average” line drawn down the middle. But the 3 year, 100 AB streak, that is noted about Tabler doesn’t have any matching period for him, at least according to the evidence we’ve seen. So, it’s outside of the normal distribution and a statistical outlier. It would be plotted way off the chart. It happened once. Lightening struck. We can start to put human attributes to it, maybe confidence, but any hot streak has that attribute. So, if a similar streak never happened again for Tabler, it is most likely a random occurrence…. unless you really dug into the numbers and found out, for example, that Tabler’s at bats in those situations were largely against pitchers with 1.8 WHIP and 6 ERAs. Absent those kind of numbers & analysis, it’s not definable. If it happened more than once, we’d have to take a second look, but it didn’t.

  14. Tom K says:

    Everyone has direct experience with some area of competitive human endeavor, work or hobby.

    In my experience, some people respond to pressure situations better than others. I expect most people see this (or think they do). But which is it? Real or imagined?

    We know, from the coin toss example, that a big part of clutch performance is random variation. But I see no reason that can’t exist alongside the thing that tells us, “if I need some neutral thing done right under pressure, I’d much rather have aunt Hilda do it tha cousin Gerty.”

    • Jovins says:

      The argument against this is that EVERYONE playing professional sports has already been successful in pressure situations throughout their entire lives. The ones who can’t handle clutch situations don’t make it to the highest level. Professional athletes aren’t just a random sample of people – there’s a very definite bias towards people with very strong self-belief.

  15. Joe– Awesome article. As soon as I saw “Pat Tabler” in th headline, I had to read it. Not many such pieces out there. Pat Tabler (along with Kevin Seitzer) played a HUGE role in my love of baseball as a youth and KC Royals fine. Hard to believe, but these two gladiator-sized men came to my house as a young boy back in the late-80’s when I was gone sick from school, and missed them on the Royals Caravan Autograph tour. Small town Chillicothe, MO, and these guys were introduced to my mom later that night, and said “where do you live? We know Chillicothe like the back of our hand. We’d love to go see him.” Less than 30 minutes later, two professional baseball players were sitting in my basement. I’ll always have soft spots for Kevin Seitzer and Pat Tabler. They made a little boy’s dreams come true more than 25 years ago.

  16. Jim says:

    I do believe some players are clutch players in that they are better able to block out the pressure of the situation and perform, sometimes better than normal because of the importance of the situation. Others get too caught up thinking about what is on the line and that affects their ability to focus. Having grown up watching George Brett’s entire career no stats could convince me he was not a great clutch player.

    • Cliff Blau says:

      How about his one? In League Championship Series, Brett’s fielding average was .899.

    • Shagster says:

      I think it’s the other way, and gets to heart if Joe’s comments. In those moments. They don’t block the noise — instead they see the certainty of their success.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      That may be true in certain sports, such as golf or tennis, where the player has a lot of control over any given situation. One tennis player can make the forehand down the line on game point while the other doesn’t. Of course, as in baseball, that may simply reflect difference in skill level but I think there is less randomness in tennis (at the pro level, certainly not at my level). But, in baseball, the outcome of a given at bat is largely random. No matter how good a hitter is, if the pitcher makes a good pitch, he will probably get the hitter out. Or the hitter can hit a line drive right at the shortstop. I think baseball players have less ability to control the outcome in a given situation. And, as people noted, if it is true that some players can perform better in clutch situations than in non-clutch situations, then shame on them because they should be playing like that all the time.

  17. I think it would be hard to argue that any baseball player has an ability to be better than normal under pressure in an absolute sense. This since it would imply that he would constantly be underperforming in normal situations relative to his ability.

    However it is not hard to argue that some players would be worse than normal under pressure.

    Now, it takes two to tango. Someone who is not at all impacted by nerves would statistically seem to be a “clutch hitter” since he would match up against both pitchers like himself who are not impacted AND pitchers who are.

    We never hear about clutch pitchers – except Jack Morris of course, but the entire concept of closers is built around clutch pitching

  18. Number Three says:

    Great thread of comments. I agree with almost everything, even the things that disagree with other things.

    Clapton may have said it best, “it comes and it goes”. In my own job, there are days, weeks, when I am on fire. Make the right call. Everything works. Then there are weeks, months, years it seems now, that I am on fire in the stop-drop-and-roll way. Make the wrong call. Nothing works. Now, there is randomness, but the random element doesn’t seem random. Like good cluster, bad cluster.

    So in a large-N sense, it probably all washes out, and the bad probably overtakes the good. But those good streaks, we have to believe in the CLUTCH. I was clutch in my day, sonny boy.

    • The key in your comment is that you REGULARLY have good weeks and bad weeks. So, these all fall into the normal distribution of your work experience. I expect that this is pretty standard for most people. The difference with Tabler is that it wasn’t repeated after the three years noted. You couldn’t even find that hot streak in normal ABs. That’s not a statistically significant occurrence. Stuff happens that you can’t explain. But you don’t try that hard to explain it (statistically speaking) because it’s not a repetitive situation that’s even worth explaining.

