Corey Patterson, Jay Gibbons, and the "garbage" home run. OriolesCentral had a post about how these (and other) O's hitters would hit home runs when they didn't help the team (they were up or down by a lot of points), but it was based on general observation - here's my initial response, and some stats about it:
Perhaps Corey Patterson and Jay Gibbons just aren’t very good hitters (shocking, I know) so when a team has a huge lead, the opposing pitcher is OK with throwing fastballs in the zone (which these guys can actually hit) and when the game is close, they throw breaking-pitches and paint the corners (which they can’t hit). I don’t think it has anything at all to do with “clutchness” but is rather a general lack of talent. I question whether or not it is actually the case that these players do hit a lot of “meaningless” HR, so I’ll take a look at that sometime soon and post something about it. If you already did that, then I will defer to your conclusions (I assume it’s just your impression of what happens).
Jay Gibbons: 25.1 PA / HR career
In Close & Late Situations: 45.8 Plate appearances per HR
Tie Game: 33.1 PA / HR
1 Run Difference: 23.4 PA / HR
2 Run Difference: 20.1 PA / HR
3 Run Difference: 18.3 PA / HR
4 Run Difference: 34.1 PA / HR
Within 4 Runs: 24.2 PA / HR
More Than 4 Runs: 31.6 PA / HR
It appears that Jay actually hit home runs more frequently when the team is up/down by 1-3 runs than when the game is tied or the lead is large. In general, Gibbons homered more often when the game wasn't out of hand.
In High Leverage Situations: 29.2 PA / HR
In Medium Leverage Situations: 21.2 PA / HR
In Low Leverage Situations: 28.2 PA / HR
Gibbons (strangely) homered more often in medium leverage situations than either of the two extremes.
As for when Gibbons hit home runs, it was 29.4 PA / HR in the first three innings, 18.2 PA / HR in the middle three innings, and 34.2 PA / HR in the last three innings. That seems to imply that Gibbons rarely hit homers in the eighth when the team was down by 6 (or whatever).
His clutch score via fangraphs is -1.77 for his career (and was only positive once, in 2002) so, in general, he does worse in "clutch" situations than his usual production, but I would have to say that the evidence doesn't support him hitting too many "garbage" home runs.
Corey Patterson: 34.7 PA / HR career
Close & Late: 31.4 PA / HR
Tie Game: 33.9 PA / HR
1 Run Difference: 40.2 PA / HR
2 Run Difference: 38.5 PA / HR
3 Run Difference: 23.3 PA / HR
4 Run Difference: 51.8 PA / HR
Within 4 Runs: 35.3 PA / HR
More Then 4 Runs: 31.5 PA / HR
High Leverage Situations: 40.3 PA / HR
Medium Leverage Situations: 31.9 PA / HR
Low Leverage Situations: 35.1 PA / HR
Innings 1-3: 41.7 PA / HR
Innings 4-6: 34.8 PA / HR
Innings 7-9: 32.2 PA / HR
Clutch: -1.82 Career, One year non-negative (2003)
Corey is "unclutch" and does hit home runs more frequently late in the game and in non-high leverage situations. The home runs came more often when the game was out of hand than when it was close. Could potentially be a "garbage" HR hitter.
I want to look at a "clutch" HR hitter now - David Ortiz.
Career: 18.7 PA / HR
Close & Late: 16.9 PA / HR
Tie Game: 16.8 PA / HR
1 Run Difference: 21.0 PA / HR
2 Run Difference: 16.9 PA / HR
3 Run Difference: 17.6 PA / HR
4 Run Difference: 29.1 PA / HR
Within 4 Runs: 18.6 HR / PA
More Then 4 Runs: 19.7 PA / HR
High Leverage Situations: 20.2 PA / HR
Medium Leverage Situations: 19.6 PA / HR
Low Leverage Situations: 17.4 PA / HR
Innings 1-3: 22.5 PA / HR
Innings 4-6: 16.4 PA / HR
Innings 7-9: 18.9 PA / HR
Clutch: 2.89 Career
David Ortiz has a pattern of hitting home runs more often in low leverage situations than in high leverage ones. He does homer more with the score closer and later in the games. Ortiz is "clutch", but as home runs go, it's hard to say that he doesn't hit the occasional "garbage" shot, himself.
To get a definitive conclusion here, I would need to go throw the game logs to look at the situations for each HR these guys hit - I don't want to do that so I'll just say that Jay and Corey probably don't hit lots of "worthless" home runs (no more than would be expected).