The Giants’ pitching staff has the third highest clutch rating, as measured by Fangraphs.com, in the Majors.* The Giants rank behind only the over-achieving Orioles and Pirates in terms of their performance in high leverage situations. Clutch ratings are subject to a great deal of variation due to luck and small sample sizes. Additionally, there is some question as to how much control pitchers have over their performance in clutch situations. Those concerns aside, it does serve as a simple way to analyze how well a particular team or player has performed when the game was on the line.
*For a detailed description of how Clutch scores are calculated, see the Fangraphs glossary. For now it is enough to know that it measures how well players perform in high leverage situations when placed in a “context neutral environment” and measured against the entire league and each player’s own historical performance.
Unsurprisingly, the best performers on the Giants’ pitching staff include the preternaturally skilled Madison Bumgarner, the enigmatically brilliant Matt Cain and the remarkably competent Santiago Casilla.
Surprisingly, to those who have paid little attention to the Giants’ season thus far, two time Cy Young Award Winning, All-Star Pitcher Tim Lincecum ranks second to last on the team in clutch score. (In last sits the execrable Steve Edlefsen)
Lincecum’s struggles have been well documented this season. The combination of Lincecum’s past success, his quotable personality, his cultural cachet and the true depths of suckitude to which he has descended have produced a plethora of articles on the subject.
Yet, as Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles points out:
It's obvious that there are two Tim Lincecums now:
1. The pitcher out of the windup, who will never have Madduxian command, but who can still strike out hitters on three pitches, strike out the side, and look like the pitcher we remember
2. The pitcher out of the stretch, who is sprinkled with weaponized Jonathan Sanchez dust
Grant’s hyperbolic point is essentially correct, with the bases empty, Tim Lincecum strikes out 11.67 batters per nine innings, walking 3.43 and allowing less than one homerun per nine.
With men on base he strikes out 7.16 and walks 6.61.
There is no possible world in which those numbers are acceptable from a major league pitcher.
As good as Lincecum has been at keeping runners off base- allowing only a .312 OBP with the bases empty- his awfulness at keeping those runners who do reach base from scoring is truly remarkable.
The 39 batters who have thus far faced Lincecum in high leverage situations have produced a batting line of .344/.474/.679. For comparison purposes, in Albert Pujols’ spectacular 2008 season he complied a .357/.462/.653 line. Lincecum has, in effect, turned every batter he faces during a high leverage situation into vintage Pujols.
The most horrifyingly interesting statistic that Lincecum’s train wreck of a season has produced thus far is that in high leverage situations, he has stranded -18.1% of runners who have are on base. That negative sign was not a type-o. In a league which strands 72.5% of runners overall, even if the negative sign had been a type-o, his performance still would have been Edlefsen-worthy.
Now consider how clutch the Giants’ pitching staff has been this year. Whether or not their performance in high leverage situations is sustainable is not at issue. Instead, merely admire the remarkable cultchitude™ of the Giants’ pitchers, who have managed to perform so well as a group when the game is on the line that they have been able to overcome the massive negative impact of 72 innings of Bad Lincecum.
Since 2009, when the all-pitch, no-hit Giants model fully emerged to provide endless Torture as only the Giants can, their various pitchers have led the majors in clutch score, ranking a full point ahead of their closest competition, the Lost Anaheim Angels of Angeles.
As hopeful as that long history of clutchitude may make a Giants fan, it is worth noting that those years (apart from this one) all involved superb seasons from Lincecum both in terms of standard pitching success and in clutch rating. If the Lincecum who has been pitching out of the stretch remains befuddled by “weaponized Jonathan Sanchez dust,” or baseball gods forbid, his stretch suckitude seeps over into his pitches delivered from the windup, Giants fans could be in for more torture than they reckoned for.