Friday, March 11, 2011

Clutch or Choke Part 2

There are few additional things to consider when talking about clutch performances. Sorry for the lengthy post.

I like the stats argument typically only for baseball since every situation is clearly defined, and big moments are isolated to an at bat or huge defensive play.
A sport like basketball can be a bit more difficult to define. For example, LeBum James puts up huge stats in games he gets criticized for not stepping up in. The critics don't typically look at the fact that some of these losses come on the strength of a triple double, but the fact that he fades in big moments of the game and stat pads the rest of the game. You can look to this past weekend against Chicago or his final game as a Cav as examples. This failure to step up in big moments is a failure to produce a clutch performance. D-Wade by comparison took the ball every huge possession, made smart decisions (passing/shooting when appropriate), and kept his team in the game. Derrick Rose did the same submitting another piece of evidence for his MVP case.
One issue impacting our views of “clutch” performances, are our expectations. Typically, clutch moments come in the playoffs or statement games. We expect the best players of any team to shine against a high level of competition. Our expectations for these players stem from what they’ve done the entire season. One thing people never consider is the fact that most leagues are overly diluted. Baseball, basketball, football and hockey are all too expanded. That allows players to put up huge numbers against lesser competition throughout the regular season. You cannot apply those averages to the playoffs where competition is better. An example for this could be Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt would put up monster stats against undersized centers throughout the course of a season. That wasn’t the case when he had to face up against Russell or Reed in the Finals (what people view as criteria for a clutch performance).

Another idea people overlook is how certain players are able to relax and play their game, and others aren't. Any clutch performances by a guy like Derek Jeter come as a result of his ability to focus and not become overwhelmed by big moments. He typically approaches big moments the same way he approaches Spring Training allowing him to trust his instincts and play his game. On the other hand, there’s A-Rod. He surely wants to come up big and live up to the expectations fans have set, as well as show up all the haters (like myself). That same mentality forces him to approach at bats differently. In the moments he fails, he doesn’t look real comfortable at the plate. Rather than taking an outside pitch he can handle to the opposite field to bring a runner in, he presses and either over swings (resulting in a pop up or a miss), or stalls at the plate watching a hittable pitch pass him by.

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