DMB News August 2000
Diamond Mind Email Newsletter #9
August 30, 2000
Written by Tom Tippett
Welcome to the fourth edition of the Diamond Mind email newsletter for the year 2000. Through these newsletters, we will try to keep you up to date on the latest product and technical information about the Diamond Mind Baseball game, related player disks, and our ongoing baseball research efforts. Back issues are available on our website.
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Topics for this issue:
Last December, Rob Neyer of ESPN.com wrote an article that sums up the attempts that have been made to demonstrate which players can properly be regarded as clutch hitters. That article is no longer available on ESPN.com, but Rob was gracious enough to grant us permission to publish it on our web site, and you can find it at:
Regular readers of this newsletter know that I highly recommend Rob's column, which can be found at the following address:
Rob presents both sides of the debate about whether clutch hitting exists, so I won't get into the details here. But it boils down to two points of view. The media takes for granted that certain players can be counted on to rise to the occasion and that you can identify those players by looking at batting averages in the late innings of close games or with runners in scoring position. On the other hand, the baseball analysis community hasn't been able to find any compelling evidence to suggest that this is true.
This is relevant for Diamond Mind Baseball because we include clutch ratings for hitters and jam ratings for pitchers on our season disks. Because there was no evidence that clutch hitting really exists, my original design did not include clutch and jam ratings. But when I signed the deal that led to the game being marketed by Pursue the Pennant from 1987-94, the folks at PTP insisted that I add these ratings.
The best argument for including them goes like this. If a real-life team happened to have three or four guys who compiled better stats in clutch situations (however you define them) than in non-clutch situations, chances are they won more games than normal given the talent on their roster. So if we take the side of the researchers who say that clutch hitting doesn't exist, we'd leave these ratings out of our game, and teams like this could fall short of its real-life win total in season replays.
But just because someone batted thirty points higher in 'clutch' situations than in other situations, it doesn't necessarily mean that he was a prime-time player. Most regulars get only 50-75 atbats in clutch situations in a season. With any group of atbats of this size, you'll have no trouble finding players who were up and others who were down solely due to chance. So how do we tell the difference between a player who got lucky and a player who rose to the occasion?
And what are clutch situations anyway? If you define them as the late innings of close games, then it's not a clutch effort when a hitter blows open a close game with a three-run homer in the sixth. If you define them as any situation with runners in scoring position, then it's not a clutch effort when a pesky leadoff hitter draws a walk and goes on to score the tying run. I submit that there are a lot more clutch situations than the media tends to include in their 'analysis'.
Even if we could come up with a consensus on how to define clutch situations, and even if there was compelling evidence that certain players consistently come through in these situations, I'm still left with a troubling question. If someone compiles better stats in clutch situations, doesn't that mean he's not performing at his best in other situations? Doesn't that suggest that he's coasting or failing to focus adequately in the early innings or when nobody is on base?
(By the way, most of the research has focused on attempts to find players whose stats improve in clutch situations, but it's possible that clutch performers distinguish themselves by maintaining their levels while others decline. In the past three years, batting averages have been 6-14 points lower in the late innings of close games than in all situations combined. This may reflect nothing more than the fact that you're generally facing the opposition's best pitchers in these situations, but there might be some clutch-related stuff involved, too.)
I could go on, but suffice it to say that I'm not convinced that clutch ratings belong in a game like ours that is designed to reflect what really happens in baseball. But I can't honestly say that this matter has been fully researched either, and until we have the time to do a comprehensive study of our own, I have to admit that it's possible that clutch performers do exist even though the baseball research community cannot prove it. Besides, these ratings have been in the game for thirteen years, and they're going to stay.
If you use the clutch ratings, you probably want to know what effect they have, so if you haven't already heard this, I'll repeat it here. They come into play in the late innings of close games regardless of whether there are runners on base or not. They do not have a large effect on the outcome of the batter-pitcher confrontation, however, and I would never choose to use a weaker player over a better one just because he has a superior clutch rating. That said, you will gain a small advantage if you have a clutch or jam rating in your favor.
I'm happy to report that we began field testing version 8 about three weeks ago. In that time, we've been focusing much of our effort on testing the game and fixing the bugs that have been reported, but we've also found time to make good progress on the last few features that we're adding.
The one I'd like to talk about now is the ability to save a game in progress and resume it later. During a recent visit with my wife's family, my 11-year-old nephew spent much of the time playing with version 8 on my notebook computer. On several occasions, he was in the middle of a game when we all needed to leave for a family outing. Because it tends to overheat, I prefer to shut this computer off when I'm going to be away for a while. But turning it off meant telling my nephew that he'd have to forget about the game that was underway.
It had always been part of the plan to add the ability to save a game and resume it later, and this experience only reinforced the need for this feature. So, in version 8, we've added a menu command that allows you to save any exhibition or league game. Because league games involve year-to-date stats, injuries, and fatigue information, you won't be allowed to resume that game if you have subsequently changed the rosters of the two teams, played or imported any other games involving the two teams, or done anything else that could cause the information in our database to get out of synch. A saved exhibition game stands alone, so it can always be resumed.
While we were adding this capability, we also added a feature in which the state of the game is automatically saved after every play. The purpose is to provide a safety net for anyone who suffers an untimely problem with their computer. If Windows crashes or is shut down during a game, or if you're playing a game online with the help of software like NetMeeting and your connection is dropped, you'll be able to resume the game right where you left off.
The version 8 to-do list is getting shorter every day, and you'll be the first to know when we have a formal ship date to announce. In the meantime, we're going to finish up the handful of new features that are still in the works, and we'll tell you about them in the next newsletter.