Fernando Tatis Proving Late And Close Ability

Mets outfielder Fernando Tatis during a Mets/Devil Rays spring training game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Image via Wikipedia

Fernando Tatis has electrified Mets fans with his offensive ability over his short stint with the Mets, 19 days to be exact. In that time he’s managed two game winning hits in the last four days. His “late and close” hitting has been impressive and New York Mets manager Willie Randolph sure needed it.

Randolph was called on the carpet by the Mets owners less than a week ago for running the highest paid team in the National League into a sub .500 record. I don’t know the exact contents of that conversation or if an ultimatum was given to Randolph. But I’m sure that one was was implied by the Mets owner. Randolph was left needing a player to make a difference quickly. I doubt that he ever thought that player would be Tatis.

Tatis has been in and out of the major leagues for the last five years and spent the entire 2007 season at Triple-A New Orleans. His presence has been felt like a bolt of lightning striking energy into an unispired Mets team over the last three weeks. He came through with a run scoring single off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Jonathan Broxton yesterday in the eighth inning. And he hit a two run double on Wednesday against the Florida Marlins to secure a 7-6 win in the bottom of the 12th inning. The Mets had fallen behind by one run in the top of the 12th.

The 33 year-old infielder/outfielder is doing what it takes to make a difference. Even in his at-bats that show up in the box score as an out, he’s hitting the ball hard and usually a line drive. He’s not trying to go deep in every at-bat, just to hit the ball hard somewhere. And his approach is paying off for the Mets.

Mets third baseman David Wright said of Tatis:

He’s given us a lot of energy. He plays the game and plays the game the right way. I think that rubs off on a lot of players. They see his energy and intensity and want to match that.

I know that Tatis has been able to succeed in “late and close” situations, defined as the seventh inning or later with any of the following conditions: score tied. one team leading by a run, or with the tying run on base, at the plate, or on deck.

I’m not so sure if we can call Tatis’ hitting “clutch” yet. Bill James wrote a good column for Sports Illustrated about clutch hitting last November. His conclusion is that there are players that have statistical success in what may be defined as “clutch” but it may be more of a random successful outcome than a character trait. He defines “clutch” situations as containing at least seven elements:

  1. The score,
  2. The runners on base,
  3. The outs,
  4. The inning,
  5. The opposition,
  6. The standings,
  7. The calendar.

By James’ definition, Fernando Tatis’ late inning heroics this week may not be considered clutch. It’s still pretty early in the season. The wins that Tatis led the Mets to didn’t catapult them into a higher place in the standings.

Willie Randolph’s job as the Mets manager has appeared to be very tenuous over the last three weeks. I bet if you asked him if Tatis’ hitting has been clutch, he would say that it has been for his job security.

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