Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Aug 2006

Dr. Z: First Impressions

In an entertaining helping of preseason picks and impressions, the good doctor sort of forgets that Joe Jurevicius' breakout season already happened last year, worries with others about the KC O-line, has trouble choosing an NFC East winner (indeed), and points to Tittle and Nomellini as the keys to the 49ers'...ummm...future?

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 16 Aug 2006

114 comments, Last at 18 Aug 2006, 1:51pm by Travis

Comments

1
by Ferg (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 1:56pm

His comment about 8 foot NBA players vs. 400 pound NFL players are sort of weird. For one thing, there have only ever been a handful of 8-footers, right? For another, if you weigh 380 pounds, you could get up to 400 if you really tried. If you're 7'7, you're going to be 7'7.

Other than that I enjoyed the bit.

2
by DWL (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 1:59pm

"Clinton Portis screwed up his shoulder in an exhibition game against the Bengals. He says that four exhibitions are too many."

But he screwed it up in his 1st, not 4th (5th), pre-season game. So does this mean that one pre-season game is too many?

3
by Mac (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:00pm

A handful of 8 footers? There's NEVER been an 8 foot NBA player. Few humans have ever been 8 feet tall.

4
by Are-Tee (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:06pm

"What did Drew Brees ever do to get so deep into Marty Schottenheimer's doghouse? I've been reading the same hype you have about how wonderful Philip Rivers is gonna be. But what has he ever done, where, to whom?"

It seems that Zimmerman is still holding to his previously stated position that it was Schottenheimer who wanted Brees out, not L.J. Smith.

5
by Dan (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:08pm

Did he forget to write a blurb about the Steelers and Jaguars? Or am I missing something?

6
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:17pm

Mac, that's exactly what Ferg was talking about. There have been many humans to crack the 400 lb mark, but only a few to top 8'. So just some simple logic would tell you that 400lbs is alot easier to reach than 8'.

7
by Sam! (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:25pm

I wonder how he picked which 10 or so teams not to write about.

8
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:30pm

So just some simple logic would tell you that 400lbs is alot easier to reach than 8′.

Not really - it's not just "400 lbs", it's "a useful 400 lbs." You can get to 400 lbs no problem, but being able to play football at 400 lbs is another issue.

So it actually is a useful comparison. I'd bet it's easier for an 8' player to learn to play in the NBA than a 400 lb player to play in the NFL, so it's a question of "which wins first: trainers and conditioning maintaining high weights, or genetics producing an 8' basketball player?" Round 1 was won by the trainers.

9
by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:31pm

#4 I had no idea the Eagles Tight End had some pull in the Chargers' front office.

10
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:38pm

Re #4: It seems that Zimmerman is still holding to his previously stated position that it was Schottenheimer who wanted Brees out, not L.J. Smith.

Geez, I never realize that Smith wielded so much power in the Chargers organization. Isn't that sort of a conflict of interests, though? You know, seeing as how he plays tight end for the Eagles and all... ;)

11
by Ferg (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 2:48pm

8: I don't buy that. For one thing, people who grow extremely tall tend to have health problems that would prevent them from playing sports.

For another thing, there is (as far as I can tell) exactly one man over 8 feet right now, Leonid Stadnik of Ukraine at 8'4. (Guinness lists the tallest living man at about 7'9 because Stadnik won't stand for official measurements.)

12
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:08pm

I get more enjoyment out of one Z column than I do out of ten pieces by King or Easterbrook.

13
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:11pm

8: I don’t buy that. For one thing, people who grow extremely tall tend to have health problems that would prevent them from playing sports.

I'm pretty sure that eventually that'll be managed sufficiently. But at least one person over 8' has been in a soldier in an army, which means he was at least somewhat healthy.

For another thing, there is (as far as I can tell) exactly one man over 8 feet right now,

Two, actually, though neither have been measured.

But that's kindof the point. There's no one in the NFL playing at 450 pounds now, either. There's going to be an upper limit there, as well - you can keep putting on weight, but at some point, you start getting weaker instead of stronger since your muscles don't keep growing in strength as fast as your weight is. So to get to, say, 450, you have to be very tall, and very well conditioned. So it's essentially another fight against genetics, but a different one.

14
by Russ (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:18pm

Not a great column (though I hate to complain about free stuff). Essentially, his stream-of-consciousness remarks about teams reads like the NFL equivalent of those unintentionally hilarious Larry King columns in USA Today.

W.r.t. his assertion that Peyton Manning blew the 2nd-and-two, I dunno. With that amount of time left and one or no timeouts, isn't an end zone pass along the sidelines one of the safer calls? Add to that that there's a rookie in the game, and I think that's probably a fine call. It certainly wasn't the old playing-it-safe handoff and try to win in overtime approach that would have been criticized to death had Vanderjagt still missed the figgie or if he'd made it and the Colts had still lost in OT-- the second-guessers would have been wondering why they didn't take a shot at ending the game with 2nd-and-2 from the 28.

Now, that doesn't mean the third down call wasn't off (and the pass certainly was, either way). But the second down call was solid.

About exhibition games, I wonder what the ratio of starters who suffer serious injuries in preseason is to those who suffer similar injuries in the regular season. Sure, there's a big injury or two every year in preseason, but there's seemingly one a week or more in the regular season. You'd have to look at it on a per-play basis, obviously, since starters don't play much in the preseason.

15
by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:19pm

#13
The experience of sumo wrestlers (particularly Konoshiki, Akebono, and Musashimaru) shows it's possible to be over 450 pounds and be quite strong; noticeably stronger, in fact, than men in the 350 pound area. The problem then becomes one of endurane, rather than actual strength.

16
by karl (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:19pm

To be fair, I believe that Clinton's point is: I'm not getting paid for the pre-season, why the fu-- am I playing in these games.

More seriously, he was angry about the policy of putting guys in a game for 1 series or a half a quarter or whatever, when really it means nothing. The starting offense gets more chemistry playing for 10-15 minutes against a vanilla defense that isn't really scheming? All of the starters put in a little less effort, and that kind of thing leads to injuries moreso than when you expect full speed and so you play full speed.

I agree. I'd rather there be two preseason games. They're a waist. 1 to evaluate young guys. 1 to get veterans ready. Let's start the season.

17
by centrifuge (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:21pm

The problem then becomes one of endurane, rather than actual strength.

And mobility.

18
by JRM (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:31pm

Let's say Shaquille O'Neal was two inches taller and really wanted to be a defensive lineman.

I could see him being a functional 400 pounder.

19
by karl (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:31pm

What, exactly, is a "ding-a-ling parade"?

20
by GlennW (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:31pm

> So to get to, say, 450, you have to be very tall, and very well conditioned.

