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updated: 4/27/2014 7:53 PM

It's risky to ignore data when discussing baseball's 'intangibles'

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While baseball is a game that allows us to quantify many things, we always have to keep in mind it is played, managed and umpired by human beings. It's something we sabermetricians should always keep in mind.

But where it gets tricky is when people espouse intangibles while ignoring the data.

For instance, the word "clutch" has been used forever to refer to certain hitters who have a "nose" for the run batted in. That concept has been challenged by research that shows the ability to hit with runners in scoring position is not statistically repeatable from year to year.

You can look at the Cardinals' ridiculous .330 batting average with runners in scoring position last year (and more specifically, Allen Craig's .454 average in those situations) as an example. My broadcast partner, Jim Deshaies, and I said on more than one occasion last season it was very unlikely to see them sustain that number and (so far at least) we were correct. The Cardinals are about a hundred points worse and buried in the middle of the pack in baseball to this juncture (and Craig is off by about 300 points).

The lesson here is not that the Cardinals (and Craig) have lost their "clutch-ness." It's just that it's dangerous to extrapolate too much when it comes to "big spots" in a game.

The way I put it is that good hitters generally will be the best in most situations. Not in all situations, but more often than not, good hitters succeed and bad hitters fail.

Clutch hits exist. Clutch hitters do not.

The pitching equivalent of the nose for the RBI is the ability to get the final three outs in a ballgame.

Are the 25th, 26th and 27th outs really tougher to get no matter whom you're facing? Conventional wisdom in baseball says yes -- that it takes extra intestinal fortitude to close out a ballgame.

But doesn't it take guts to pitch at all in the big leagues? Can one really thrive at this level without some sort of competitive spirit no matter the situation?

OK, so then we consider human nature. It is one thing to be a big-league pitcher and to have success. It's another to carry the weight of a team's fortunes on your shoulder in the game's most critical inning with such a small margin for error.

Ultimately, I am pretty sure there have been many successful closers who doubted themselves all the time in spite of their achievements and conversely, numerous supremely confident relievers who were convinced they would make great closers yet were terrible at it.

So, while I can't say with 100 percent certainty that some pitchers are built for the job while others are not, I go back to what I said about clutch hitters -- if a pitcher is consistently good in the middle innings, he should be good in the final one, too.

I remember when LaTroy Hawkins was with the Cubs a decade ago and the word on him was, "good setup guy, bad closer." And I kind of bought into that idea. But, wow, was I wrong. I was basing my views on a small sample size, which is a cardinal sin in this game. In his career, Hawkins' ERA is virtually identical in save and non-save situations. And his best inning in terms of ERA in his career? Of course, the ninth.

So let's just keep it simple -- "clutch hitters" equals "good hitters" and good pitchers get outs in every inning.

• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Cubs. Follow him on Twitter@LenKasper and check out his baseball blog / with Jim Deshaies at

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