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Frank Deford offers some nonsense about clutch hitting

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Frank Deford’s weekly NPR hit deals with the clutch hit today. And of course it’s ridiculous. You can hear it all here. Here’s the intro:

As a child, your heart is broken when you learn that your grandfather really can’t pull real quarters out of your ear. And if you’re a baseball fan, that disillusionment happens once more to you in life when you first hear the numbers mavens tell you that there is no clutch hitter. None. No such thing.

Oh my, but if you have any romance in your soul, you do so want to believe that there are people in all walks of life whom we can count on to rise to the occasion. Don’t you want that?

He then goes on to cite the numbers about clutch hitting, acknowledging that no study has ever shown that players predictably and consistently — and those qualifiers matter — perform better in the clutch than they do in normal circumstances. Deford doesn’t dispute it. He just doesn’t like it and spends the next few minutes wishing it to not be so, citing “Faith, Benjamin Disraeli, and Derek Jeter” and the manner in which all three of those things discount statistics.

Which would be fine if he didn’t then set up a total straw man argument, calling statisticians “hard-hearted brutes”  and “zealots” who are dismissive of his romantic notions.  Biggest problem? No statistician ever claims what Deford says they claim: that all players respond exactly the same to pressure situations. Indeed, statisticians will tell you that they have no idea how players respond to pressure situations. They don’t have and can’t have the data. All they can day is what they do in terms of baseball production. Production that may come because of their response to pressure. Or may come despite their response to pressure. Or may be random chance.

More importantly, Deford makes the same mistake so many others do when it comes to talking about clutch hitting. And he does it knowingly, I believe, because he’s too smart to simply miss it. Specifically: he conflates the idea of clutch hitting as a skill and clutch hits as things that actually happen. Indeed, the latter happens all the time. Players come through in the clutch. It’s pretty fantastic when it happens too!  All the statheads say is that you can’t really predict when that will happen and who will do it, thus rendering the idea of clutch hitting as a replicable skill non-existent in the data.

Which does nothing to make statheads “heard-hearted brutes.” Indeed, in my view it makes them far more amenable to surprise and wonder. Knowing full well that, man, ANYONE could get that big clutch hit and not presuming at all to know it was coming.  Tell me: when David Ortiz hit that grand slam last week, did you think “HOLY CRAP!!!” Or did you think “Well, David Ortiz is a clutch hitter, so of course he did it. Knew it was coming.”

I, and all the statheads I know, felt the former. And it was anything but a dispassionate moment.  Too bad Deford, one presumes, had his heart set on that outcome already and would have had his romantic notions dashed if, instead, Ortiz struck out.

The Padres are aggressively shopping Yangervis Solarte

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Third baseman Yangervis Solarte #26 of the San Diego Padres fields a ground ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a MLB game at Chase Field on October 1, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
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In a column published on Sunday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports says the Padres are “aggressively shopping” third baseman Yangervis Solarte. The 29-year-old is entering his first of three years of arbitration eligibility and is projected to earn $2.7 million next season.

This past season, Solarte hit a solid .286/.341/.467 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI in 443 plate appearances. It’s quite impressive factoring in that he plays in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

Given that Solarte is team-controlled for three more years and he offers lots of versatility with previous experience playing first and second base as well as corner outfield, the Padres should receive a fair amount of interest.

Yankees sign Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13 million deal

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 20: Matt Holliday #7 of the St. Louis Cardinal hits a solo home run during the second inning against the San Diego Padres of game one of a doubleheader at Busch Stadium on July 20, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images)
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Update (6:52 PM EST): The deal is expected to be one year for $13 million, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports confirms the report.

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The Yankees are close to signing veteran free agent Matt Holliday, WFAN’s Sweeny Murti reports.

Holliday, who turns 37 years old next month, was limited to 110 games in 2016 with the Cardinals due to a fractured left thumb suffered in the second half. He finished the season hitting .246/.322/.461 with 20 home runs and 62 RBI in 426 plate appearances.

Holliday is likely looking at spending the majority of his time in the DH role. Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann handled the DH role for a majority of the time last season but all three have moved on — Rodriguez was released in the second half, Beltran just signed with the Astros, and McCann was traded to the Astros last month.