"Very well conditioned" is debatable at nose tackle. Sure, you'd have to be "quick" (only by NT standards), but at some level the job description calls for brute strength and space-eating ability. If we knew the absolute truth how far was Gilbert Brown (who was only 6'2") from the 400 number?

21
by GlennW (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:40pm

> Now, that doesn’t mean the third down call wasn’t off (and the pass certainly was, either way). But the second down call was solid.

Speaking as a Steelers fan, the 2nd-down call scared the crap out of me, as when the ball was released I thought we'd be looking at a TD. McFadden had to make a near-brilliant play on the ball as it was. A lot of this stuff is pure second-guessing-- given the choice, I'd rather take a shot at the endzone than settle for a 35-yard FG (as opposed to 45) that only puts you into OT. Agreed on a better 3rd-down call though...

22
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:52pm

The experience of sumo wrestlers (particularly Konoshiki, Akebono, and Musashimaru) shows it’s possible to be over 450 pounds and be quite strong; noticeably stronger, in fact, than men in the 350 pound area. The problem then becomes one of endurane, rather than actual strength.

I meant more "strength to weight" than strength. If you just gain strength and lose quickness, that's not going to help you that much in the NFL. A running back will just blow by you, an offensive lineman will gain leverage, or a defensive lineman will just burst right around you.

You'd probably need a 6'8", 6'9" person to be a 450 pound lineman, and I still think he'd have trouble maintaining that conditioning.

23
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:54pm

And regarding preseason length, Vic Carucci pointed out a very nice-sounding reason why many veterans (and not just the stars) will say they want preseason to be shorter: because the longer preseason is, the more of a chance the younger kids have of unseating them.

Puts things in perspective a bit. Obviously that's not true for Portis, but it's definitely a good point.

24
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 3:56pm

re 14, 21: I agree with Dr Z that the calls were bad. He's not arguing that Indy should have settled for the FG, but they had 2 timeouts remaining. They could have run something simple to pick up the first down, used one timeout, and still had time for two shots at the TD and, if unsuccessful, still had time to run a setup play, use their final timeout and attempt a (shorter) FG. Their play-calling choices cheated themselves out of at least 2 or 3 additional plays that could have gotten them a shorter FG or a TD. (Of course, this is assuming that they would have coverted the 2nd and 2. Maybe they would have had trouble with this, but I still think a short pass or handoff to pick up the first down would have been a better play)

25
by Richie (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:02pm

I hate when writers go on and on about average length of games. Does any fan really care if an NFL game lasts 3 hours 6 minutes instead of 3 hours 18 minutes? Is that 12 minutes really going to ruin your day, particularly if the game is a nail-biter?

I still say that all the complaining about length of NFL and MLB games is created by reporters who are working on a deadline. 12 extra minutes to a reporter can be a big deal.

26
by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:22pm

Pat #8:

You can get to 400 lbs no problem, but being able to play football at 400 lbs is another issue.

Shawn Andrews played right guard last year bouncing around 400 lbs. And he almost made the Pro-Bowl.

How much did the Fridge weigh?

27
by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:29pm

Since Dr. Z is parrotting everyone else in saying that the NFC East is going to be really tight this year, I'm going to go way out on a limb and proclaim that this bit of conventional wisdom will be prooved decidedly wrong no later than Week 8 or 10. At least one team is going to be decimated by injuries (I'm guessing Redskins or Giants), and another will likely regress from last year (I'm guessing Giants or Cowboys). Of course it would be really interesting for both to happen to the same team (say the Giants), as happened to the Eagles last year.

Just like the AFC East went from powerhouse to creampuff from 2004 to 2005, I suspect that the NFC East and AFC West will do likewise this year.

Some other conference, perhaps the AFC North or NFC South, is going to be the powerhouse conference this year with at least 3 playoff caliber teams.

28
by DWL (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:36pm

RE: #27 So you're saying the think Eagles will win the division...probably?

29
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:43pm

Shawn Andrews played right guard last year bouncing around 400 lbs.

More like 370-380, from what I heard. And he had said that it was a serious, serious struggle. Which is why I said it's not an easy thing to play at 400. I can't imagine someone playing at 450, but I can't imagine an 8' tall guy either. :)

and another will likely regress from last year (I’m guessing Giants or Cowboys).

I think this is more likely. The Cowboys already did regress last year. Trivia question - who was the worse team in the NFC East in weighted DVOA through the playoffs last year?

Philly? Nope. Dallas.

That being said, I think that the NFC East was the most competitive division in the NFC last year even with Philly (it was second in the league according to DVOA, with teams ranked 7, 8, 15, 18 - only the AFC West was better), and my guess is that it will be again.

Most of the teams are good enough that they'll stay at least competitive even if they regress or get injured.

30
by Steve (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 4:51pm

One can quibble over whether the Colts should have tried something more conservative on 2nd or 3rd down or both, but the fact of the matter is it was awful play calling in that situation not to get the FG attempt into the 35-40 yd range. At that point (remember, they had 2 timeouts) they could have taken a couple of shots. The whole thing reminded me of Herm Edwards in reverse. During the playoff game 2 yrs ago against the Steelers, Herm seemed so content to kick a 45 yarder that he pretty much abandoned any effort to pick up any yardage at all. Of course Herm was doubly stupid since he was looking at kicking a 45 yd FG at Heinz Field instead of in a dome, but the point stands. Unless you're running out of time (or it's 4th down), I think it's a terrible coaching decision to pin your season on a 45+ yard FG.

31
by Glenn (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 5:03pm

PATRIOTS: The secret to their success when they began their Super Bowl run was bringing in players everyone thought were washed up and fitting them perfectly into their system. But all these guys had something in common: At one time they'd really been good. So how do you account for the people they've brought in recently?

Interesting point. Guys like Roman Phifer, Bryan Cox, Bobby Hamilton and Ted Washington all had mileage on the tires and enough to make significant contributions. But in those first few Belichick years, he needed those guys to a greater degree because the team hadn't yet developed the "Patriots culture" and Belichick knew exactly what kind of player he needed to build the team character he wanted. At this point in 2006, the emphasis is on integrating youth into a team of vets, not picking up guys off the trash heap (Duane Starks excepted of course).

That having been noted, BB did bring in an unproven guy named Mike Vrabel from Pittsburg who certainly didn't have a pedigree behind him.

32
by Kris H (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 5:10pm

Oh, yeah, and as to Z's forecast about how he'll ask Manning at his Hall-of-Fame induction:

How exactly is Manning going to win two Super Bowls? He has been decidedly horrible in just about every big game in his college or pro career. He's the type of player that puts up huge stats against garbage teams, looks glamorous, and is revealed for being less-than-special by good teams in big games.

Manning is a good player, don't get me wrong, but he is decidedly not a great one.

I bet Manning will win exactly zero Super Bowls.

