If you were anywhere on or around the internet over the past several years, and if you enjoyed reading or talking about baseball, you probably came across countless articles trying to figure out the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels, see, consistently seemed to finish above their Pythagorean record. In 2006, they finished with five more wins than their run differential implied. In 2007, four more wins. In 2008, twelve more wins. And so on. The Angels made a habit of outperforming statistical models and expectations, and their run of success - to such a degree - was confounding.
Eventually, it was deduced that the Angels were performing well in the clutch. FanGraphs has a handy stat appropriately titled Clutch, which is a measure of how well a player or team performs in important, or high-leverage situations, relative to how he or it performs in regular situations. Between 2002-2010, here's where the Angels ranked in baseball in Clutch:
Over the span of nine years, with nary a blip, Angels hitters and pitchers were performing exceptionally well in critical situations. By timing more of their success for when it mattered most, the Angels outperformed their overall numbers more than any other team.
Ordinarily, we don't think of clutch performance as being predictive or sustainable. But because the Angels did what they did for so long, we were left to wonder. There was a mountain of evidence suggesting that the Angels possessed some unusual ability to step up, possibly because of Mike Scioscia. As Dave Cameron wrote in the linked FanGraphs article:
Until someone figures out just what the Angels are doing, all we can really do is sit and stare in amazement. Right now, there’s no explanation. The Angels are a phenomenon.
Now, keep all of that in mind as we look at the 2011 numbers. The Angels are coming off a 6-3 win over the Seattle Mariners on Monday, but even with the win, the Angels are sitting in third place in the AL West, with a 32-36 record. Yet they have this 32-36 record despite owning a league-average offense and a better-than-average run prevention unit. What the Angels have been doing so far is the opposite of what we've come to expect the Angels to do, and one need only glance at the Clutch numbers to see what's the matter:
The pitching has been there, but the offense has wilted. The Angels own a .698 team OPS. With runners in scoring position, it drops to .649. In high-leverage situations, it drops to .639. So far this season, the Angels' offense hasn't only been unclutch - it's been anti-clutch. It has performed worse in clutch situations than it has in regular situations.
This is not to suggest that the Angels don't or didn't possess some mysterious clutch ability. Two-and-a-half months in 2011 don't negate all the evidence from previous years. But for people who feel like this year's Angels haven't looked like the usual Angels - there's a reason for that. They haven't been themselves in important situations at the plate, and it's cost them games.
I wouldn't expect the Angels' offense to remain so anti-clutch going forward. They'll probably simply be unclutch. And if they suddenly revert to being ultra-clutch - well, if anyone could do it, it's the Angels. For all I know, there might still be something there.