  19. as far as how an average batter does in a bases-loaded situation, it looks like the main difference is that the sacrifice fly rate goes way up, from about 0.5% overall* to about 9%. BB rate goes down from about 9% to 6.7%. so this makes BA and OBP tell very different stories; BA is 0.281 (bases loaded) vs 0.263 (bases not loaded) and OBP is 0.318 (bases loaded) vs 0.342 (bases not loaded). If I exclude sacrifice flies from both samples (bases loaded and bases not loaded) the per PA rate of events is,

    BA OBP wOBA 1b% 2b% 3b% HR% BB% K% total-PA
    0.2631 0.3440 0.3401 17.0 4.1 0.6 2.2 9.0 13.0 2062853
    0.2807 0.3484 0.3558 18.1 4.8 0.8 2.5 6.7 14.7 29157

    * the data I’m using is 1970-1992, both leagues, pitchers-as-batters excluded, vs starting pitchers only, times-through-the-order 3 or less.

  20. otistaylor89 says:

    Boy, I’m so lucky that I was a Rex Sox fan back then. Just looking at the 1987 Indians…boy they were awful. Two Hall of Fame pitchers! Both who won 300 games! Ugh, one was 48 and one was 42.
    Completely forgot about Pat Tabler. Joe Carter seemed to be the only one who killed the Sox and the rest of the team might as well have been minor leaguers.

  21. Richard Aronson says:

    So let’s ask the question: was Pat Tabler really Mr. Clutch? What would define clutchiness? I looked at his career splits, and saw some interesting numbers. Tabler had a career OPS of .724. Clutch hitters, in my opinion, would be at their best with the bases loaded, with runners on second and third, with runners on first and third, and with a runner on third. Unclutch situations would be bases empty, runner on first, runner on second, runner on first and second. If you look at Tabler’s career, his four best OPS splits are the four clutch splits, all 50+ points better OPS wise. With a runner on third, he batter .344, with runners on first and third .360, both in more PA than with the bases loaded. With runner on 3rd, 2 out, late, OPS .993; runner on 3rd, 2 out, in general .853 (batting .434. and .310, respectively, so his OPS increase was not due just to being pitched around). Add together all these plate appearances and you start getting to some reasonably significant sample sets. For his career, almost 1300 plate appearances, with RISP his OPS was .821, 144 points better than with bases empty, 113 points better than with just a runner on first. Tabler with RISP was close to being a perennial All-Star. Tabler with bases empty was barely a replacement player, if that.

    I know that batters in general tend to improve with men on base, especially third base. It’s indicative of a pitcher not at his best, or perhaps a lot of pitches thrown that inning. It forces the defense to adjust. But with two outs, the defensive changes revert, and neither sac flies nor sacrifices are in play. Tabler was good in a lot of clutch situations. He was HOF worthy with the bases loaded. But he was much stronger in all the clutch situations, and weaker when it was less clutch. He’s the only player I’ve studied who I believe legitimately should be placed in the lineup so he has as few at bats as possible with the bases empty and the most possible with men on third (as if predicting men on third is reliable). I think the body of his career deserves the moniker Mr. Clutch.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      But what would account for that? That Tabler was just bored in non-clutch situations and didn’t focus? If he has a skill that allows him to hit better with men on base than with no one on base, he sure left a lot of money on the table because if he hit like that all the time, he would have been in the Hall of Fame.

  22. largebill says:

    Somewhat unrelated, I was talking to a friend who like me also is originally from Cleveland area and he mentioned that Tabler attends his church here in Cincinnati.

  23. mikey says:

    Oh my god. Most of you just screwed up a nice piece on a quality major leaguer. What’s the statistical probability of any of us ever even getting a ball out of the infield against major league pitching? Baseball is to be savored for all its idiosyncracies – the beautiful play, the colorful player, a pennant race in the fall – and not for so many numbers we lose site of the original idea: a tough major league ball player who appeared godlike to an 11 year old boy. No wonder modern kids turn off the game.

  24. […] promptly gets a hit as they look on and gush like proud parents. How ironic it must be to know that Tabler was baseball’s greatest clutch hitter with the bases loaded while Buck hit .225 for his […]

  25. Jason Davis says:

    How random. I stumble onto this page to read about Pat Tabler, and Joe (through his reminiscing of the flukely Matt Alexander Strat-O-Matic card) reminds me of Rico Brogna on PC version of Tony LaRussa Baseball 2.
    Based on his tiny sample size 1994 with the Mets, Brogna was a triple-crown threat in a full season on the game. I was 16-years-old at the time and, like Joe and his Matt Alexander card, I loved it.

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