33
by GlennW (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 5:28pm

> That having been noted, BB did bring in an unproven guy named Mike Vrabel from Pittsburg who certainly didn’t have a pedigree behind him.

Vrabel had some pedigree, and at least not a negative one as some of the recent examples that Dr. Z gave. The Steelers liked Vrabel plenty but he'd had some injury issues and just wasn't going to start at that time (whether that was a good decision or not). And Vrabel was the guy who sacked and forced the Drew Bledsoe fumble to clinch the 7-6 playoff game in the 1997 season, so he shouldn't have been completely unknown to Patriots fans. All in all I'd place Vrabel with the other players who had good reputations (but not the "washed-up" tag, certainly).

34
by buddha (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 6:29pm

Dang, what did Shaun ROgers ever do to Dr. Z?

35
by Vince (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 6:29pm

I hate when writers go on and on about average length of games. Does any fan really care if an NFL game lasts 3 hours 6 minutes instead of 3 hours 18 minutes? Is that 12 minutes really going to ruin your day, particularly if the game is a nail-biter?
I still say that all the complaining about length of NFL and MLB games is created by reporters who are working on a deadline. 12 extra minutes to a reporter can be a big deal.

Don't forget, Z tapes games for review purposes. If the early game goes long, he misses part of the late game.

36
by bmw1 (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 6:36pm

Did anybody else look at the 'experts' fantasy draft while they were at the SI site? Does anybody else think that many of their picks are as stupid as I do? King taking the Tampa defense in the sixth round over WR's like Andre Johnson, Darrell Jackson, and Plaxico?? Especially when his best WR is Deion "I'm hoping the holdout will keep him fresh" Branch??

37
by Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 6:38pm

#32, as the baseball stats guys are forever reminding people, there are no clutch players, only clutch plays. If someone looks particularly bad or good in "big games", it's almsot certainly because they haven't played enough of them for averages to work out (and this is far more true in the 16-game seasons and single-elimination playoffs of the NFL than the 162-game seasons and best of 7 playoffs of baseball).

38
by GlennW (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 7:04pm

> #32, as the baseball stats guys are forever reminding people, there are no clutch players, only clutch plays.

Some baseball stats guys (including Bill James) are moving off that hardline on "clutch" though, even towards the belief that clutch hitters exist, as opposed to just saying previously that they might exist but it can't be proved. They're having a hard time with the case of David Ortiz, for one.

39
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 7:09pm

David Ortiz is perceived to be a 'clutch' hitter because, uniquely among all of the best hitters in baseball, he has the luxury of another of the best hitters in baseball coming behind him. Manny Ramirez in the on-deck circle guarantees Ortiz will always get a pitch to hit, even in a game-on-the-line situation. I'm not convinced that he's more 'clutch' than Travis Hafner would be in the same situation.

40
by Crazy Alice "who dis" (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 7:30pm

so.. Dr. Z hates everybody but the Panthers. Is this what I'm getting.

41
by GlennW (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 7:39pm

> I’m not convinced that he’s more ‘clutch’ than Travis Hafner would be in the same situation.

Their clutch numbers aren't comparable though, and this is more than a perception issue. Manny keeps Ortiz from being pitched around and walked (affecting only his OBP), but Ortiz' rate (not just quantity) of production is still obscene. In potential game-ending situations (of any kind) over the past two years Ortiz is 8-for-9 with FIVE walkoff HRs, and his more general LIPS stats are also through the roof.

BP (Nate Silver) placed Ortiz' 2005 situational production (i.e. performance in high-leverage situations) among the five most clutch seasons of the last 30 years, and Ortiz has only exceeded that in 2006. If two such historically significant clutch seasons in a row (immediately following his 2004 postseason heroics) isn't a true positive correlation, that it's one hell of an improbable coincidence.

42
by Richie (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 8:29pm

How exactly is Manning going to win two Super Bowls?

Maybe the same way Elway did after first losing 3 Super Bowls and being labeled a loser.

43
by Richie (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 8:33pm

Don’t forget, Z tapes games for review purposes. If the early game goes long, he misses part of the late game.

Another horrible argument that has nothing to do with the casual fan's viewing habits.

44
by Jaime (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 9:03pm

Re: Clutch players

A big problem I have with the whole concept of "clutch" is -- if we define clutch as someone who performs above average in an important situation -- then why doesn't this player ALWAYS play at that level? If someone is truly "clutch", then it is basically implied that they are not always playing to their potential.

45
by Countertorque (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 9:18pm

I'm glad Dr. Z is calling for coaches to be more open with the media. The fans are paying the bills and we want the dirt. It's less fun when we can't figure out what the heck is going on.

And as for game length, I'm a fan and I prefer the refs to make faster calls, so that I spend less time watching people stand around. This is my life and it's ending 1 minute at a time.

46
by Travis (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 9:47pm

Re: Clutch players

Perhaps "clutch players" (players who raise their production at the most crucial times) don't exist, but anti-clutch players (players whose production is significantly and consistently impaired at the most crucial times) certainly do. Exhibit #1: Fausto Carmona.

47
by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 10:10pm

#5 He also seemed to skip the Broncos.

48
by jimmo (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 10:32pm

re: 25, length of game most definitely matters to me, especially for the early games. 3:06 means the early games don't bleed into the late, while 3:18 means I miss some of the late game (or worse, the network misses the beginning of the late game).

49
by masocc (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 10:47pm

Re #44

While there's some merit to your conceptions, theoretically, if 'clutchiness' exists, it may simply not be possible to maintain that high level of performance.

For instance, I can work in two modes: I can work normally (which is fast, efficient, and essentially the equivalent of two 'normal' workers). When we're short-handed, I can step things up even more, and replace three 'normal' workers. But I can't keep that up over the course of a full work week, and especially not week in and week out.

In fact, this could possibly explain the 'streakiness' of some players as well.

50
by GlennW (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 11:03pm

> Exhibit #1: Fausto Carmona.

Indeed, Fausto Carmona was one of Big Papi's walkoff HR victims. I think your explanation is at least part of the reason for any performance differential. In every "clutch" situation there are at least two main combatants. If the steel-nerved player can take advantage of the shrinking player in such situations on some kind of consistent basis, that may show up in his numbers. On an intuitive level (I understand that such hypotheses must be proved) the extreme opposite theory to the existence of clutch players seems unlikely to me-- i.e. that all players perform at their exact baseline level (with deviations only due to quality of opponent and random chance) regardless of the pressure of the game situation.

