ATVS Study Hall: Who Was LSU's Best "Clutch" Wide Receiver in 2013?

Kevin C. Cox

Which LSU WR came through in the clutch in 2013? Paul attempts to quantify "clutch" and figure out which WR was the best in the clutch in 2013.

I don't believe in clutch. At least not as a repeatable form of behavior. The word is used flippantly and often to describe a player who played perfectly terrible for most of the game before doing something heroic to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (see: Roethlisberger, Ben). Or it's also commonly applied to a variety of hitters known for coming through in "the big moment." Derek Jeter or David Ortiz, for example.

The trouble is, statistically, there's not much of significance here. You know why Derek Jeter is (or was, maybe) capable of getting big hits in big moments? Because Derek Jeter is (or was) capable of getting hits in every type of moment. Jeter just so happened to be damn good... all the time. Ditto for Ortiz. Even players who earn reputations for being "chokers" like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, there's little to suggest the narrative matches the reality. Bonds splits in high-leverage situations? .298/.467/.586. A-Rod's? Low leverage? .294/.423/.604. You mean to tell me he's about the same player all the time? You don't say!

So yeah, I don't buy in. Are there clutch moments? Yes. Clutch plays? Without a doubt. Moments of choke? Absolutely. But is a player clutch? Na, I ain't having that. It's not something I put a ton of stock in. It's not something I believe in. So I don't find it terribly compelling when people counter arguments with, "Yeah, but he's clutch."

In football, it's even more difficult to quantify clutch than other sports. There's so many moving parts and dynamics. I can't, in good conscience, celebrate a QB for being clutch, when it requires his teammates to block to give him time, then catch to complete his primary action. In football, it takes 11 to tango.

Yet, after debating Beckham vs. Landry ad nauseum last week, my interest was piqued by the oft-repeated "Landry was clutch" statements. So I took to ESPN's play-by-play data in attempt to determine who proved the most "clutch" of the LSU wide receivers in 2013. For the purposes of this study, I narrowed the scope of "clutch" to two major categories

Production on 3rd and 4th Downs + Production in the Red Zone

The thought process being that when Zach Mettenberger needed it most, who did he turn to? I did not take into consideration time of occurrence. Undoubtedly, clutch is nearly always linked to end of half and end of game scenarios, but in this case I'm thinking more broadly about the concept.

Due to the nature of the passing attack in 2013, I immediately narrowed the scope of my study to two targets: Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The logic was simple: the other receivers simply didn't garner enough targets to make any rational argument for being "clutch." Or, in the very least, impossible to quantify how clutch they were due to insignificant sample sizes.

For the study, I did not re-watch games. I'm operating strictly off the information presented in the play-by-play data, which is often very brief in description. If Mettenberger threw an errant pass, it could still be listed as "Mettenberger incomplete to Odell Beckham Jr." Realistically that may be of no fault of the receiver, but the play-by-play is limiting in that way. So, an incompletion is an incompletion is an incompletion: bad throw, dropped pass, batted down, it doesn't matter.

Production on 3rd and 4th Downs

Within the two major categories, I looked at a few subcategories. For 3rd and 4th Down Production I considered the following:

Targets
Catches
Yards
Down & Distance

How many times was a player thrown to? How many times did he catch it? How productive were those catches? Under what circumstance were those targets and catches? How did the two stack up in this regard?

Targets Catches Yards Down (avg.) Distance (avg.) Catch Conversion %
Odell Beckham Jr. 24 17 313 3.08 8.41 70.83%
Jarvis Landry 33 28 474 3 7.76 84.84%

Landry was not only targeted more than Beckham, he converted more of his targets. This data tilts heavily in favor of Landry. The main points in Beckham's favor would be that he was targeted twice on fourth down, while Landry was never targeted/ He was also targeted for longer conversions, which tend to be more difficult. That said, Landry holds the edge in the every other way here.

Production in the Red Zone

I eliminated down and distance from this portion, considering the inherent yardage limitations. So here I considered the following:

Targets
Catches
TDs

Again, how many times was a player thrown to? How many times did he catch it? How productive were those catches? This time productivity is quantified by converting Red Zone targets into touchdowns, rather than maximum yardage. How did the two compare in that regard?

Targets Catches TDs Catch Conversion %
Odell Beckham Jr. 8 5 2 62.5%
Jarvis Landry 7 4 3 57%

This data is a bit more muddled. Beckham received an additional target, which he converted, making his targets, catches and conversion percentage higher. But Landry proved more valuable, turning three of his seven targets into scores. It's also worth noting that if we were to stretch this to 30 yards out, both players also received more targets and converted them both into catches and TDs.

Summary

So, who, then is more "clutch?" By the scope of this study, it's Jarvis Landry. His higher number of targets, and higher percentage of conversion give him a strong advantage. Throw in the extra touchdown on fewer targets in the red zone and I think he makes a strong case for being the best "clutch" receiver from LSU in 2013?

What we don't get to see here is the nuance of the game. Did Landry garner more targets because Beckham commanded attention over the top and opened up the middle of the defense? Were Beckham's targets longer because the design of the offense limited the number of deeper routes Landry ran? Did either player benefit more from playing with the other?

What do you think, Shakers? Does this study accurately capture the idea of clutch? If not, how would you define it, statistically speaking?

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