I've read up alot on clutch hitting and I am of the opinion that it does not exist over time. However, I haven't seen any studies on pitching, or pitchers who are percieved to step up their performance in big games. I looked at some numbers at BaseballReference.com. I looked at a few pitchers who are percieved to step up their game in the postseason...Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Orlando Hernandez.
-In 18 Major League seasons, Curt Schilling has a career 3.40 ERA, with a 1.126 WHIP, and 8.77 K/9.
-In 9 career postseason series, Curt Schilling has a career 2.06 ERA, with a .974 WHIP, and 8.59 K/9.
-In 17 Major League seasons, John Smoltz has a career 3.26 ERA, with a 1.167 WHIP, and 7.89 K/9.
-In 24 career postseason series, John Smoltz has a career 2.66 ERA, with a 1.140 WHIP, and 8.48 K/9.
-In 7 Major League seasons, Orlando Hernandez has a 4.11 ERA, with a 1.265 WHIP, and 7.12 K/9.
-In 15 career postseason series, Orlando Hernandez has a career 2.55 ERA, a 1.245 WHIP, and 9.08 K/9.
It would appear that these pitchers have raised their game in the postseason. I tried to pick pitchers who had a pretty good amount of postseason experience under their belts, and are considered good (not great) pitchers for their careers.
Are there any studies that could either support or refute the numbers that I posted? Does anyone have a suggestion for a good pitcher that is deemed a 'choker' or a guy who can't win a big game? I tried but could not think of many.
While every inning in a playoff game should hold more importance than it would in a regular season game, I just don't think that starters find themselves in clutch situations. In a regular season game if a starter goes 6 innings and gives up 2 runs and gets the win, was he clutch? But since the opportunity to pitch a good game is narrowed down from 33 starts to 1 or 2 starts in a series, I don't think it's fair to mark a guy down as somebody who cant pitch in a big game.
Example: Roy Oswalt last year has a quality start in the NLDS (7.1, 3 ER), and 2 great starts in the NLCS (14 IP, 2 ER). Yet in the WS he makes 1 start and goes 6 innings giving up 5 earned. Does that mean Oswalt chokes when it really comes down to big stages? Or was it mearly that he wasnt that good that day? After awhile you are prone to a bad start.
That's why I don't view starters as guys who are clutch. I believe that batters and closers are.
I think for pitching, clutch more comes down to one pitch, and one situation. Even with that however, you can just say I made one bad pitch and the clutch thing goes down the drain. It would be very tough to determine a clutch pitcher because of how many variables there are per every pitch. With that said, I do think there are "big game pitchers" where you are confident giving them the ball in a game 7 situation. Guys like this would be the ones you mentioned, David Wells, and even maybe Derek Lowe. He did win all of the deciding games in the '04 postseason for the Sox. That can't be ignored.
There have been a few hints about clutch pitching, but I have not seen a good study. I would think you'd look more at game situations (how does a pitcher do in high leverage situations) than at pitching in a particular game.
One thing I'd consider in looking at them, though, is that it's because those pitchers have such great #s that they're considered clutch pitchers. Basically, they performed well in the post-season, they got labeled clutch, and then you went back at who was considered clutch and saw that they had good post-season #s. Which has an obvious causation problem. It's the same thing as, a few years ago, a buddy of mine told me that the year Johnny Chan won the World Series of Poker who faced 35 instances where he was all-in on about a 50/50 probability (an underpair vs. two higher cards is about 52/48). And he won each of those 35 coin flip hands. And my friend was a bit amazed. My attitude is, someone has to win those coin flips, and if Johnny Chan didn't, then he wouldn't have won, and you wouldn't be looking back at his tournament.
Not to dampen the enquiry at the general level. Just throwing in a caveat of what you've seen so far.
It may be my imagination but Mike Mussina always pitches well when the Yankees need him to. Several times this season he has pitched great after the Yankees have lost 2 or 3 in a row and he steps up in the post season when they need a big game out of him also.