Watching David Ortiz every day for the past three seasons, I have my own certain opinion on his clutch-hitting ability. In any case, I stand by the assertion that the "baseball stat guys" have moved away from saying that clutch hitting doesn't exist. Linked is a recent piece on Ortiz and some excerpted quotes:

"Sussman also writes that Baseball Prospectus’s Nate Silver thinks “hardcore sabermetricians� think “clutch hitting is an illusion, and such an ability doesn’t exist.� Silver actually wrote the exact opposite, saying, “Clutch hitting exists, more than previous research would indicate.� Bill James has also acknowledged that there is such a thing as clutch hitting; as he told me last year, “I’m still not sure exactly how to measure clutch hitting. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Watching Ortiz, it’s hard to think it doesn’t.�"

51
by Bjorn (not verified) :: Wed, 08/16/2006 - 11:51pm

RE: 35

So you think that Dr. Z only has one TV to watch football on? I bet he has 8.

52
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:01am

Re: 50

Fausto Carmona didn't just give up the homer to Ortiz; he was made closer a week earlier, and failed in all 4 appearances. See also his performance one day earlier, when he gave up 4 runs in a tie game the 9th; 2 days later, when he got 2 quick outs, then looked absolutely panicked as he hit 2 batters, walked the 3rd, then gave up the winning double; or 5 days later, when he gave up the game-winning homer when ahead in the 9th.

Other than his closing efforts, he has not given up an earned run in his 11 appearances in July and August.

53
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:19am

Re: 50

Here's what Bill James had to say about clutchness in his New Historical Baseball Abstract. I'm quoting extensively because I don't think I could put it any better. It's heavily but fairly edited, all emphases mine:

Baseball men often like to attribute the success or failure of of a team to clutch performances. Those of use who study baseball systematically know that this is largely untrue....[C]lutch successes and failures generally even out over the course of a season....

But since this elusive "clutch ability" has no particular statistical dimension, it has become popular within the discussion as a bullshit dump. All discussions have bullshit dumps; we need them. Our logic, whatever it is that we are talking about, can never be completely worked out; all subjects worthy of discussion are too complicated to be fully encased in logic. Thus, in all discussions, the least precise areas become bullshit dumps....

[T]he fact that 90% to 99% of what is said about clutch performers in sports is nonsense does not mean that there is nothing here....

There are about twenty players who, in my opinion, should be rated up or rated down a little bit because of their clutch performances. Yogi Berra. Joe Carter. George Brett. Steve Garvey. Reggie Jackson. [Also Bob Gibson {positive} and Don Drysdale {negative}]. It's a dangerous area to get into, because when you reach into the bullshit dump, you're not going to come out with a handful of diamonds. But if a player really does come through in big games or fail in big games, I don't think we can afford to ignore that.

54
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:29am

Also, here's James's SABR article (warning: PDF) where he questions the current sabermetric logic on clutch hitting. It's more analytical then the passage I quoted above in #53, but also less interesting.

55
by sippican (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:27am

You guys mentioned Vrabel coming to NE from Pitt.

I can't tell you how much fun its' been to watch him play here. He's been really good the whole time. The DEs converted to linebackers is a very underappreciated aspect of the defensive system here.

He should have been the MVP of the Superbowl.

56
by Bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:45am

RE #32

I am not sure how you define great or good, or "big" games, but you should seek professional help. I'll leave great and good out, since they're mighty subjective. But in the NFL 16-game season, one can argue that every game is big--at least as big as any ten games in MLB. So winning 10 in a season, which Manning has done in 5 of his seven seasons is pretty impressive. (one could make an excuse for his rookie year, since he joined a team that went 3-13 the previous year, and therefore was fairly sucky to start with.) I'll ignore individual passing stats, for which it looks like he'll be ranked #1 or #2 in most categories when he retires. Some might call that greatness. And the fact that he has missed one snap to injury in seven years (for which Brett Favre would get a tongue bath from Peter King).

GAMES: I am not sure where to find the stat line on his first playoff game (surely a 24 year-old kid in his first playoff game would think it "big," no?), but I THINK it was not too bad. They won 13 small games that season, then lost to the Titans largely because of a single 64 yard Eddie George TD run in the 4th quarter, that put the Tites up by the 4 pts they won by. Had George been stopped, would Manning then be great in that game? Maybe it would have become a small game.

Then his next year, Year 3, he's about 25, when most guys are still pretty immature, they win 10 and in the playoffs he goes 17/32 for 194 yards and 1 TD with no INTs. Not a great game, but not too bad. Did he lose it for them? They lost in OT, which happens when you give up 200 yd rushing games to the immortal Antowan Smith.

I can think of three "big" games on national TV he has prominently lost--and I assume you can as well--two playoff games to the Pats in Foxboro and one to the Steelers. In none of those games was he great. He also happened to be playing against the eventual SB winners, teams that won with dominating D. He also crushed Denver (a 4th ranked D) twice in the playoffs (with an avg QB rating over 151 in those two games). Somehow those were small wins over a crummy D, though, I understand. Weren't they big games? He beat KC in KC (traditionally a hard place to play) in the playoffs. Again, not a big game?

Just what defines big for you? Oh, I get it, a game Manning loses. The 83 career wins (combined reg season and playoffs) were all small games and the 54 losses were the big ones.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm leaving out the 41-0 loss to the Jets in the playoffs. When you lose 41-0, I don't care if your QB is the love-child of Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, it's a failure by all 53 players and the whole coaching staff. If Mora was coaching then instead of Dungy, we might have seen his head explode live on TV.

So please, Kris, help me define "big." Getting an inkling of what you mean by good and great would also help my education along.

57
by Marko (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:22am

Is whether or not "clutchness" exists becoming like the debate over Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning? It seems like this issue, like the Brady-Manning debate over the last few years, is popping up in comments in many different threads.

I suppose this is not surprising, because the two issues have much in common. Brady generally is regarded as a very clutch player, while Manning has a reputation as not being a clutch performer. Those who favor Brady presumably believe in "clutchness," while those who favor Manning presumably do not believe "clutchness" exists (or are Colts homers who somehow have convinced themselves that Manning IS a clutch player).

58
by EnglishBob (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:42am

This is my penny's worth on the article.

Isn't it time to introduce weight limits for players or some other test (eg needing to sprint 100m in 14 seconds, run 4 miles whatever) to stop linemen from bulking up? Its turned into an arms race out there and surely is not safe for either the linemen eating their way to early deaths nor the guys they get to clobber? Perhaps we'd even see a rise in skill levels on line play???
Having a weight limit or fitness standard would be akin to heavy weight boxing weigh ins (so is accepted practice in sports; fitness tests are required in lots of professions for safety reasons.

Clutch play in the NFL is very hard to measure but I find it hard to believe that under additional duress some players don't make worse decisions.

I really appreciate that Z is still willing to bet against the Pats even after the five seasons we have just had from them. It's clear a lot of commentators are just too scared to call on New England what they are seeing with their own eyes (in my opinion anyway).

