Did you know that Brendan Ryan is hitting really well in high leverage situations?
Everyone knows about Matt Holliday's struggles with runners in scoring position. Prior to moving to the number two spot and getting incredibly hot, he'd hit under .200 in situations like that for two months. Nobody's really talking about Brendan Ryan.
But it's true. I had no idea just how valuable a hitter he'd been in 2010 until I looked at the splits. He's hitting just .183/.237/.254 with the bases empty, possibly because he realizes how comparatively unimportant those situations are, but he's saved his best stuff for high leverage: he's hitting .250/.318/.425 in high leverage situations and .205/.367/.410 with runners in scoring position—a slugging percentage over a hundred points higher than Matt Holliday's in the same situation. Ryan has driven in just nine fewer runners in scoring position than Matt Holliday in half the plate appearances, and he's also gotten on base to extend those rallies more frequently.
So tell me: is Brendan Ryan's season to date satisfying? Does his relative success with runners in scoring position and with the game on the line make up for his having, otherwise, one of the three or four worst seasons with the bat of any starter in 2010?
Right there, at this intersection, is where the idea of one player or another being a choker stops making sense to me. The place where it's time to stop saying Matt Holliday has choked this year—has cost the team runs by hitting poorly in important situations—and start saying that he's a choker.
Because whether one player has been more valuable be the wrong question, when it comes to labeling any one player a choker. Opinions will diverge on how relatively valuable Ryan's average-ish RISP numbers are in the context of his larger numbers. According to WPA, which measures everything in terms of leverage, he's having a better bad season than fellow letdown Gordon Beckham; that's just one example.
But now Matt Holliday is hitting with runners in scoring position; he's climbed back from the edge, his luck has started to change. And the important question about these two players and their divergent luck is this: Brendan Ryan has had a good three months with runners in scoring position and in important situations. Matt Holliday has had a bad two months. Before it comes time to label Matt Holliday for the next six and a half years as a guy who simply can't perform in the clutch, ask yourself: Which one would you rather have hitting with two on and two out in the eighth inning tomorrow?