The 19 best career clutch hitters, led by Tony Gwynn's .358 in LIPS, also happened to be good hitters overall. Fourteen of them were career .300 hitters overall and none were worse than .285 ( Mark Grudzielanek of the Cubs). Four of the 19 actually hit worse in LIPS than overall while the other 15 improved their batting average by no more than 8%. ( Jason Kendall of the Pirates improved the most in clutch spots, from .304 overall to .328 in LIPS, trailing only Gwynn.) Essentially those hitters were about as good in the clutch as they were overall.
Noted sabermetrician Bill James scoffed at clutch hitting as far back as 1984, writing, "How is it that a player who possesses the reflexes and the batting stroke and the knowledge and the experience to be a .260 hitter in other circumstances magically becomes a .300 hitter when the game is on the line? How does that happen? What is the process? What are the effects? Until we can answer those questions, I see little point in talking about clutch ability."
To Jackson and Jeter, the most important answer for James is that some players want those at bats with the game on the line more than others.
"Are you telling me that when you're down to one shot, Michael Jordan is no different from anybody else?" Jackson says. "How can you tell me Tiger Woods doesn't play better under pressure? Jack Nicklaus was the same as anybody else? I'm not buying it. It's the same with Derek. Maybe his numbers don't go way up, but everybody else's go down more. I've seen some great hitters, such as Wade Boggs and Rod Carew, who didn't really like those spots."
Mr. October, by the way, was a .262 career hitter and batted .344 in postseason LIPS.
Says Jeter, "I've always enjoyed the big spots. Especially in the postseason, your focus and concentration sharpen. Over a long season, early in games, your mind has a tendency to wander. But not with the game on the line. And once you're successful in those spots, you know you can do it and look forward to it.
"With some guys you can tell by their expression and body language that they'd rather not be up there. It seems like they're scared of the situation. I've seen it. They walk differently, carry themselves differently, look differently."
Jeter, whose 392 postseason at bats are second-most alltime, has had nearly identical numbers in the postseason as he has in the regular season, including batting average (.314 postseason, .317 regular season), on-base percentage (.385, .389) and slugging percentage (.469, .462). In LIPS at bats, however, the Yankee captain has been even better in the postseason: .415 versus .274.
"Now that says a lot," Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina says. "He's putting up the same numbers or better against only the best pitchers on the best teams in the most important games as he does when facing Number I through 5 starters on not only the good teams but also the below-average teams. Maybe it's a learned skill. Experience is a big part of any skill, and he's been through the postseason every year.
"As a pitcher I do know there's something to clutch hitting. I see some guys come up in pressure situations, and you can tell they're just trying not to strike out. I'm trying to take advantage of a hitter's anxiety by getting him out on his front foot to get him to roll over and hit a grounder or pop it up. The good ones don't let that happen as easily. They don't expand the strike zone, and they're willing to hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. Magglio Ordo�ez is a good example."