59
by Tim R (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:35am

I always figured being clutch meant you weren't rattled by the situation and played at your normal level where as, not being clutch meant you fell apart.

60
by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 10:24am

DWL #28:

McNabb, Trotter, and Dawkins took the Eagles to the playoffs in 2000 and 2001 with just one good tight end, no wideouts to speak of, no running game to speak of, and just one edge rusher of any value - Hugh Douglas.

Now they've got two good edge rushers, two young D-tackles, a lot of potential at RB and WR and two good tight ends. I'm not saying they win the division, because any of the other teams may accomplish what the Giants did in 2000 and go to the Super Bowl, but its hard to see them not at least making the playoffs given their past history.

61
by Flux (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 10:31am

Re: #56.

"Big" games = ones that end your season when you lose them. As most everyone knows by now, in the NFL and college, Payton's lifetime performance in "big" games is horrendous, especially when compared to his usually-stellar performance in non "big" games.

The argument that you're making, that if he weren't so good then he wouldn't get so many big game chances, is valid, but it doesn't change the fact that he lays a huge egg every year in his team's final playoff game -- an egg that usually costs his team the game since QB play is so disproportionately important in the NFL.

Much, much, much more on this topic in my link.

62
by Nick (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 10:39am

#59 That's the big issue with the idea of "clutch" (at least from an analytical standpoint). There is no definition of "clutch" or there are so many different definitions that virtually anyone can be called "clutch" depending on the chosen definition.

As far as Ortiz goes, he certainly could be a clutch player. But if we are talking about 9 Ab's in potential game ending situations, I don't think we can really say anything. Anymore than Carmona's 4 game streak shows he's "unclutch." The list of relievers that have never had 4 bad games in a row is extremely small.

Whether Ortiz is "clutch" is really only relevent when considering what he is going to do in the future. It's tough to argue he hasn't been extremly successfull in those situations (at least over the last two years or so), but can we expect him to continue that success going forward. If he goes 1-6 with no home runs in his next 6 potential game ending situations is he suddenly no longer clutch?

63
by Andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 10:47am

Bobman #56:

Manning vs. Titans, 1999 playoffs
19 of 43 for 227 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT. 2 rushes for 22 yards and 1 TD. Frankly, that looks like a Mike McMahon stat line. 44% completion percentage, and 5.27 yards per attempt with no passing TD's and one rushing TD.

Not exactly dominating.

Using your logic about blowouts, Manning has thrown more INT's than TD's in the playoffs when you exclude the two blowout Denver games. He also has a lower career completion percentage in the playoffs by about 4% overall and 7% vs. his recent in season performance. And again, excluding the two Denver games, he looks really bad - sub 55% completion percentage.

Look, I like Manning, but he won't shed the choker label until he carries over his regular season performance to the playoffs.

64
by Darth Goofy (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 10:51am

#61 That is a pretty stringent definition of "big game" games. Using this definition, there are only a few QBs that would be classified as being good or great in big games (yes, Brady would be one of those). You do realize that there is only one winner at the end of every NFL season... implying that there is only one great QB per year and all the rest can only be good or less. I completely disagree with you.

A big game could occur during the regular season, against an opponent which you haven't beaten before... however, there is only one chance of that happening because once you have done it, it is done. All of the losses before that win classify you as being "regular" and all the wins after it are expected or "regular".

A big game could occur when you play exceptionally well. This happens a lot for Brady because his stats are usually average. However, when a player like Manning has higher-than-normal stats, this is a "normal" occurance, because it happens frequently. Brady throwing for 300yds and 4 tds is "big"... Manning doing the same... not so "big".

Using these three definitions of "big" games, it can be determined that "big game" games are usually classified by fans who are trying to prove a point that might not be able to be made otherwise... kind of like the clutchiness debate also going on in this thread.

However, on the flipside... I do like your arguement, since that would mean that Dan Marino and John Elway aren't really great players, since they couldn't win the "big" games (Elway required TD to win his games).

65
by Kyle of the Ville (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 10:57am

61
“Big� games = ones that end your season when you lose them.

Like Brady against Denver?

66
by Nick (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 11:02am

#61 That's certainly one definition of "big" games. However, from the college perspective, last years USC-ND game was definately a big game, though it ended neither teams season. OSU-Texas was a huge game that didn't end either teams season.

In the NFL, big games happen all the time that don't end a season (Cincinnati-Pittsburgh both times last year). If the argument is Manning isn't "clutch" because he hasn't performed in games that might end his teams season, then, while true, that's a pretty narrow definition of the term "clutch."

67
by Sam! (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 11:04am

Peyton could never do it in college either. It's not like he's losing while looking his best... he has been made a fool of in a lot of these losses.

68
by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 11:10am

Teams un-mentioned, for ease of reference:

Bears, Packers, Saints, Bucs, Rams, Bills, Ravens, Steelers, Jaguars, Broncos, Raiders.

69
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 11:20am

I can't believe that anybody who's ever played sport would dispute the concept of clutch. Nobody ever played with a golfing partner who suddenly developed the yips any time a short putt was to win the hole? Never played with a tennis partner who suddenly started double-faulting as soon as the game was to win the set?

A 'big' game or situation is one when the final outcome is very near, or directly dependent on what happens next. Clutch players are able to function normally (or better than normal?) despite the importance of the next shot/hit/pass/tackle to the outcome of the game.

It's a little harder to put a finger on who's clutch and who isn't in a team game, since the play of your teammates can bail you out or let you down regardless of whether you are clutch or not. And, I can see it being hard to pinpoint in baseball, where a hitter simply isn't going to get a hit in every 'big' situation no matter how clutch he is. Baseball just doesn't work like that (as opposed to, say, golf, where a clutch player can very well sink every single 'big' 4-footer he ever faces in his career).

Anyway, I've no idea exactly how to identify 'clutch' in football, but I'm still pretty sure it does exist. Some people simply can remain calmer and more focused with a game on the line than others. Like I said, I can't believe anybody who's actually played competitive sport would dispute this.

70
by Steve (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 11:46am

"Anyway, I’ve no idea exactly how to identify ‘clutch’ in football, but I’m still pretty sure it does exist. Some people simply can remain calmer and more focused with a game on the line than others. Like I said, I can’t believe anybody who’s actually played competitive sport would dispute this."

The idea is that, among the elite players that make it to the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc., there are no players who get that sports' equivilant of the yips before a short putt and any differences in clutch situations is purely chance. They are all clutch, so to speak. After watching players like Montana, Jordan and Ortiz, I can certainly see why people believe in a clutch player, but there really is very little evidence it exists. Look at Barry Bonds -- underperformed for years in the playoffs, but then had the one monster season. Given a larger sample size of "clutch" situations, the elite players will regress to their mean performance.

