Richard Coleman Hockey Analtyics expert previously worked in Major League Baseball

Richard M. Coleman
3 min readMar 28

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Prior to working with in the NHL with multiple teams including the Chicago Blackhawks, Richard Coleman worked in the Major League Baseball (MLB) with then manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona. What follows is the research which started Coleman’s career in sport analytics.

MEASURING CLUTCH RELIEF PITCHING: WHO HAS THE RIGHT STUFF?

“I look into the man’s eyes to see if he has the balls”-MLB Manager evaluating his relievers

“He doesn’t want saves; he doesn’t want to be in those tough situations”- Manager explaining why one of his best relievers prefers the setup role

“I only like to pitch in the 9th”-MLB Closer upon reporting to his new manager after signing a lucrative contract

The Right Stuff…feeling of superiority, appropriate to him and his kind-Author Tom Wolfe

To evaluate clutch relief pitching all 18,330 innings entered by every MLB reliever in the 2004 season were analyzed. The probability of winning the game (score, inning, outs, base runners, home/away) was calculated at the beginning and end of each inning entered. Each entry was categorized as “clutch”- if the reliever faced the tying or winning run in the 7th or later innings,

The following variables were measured to determine how each reliever performed in clutch situations:

  1. Whether the reliever’s entry and exit increased (“Win”) of decreased (“Loss”) their team’s odds of winning the game

2. Average and cumulative percent change in win probability for each clutch inning entry and exit

3. Opposing batters ops (on base % + slugging %) during clutch innings.

We used this data to determine which relievers had “The Right Stuff”- the ability to excel in pressure situations. The NL Right Stuff Award for 2004 would have gone to John Smoltz who increased his team’s chances of winning 88% of the time in 42 clutch appearances.

Richard Coleman hockey’s cumulative impact (i.e., specific credits for each win probability increase and debits for each win probability decrease) for all 42 clutch inngs was 4.16 wins, the highest in MLB. This indicates that Smoltz had the best combination of high performance and being scheduled at critical times. Mariano Rivera, the AL Right Stuff Award winner, had slightly better performance resultsd the Smoltz but was used sparingly in the clutch:

NAME

INNS ENTERED

CLUTCH INNS

WIN

LOSS

WIN%

AVG WIN CHANGE

CUMULATIVE WINS

OPPONENT OPS

SMOLTZ

91

42

37

5

88%

9.9%

4.16

0.588

RIVERA

84

30

28

2

93%

9.7%

2.91

0.574

86 relievers entered 20 or more clutch innings: 50 increased their team’s chances of winning but 36 decreased their team’s chance of winning. Knowing who these pitchers are and when to use them (or not use them) is critical to winning. Although one would predict that the 30 MLB closers excelled under pressure, that was not always the case. Closers on average increased their team’s chance of winning in 73% of clutch entries but 6 closers underperformed even the average MLB reliever. In addition, 12 non-closer relievers with significant clutch innings performed above the 70% mark. Year to date in the 2005 season, the ERA for the 6 underperforming closers is 4.48 while the 12 non closers are 2.99. These results suggest that a number of relievers are valued inappropriately and misscheduled Relievers with the Right Stuff properly scheduled, can add 1.5–4 regular season wins . (See author’s previous research paper regarding Relief Aces)

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Richard M. Coleman

Richard Coleman worked at the Medical School of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. Additionally, he worked at the Stanford University Medical School.