71
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:06pm

Re: 70

Here are two pitchers, roughly the same age and regular season ERA.

Pitcher #1
Pitcher #2

Each has started at least 5 post-season games, and relieved in at least 4 others. Both of their teams are extremely likely to make the playoffs this season.

You wouldn't feel confident, given their track records, that Pitcher #1 would do better than Pitcher #2?

72
by Steve (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:36pm

Re: 71, no, I wouldn't feel much more confident in El Duque (well, that's not entirely true -- he will be pitching to NL teams). Put another way, what if we threw Randy Johnson into the mix? Is El Duque more clutch than him? Would your answer have been different in Sept. '01?

73
by Darrel Michaud (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:40pm

I hate clutch debates. Seriously.

WRT to David Ortiz, it must be brought up that Ortiz is a left handed hitter who, like most lefties, hit much better against right handers. He also is a very good fastball hitter. It should then come as no surprise that Ortiz performs well against closers, as nearly all of them are right-handed fastball specialists.

74
by centrifuge (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:43pm

Look, I like Manning, but he won’t shed the choker label until he carries over his regular season performance to the playoffs.

I'd let him off if he could play well in defeat. The problem is that he absolutely drives the Colts, so it's extremely hard for those two things to coincide, and the large majority of those "big-game" losses include a very sub-par performance by Manning.

75
by GlennW (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:45pm

> The idea is that, among the elite players that make it to the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc., there are no players who get that sports’ equivilant of the yips before a short putt and any differences in clutch situations is purely chance.

That is or at least used to be the standard baseball "anti-clutch" argument, and everyone has their own opinion on the matter, but I for one don't believe it (and nor or no longer does Bill James). I see no reason to believe that there are not varying confidence levels amongst even elite professional athletes in different game situations. Regardless such a supposition also requires evidence and proof, just the same as the existence of clutch. Agreed that this is difficult to do, from either direction.

> If he goes 1-6 with no home runs in his next 6 potential game ending situations is he suddenly no longer clutch?

No. The walkoff stat is admittedly the narrowest of snapshots, and a subsequent 1-for-6 would still represent performance far beyond the norm over the past two seasons. But Ortiz' LIPS (late-inning pressure situation) performance is well above average over hundreds of ABs, an extreme statistical outlier out of all of MLB hitters in that period. The big question indeed is whether he can keep it up. Superlative clutch performance over something like a 5-year period would be significant and might place Ortiz in that category of players that James named.

76
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 12:57pm

Re: 72

I didn't mention Randy Johnson, but Randy Johnson was a pretty good playoff playoff pitcher before 2001 (3.56 era, 73 K's in 60-2/3 IP). These stats are reasonably in line with his career numbers. He just didn't get the run support (especially in 1998), so his playoff record was 2-6.

Randy Johnson

I didn't say El Duque was more clutch than Randy Johnson, I said he was more clutch than Kenny Rogers. Rogers has stunk all 5 times he started in the playoffs. Worse, he walked in the series-winning run against Atlanta in 1999. (If you can find a tape, watch Rogers in that game. It's clear from his body language that he has no confidence that he'll get the batter out, or even throw a strike.)

77
by EnglishBob (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:00pm

Another way of looking at clutch play is the English approach. We talk about "flat track bullies". This basically means players in any sport who are very good at destroying weak opponents but tend to disappoint when facing more equal opposition. There are plenty of examples of this in cricket (where the term comes from) and other sports. Perhaps this is another way to view it. What is Manning's record like against decent opposition? Naturally you'd expect Indy to have a better record against poor teams but is there any way to measure whether they perform worse against more equal peers than would otherwise be expected?

78
by GlennW (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:10pm

For the record, I don't have a strong opinion on Manning's "clutch" ability or lack thereof either way. That determination truly does represent a small sample size and mostly "big" games against the New England Patriots (shouldn't Patriots fans give their defense credit more so than discrediting Manning?-- of course typically fans choose "all of the above" with such questions). I'd tend to think that with Manning the issue is overrated, and given the sample size should likely be debated only after his career is over anyway.

79
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:16pm

Re: 77

Agreed. I was just about to post the same thing.

80
by Marko (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:26pm

"Look at Barry Bonds — underperformed for years in the playoffs, but then had the one monster season. Given a larger sample size of “clutch� situations, the elite players will regress to their mean performance."

Barry Bonds is an interesting case. What might account for the difference in his 2002 postseason performance vs. his previous postseason futility? Is there something different about him at that point in his career vs. earlier (say, 1998 and earlier)? I think I may have heard or read something about Bonds that happened starting after 1998, but I can't recall right now. ESPN might have covered this story, but I'm not sure. Can anyone help me out here?

81
by Tracy (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:42pm

Re 79:

Since clutch ability is largely assumed to be more mental than physical, please explain how drugs that enhance one's physical prowess (while making them less mentally stable) can make a player perform better in the clutch.

82
by JAT (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:49pm

Re 80:

That's simple - confidence.

83
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 1:50pm

Re: 79, 80

Let's not turn this into a steroids discussion, but while we're on the subject, Tom Brady has been peripherally brought into the BALCO case.

Link

84
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:31pm

Re: 61

Wow. So by that logic there are only 5 currently starting QBs that can be considered clutch (Roethlisberger, Brady, Brad Johnson, Warner, Favre). That's a pretty exclusive club you've got there.

85
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:53pm

"The idea is that, among the elite players that make it to the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc., there are no players who get that sports’ equivilant of the yips before a short putt and any differences in clutch situations is purely chance"

Well, that may be the idea but I think it's obviously wrong. Like I said, it's easier to see in individual sports like golf. The majors feature the best golfers on the planet and yet there are still guys (eg. Greg Norman) who frequently play poorly in 'big' situations, and other guys (eg. Tiger) who can't seem to miss when the heat is on. It's just harder to see in team sports where teammates can influence your performance, or in sports which require interaction with the opponent like baseball (when Ortiz strikes out maybe it was because he was facing a 'clutch' pitcher? Something has to give. No such ambiguities in golf. If you miss a 2-footer to win the Masters it's because you weren't clutch.)

So, if we can agree that there are clutch/not-clutch players in golf/tennis etc, where I think it's easy to see that there are, why would human beings suddenly be immune to this phenomenon in football?

86
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 2:59pm

That's a pretty convincing arguement, Ryan. It's still not definative proof, though (which I think is probably a necessity to change the clutch-nonbelievers minds).

87
by morganja (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:14pm

So, exactly how close did Manning need to get Vanderjagt so that kick of his would have gone through? I'm thinking it might have been good from 7 yards out. Not out from the goal line. Out from the goalpost.

88
by Nick (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:43pm

#85 - "If you miss a 2-footer to win the Masters it’s because you weren’t clutch."

Only if you miss that 2 footer more often than you normally would in a non-clutch situation. He might be clutch, or he might just have missed the put. How many people get to take enough 2 footers to win the masters to actually make this determination.

It isn't any more obvious in golf or tennis (which isn't really comparable to golf, since you're oponents performance directly impacts your own) than any other sport really, because these clutch situations come up so rarely for most players.

Tiger Woods is arguably the best golfer in history. He's a great golfer when he's playing in major tournaments, he's a great golfer when playing in minor tournaments (though he may change his practice regiment to get himself to peak for the majors, I'm honestly not sure). Is he clutch or is he just better than everyone else? At least in the Manning case you've got a guy that is great EXCEPT certain situations (at least that's the theory). Where are all the guys that suck, or just aren't very good, but are good or absolutely great in clutch situations?

I'm not saying "clutch" doesn't exist, I'm just saying the "non-clutch" argument that it is just a random event still seems to hold, even in the golf or tennis example.

89
by Marko (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 3:56pm

"So, exactly how close did Manning need to get Vanderjagt so that kick of his would have gone through?"

Manning stunk that whole game, which Pittsburgh dominated. If it wasn't for an obviously incorrect call reversing Troy Polamalu's interception with about 5½ minutes left (with Pittsburgh winning 21-10), it never would have even come down to the missed FG. That game would have been over if the interception stood (and Manning would have been rightfully charged with an interception on that horrible pass, making his stats worse).

By the way, I don't have any rooting interest on this topic. I'm not a Steelers fan or a Colts hater. I'm also not a Patriots fan, so please spare any comments re: Tom Brady being helped by the tuck rule (which, unlike the reversal on Manning's interception, was correctly applied to overturn an apparent game-clinching turnover, even though the rule may be confusing and not make sense to many people).

90
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:08pm

See, I told you so, Ryan.

91
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:14pm

I am starting to believe that if the Brady-Manning and clutch discussions truly converge, the resulting explosion will wipe out most of this site, leaving us with only As, Bs, Zs, and semicolons, with perhaps a stray italics tag here or there.

As jimmo said, there is a huge difference between 3:06 and 3:18 ... in fact, even 3:06 sucks if your game's scheduled for kickoff at 4:05 ET, or conversely, if your 1:00 game is running late and the contractually-obligated game is scheduled for a 4:05 kickoff.

Richie, I don't particularly care about length of games. I'm more concerned about the amount of time wasted on things other than game action. I wouldn't mind watching a 3-hour MLB game if it were 2:50 action and 10 minutes of commercials. 2:15 and 45 minutes of commercials, that I mind. Greatly.

Thirty-second commercials? During live action? Do I even want to know what they mean by this? And this will be on top of having in-booth guests on MNF from every show on ABC and any upcoming "movie" or "series" on ESPN? "In the booth with us is Michael Madsen, star of the upcoming series 'Tilt 2: When Nobody Cared' starting Friday on ESPN2." Looks like I'll be switching back and forth between games to avoid them.

92
by Jeremy (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:19pm

Mike Vanderjagt skunks his 46-yard field goal try, badly, and in the crowd there are mass suicides.

A mass suicide reference about the Colts...

How does this get through editorial staff?

93
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 4:19pm

re 88: I haven't actually watched them, but I'm pretty sure most pro golfers who are good enough to be at the Masters can putt on the practice green all day without once missing a two-footer.

As for your point about Tiger Woods, Greg Norman was a great golfer. He was a great golfer in major tournaments. He was a great golfer in minor tournaments. He was a great golfer in practice. He just wasn't a great golfer if it was the Sunday round of a major tournament (which is not to say that he always sucked, just that he wasn't great). If you're convinced that it's random that some of his worst rounds happened to coincide with Sunday's of majors when he was in contention I certainly can't prove that you're wrong, but it seems like a stretch.

94
by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 5:28pm

Richie, I don’t particularly care about length of games. I’m more concerned about the amount of time wasted on things other than game action. I wouldn’t mind watching a 3-hour MLB game if it were 2:50 action and 10 minutes of commercials. 2:15 and 45 minutes of commercials, that I mind. Greatly.

I'll agree with you here.

95
by MTR (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:25pm

Greg Norman (according to Wikipedia) won two US Opens. How is that "unclutch?" Was he only unclutch at the Masters but fine elsewhere? Further, he won 18 PGA events in 14 years (not including those US Opens). A fine record, but would you really expect a guy with 18 wins to have more than two majors?

I think it's important to realize Bill James' backing off his anti clutch position isn't because he came across evidence of clutch hitting but because he now doesn't trust the method usually cited to disprove it's existance (year to year comparisions). He hasn't (as far as I've heard) said it exists, he's saying he doesn't know.

96
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:30pm

Re: 95

Greg Norman won 2 British Opens, not U.S. Opens. One more reason not to trust Wikipedia.

In 1986, Norman led or was tied for the lead in each of the 4 majors after 3 rounds. He won one, the British, and tanked in both the U.S. Open (75 in the 4th round) and the PGA (76).

In contrast, Tiger Woods has led or been tied after 3 rounds in 11 majors, and won all of them.

97
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:44pm

Other fun Greg Norman facts:

- He lost playoffs at all 4 majors. 1987 Masters (lost on the second hole to a birdie); 1984 U.S. Open (shot a 75 in the playoff); 1989 British (tied going into the final hole of the 4-hole playoff, but took an X after hitting a ball out-of-bounds); 1993 PGA (missed a 2-foot putt).

- Norman lost despite a 6-shot 54-hole lead after 3 rounds in the 1996 Masters (he shot a 78). This tied the record for the biggest 54-hole blown lead in PGA Tour history.

98
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 6:57pm

(Going for the triple post)

Correcting 95:

Norman won "only" 20 times on the PGA tour (the PGA tour counts British Open wins as victories), but also won 68 other times internationally on the British and Australian tours. He did not play a full complement of U.S. tour events (almost never before March, and relatively rarely between the Masters and the U.S. Open).

Also, for more on what Bill James had to say about clutch performance, read #53.

99
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 7:00pm

Correcting my #98:

Norman played on the European Tour, not the non-existent British Tour.

100
by tighthead (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 7:11pm

Norman also had a signature choke shot - a big wide right block. Watching his approach to 18 in the 1986 Masters is still shocking today.

101
by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 08/17/2006 - 7:41pm

Context for #100:

Norman had fallen out of the lead after a double-bogey on 10, but birdied 14, 15, 16, and 17 to tie Jack Nicklaus (in the clubhouse at -9). Norman found the fairway with his tee shot on 18, but hit his second shot into the gallery, and eventually missed the 15-footer for par.

102
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 4:35am

This is the most levelheaded Manning discussion I have ever seen. Personally, I think he tightens up because he tries to do too much. Seen it before many times in HS wrestling. But usully those headcases choked every match, not just "biggies."

Someone (I apologize for not recalling who) said it here last year and it may be Manning's epitaph: perhaps his greatest strength is the preparation he brings to each game. Say each week he puts in 20 extra hours of film study and review with his OL and receivers. 25-50% more than anybody else in the regular season. Come game day, they kick ass. Then come the playoffs, and EVERYBODY else does the same. And the Indy offense is... average. This leads to frustration, which leads to... well, many FO discussions, at the very least. Not sure if this is the actual case, but it's pretty plausible.

Thanks for the Titans playoff stats, Andrew (wheredja find 'em?). That is pretty lame, but he's been worse in at least 3 other playoff games since then, and it does not look like he "lost it" himself (like, say, the 4-pick AFC championship game 2 yrs ago).

Based on Manning's stats, Tenn must have been pretty tepid themselves that day to have been down by 3 in the 4th quarter before Eddie George left his foot prints on half of the defenders backs.

103
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 9:00am

96 - of course, in 1993 Norman was one shot off Faldo and level with Langer, at that point two of the best players in the world, going into the final round and shot 64 to take the title. It wasn't as the Europeans faded; Norman ended up on 267, Faldo 269, Langer 270. Clutch performance? Random variation? Anybody have an opinion?

104
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 11:50am

Based on Manning’s stats, Tenn must have been pretty tepid themselves that day to have been down by 3 in the 4th quarter before Eddie George left his foot prints on half of the defenders backs.

Eddie George scored his go-ahead touchdown early in the 3rd quarter, not the 4th. FWIW, Manning's only TD pass of the game came in a 2-minute drill down 19-9. Box Score

Re: 103

Maybe the general lack of hazards on a links course, plus favorable conditions, helped Norman? By all accounts, that Sunday was a relatively windless day, plus the course was playing soft. Just a theory.

105
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 11:53am

Correcting and appending 104:

Manning ran for a TD against Tennessee, not passed.

Also, Norman wasn't in the final group on that Sunday. Maybe that helped a little?

106
by Nick (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 11:54am

#93 - I'm not convinced it's a random variation, I'm just not convinced it isn't either. Norman was a great golfer in many of those situations (and as he did win 2 major tournaments, it's tough to argue he couldn't play in those situations), but he wasn't as good a Woods in any of them.

#96 - But Woods is also a better golfer than Norman, so wouldn't you expect him to win more often when he leads after 3 rounds?

I think Norman very well might be un-clutch and Woods might be clutch. I don't think we really have the tools to measure the phenomenon though.

107
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 12:04pm

Re: 106

Tiger Woods is a better golfer than Greg Norman, but Greg Norman was the #1 rated player in the world for 6+ years (and possibly more, as the ratings didn't start until 1986). You would expect him to win more than 2 majors, at least 1 of 4 playoffs in a major, and more than 1 of the 7 majors he led after 3 rounds.

108
by Nick (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 12:27pm

#107 - What is the expected number of major victories by the #1 rated player in the world in a given year (or how often does the leader after 3 rounds win a major)? Most of the golf I've followed has been in the Tiger era, which somewhat biases my viewpoint (best in history vs. best in a 6 year period).

It's also possible that your point in #104 is important. Maybe Norman's golf game didn't suffer in majors because of the pressure, but because of more difficult conditions compared to other tournaments (though that assumes the non-pressure induces conditions are most difficult in the 4th round, and I have no reason to think that is actually true).

109
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:00pm

Re: 107

I'm not sure of the exact number, but it's more than 2. Nick Faldo won 6 majors between 1986 and 1996, the period when Norman should have been dominant. Nick Price won 3, and no one else won more than 2.

Statistics on third-round leaders:
PGA: 30 of the last 48 championships have been won by the 54-hole leader or co-leader.
U.S. Open: 47 of 105
Masters: 39 of 83
British Open: ?
PGA Tour, 2006: 22 of 28

110
by Nick (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:20pm

#109 - So he won as many majors as all but two players? That doesn't seem bad at all (but again, I don't have any idea how often the #1 player is expected to win a tournamnt). The #1 ranking is determined by things other than wins, correct? Was Norman #1 because he won all the time of because he did better than others when he didn't win? I think this might be starting to get a bit excessive.

Quick calculation from the numbers you posted. It looks like you'd expect about 4% of the 3rd round leaders to win 1 or fewer out of 7.

111
by rk (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:39pm

My theory on the Colts' lack of success in the playoffs:
Their offense can utterly destroy an average defense, but top defenses can exploit it.
Manning basically audibles on every play to take advantage of what he sees as the defense's weakness. Against the normal defenses he sees in the regular season, Manning and the Colts' offense dominates. The defense is designed for an amazing pass rush with below average runstopping capability. The offense gets out to a big lead, the other team is forced to pass to catch up thereby playing into the strength of the D.
In the playoffs, the opposing defenses are better for the most part. The coaches know how to gameplan after watching 16 games of Manning's tendencies. They know what he is going to audible to given their own alignment. Instead of Manning adjusting his offense to gain the advantage, the defense dictates what the offense will do. Advantage D.
The result: Manning looks overmatched and confused. His terrible body language leads us to laugh at and degrade him. The Colts fall behind, and opposing offenses can take advantage of Indy's defense.

112
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:43pm

Re: 110

The World Golf Rankings are a bit controversial (especially WRT to weighing the quality of the different tours), but Norman was on top for far longer than any other player, until Tiger Woods came along. It wasn't just the ranking; by media consensus, Norman was the best player in the world, at least from 1986-1990.

Wins are most important to the ranking, but points are given for various places. (Norman did win a lot, though: check out his media guide page.)

The official explanation of the ranking:
Link

And, it wasn't just that Norman didn't win many majors that got him his reputation as a choker; plenty of good-to-great golfers haven't won two majors. It was the way he lost those majors, taking the lead with great play, then inexplicably melting down on the last day.

113
by MTR (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:44pm

Re 96-99. The British Open is still a major. Did he only become unclutch on US soil? Sure, he ripped up weaker tours but what does that prove?

I kinda suspect people had got it into their head that the number one ranked player should dominate like Palmer or Nichalus - and Norman just wasn't in their class.

114
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 08/18/2006 - 1:51pm

FWIW, Phil Mickelson has won 3 of 4 majors that he led or was tied for the lead after 3 rounds. Mickelson's general problem (other than occasionally missing short putts) is that he's over-aggressive, attempting shots with little regard for what might happen if he can't hit them perfectly. This strategy is generally not conducive to major-championship golf, with its heavy penalties for bad shots.

Norman, on the other hand, wasn't making strategic blunders. He just mishit the shots, repeatedly.