The Urban Dictionary defines Clutch as, “To perform under pressure”. For decades, baseball pundits and fans have extolled the virtues of players who supposedly had this trait. Their evidence, however, was only visual and anecdotal. Back in the 1970’s, most people considered Tony Perez of the “Big Red Machine” one of baseball’s best clutch hitters. After all, he had over 100 RBI’s in six seasons between 1967 & 1975. In fact, some would argue that his election to the Hall of Fame was based on this reputation.
Now that baseball is in the age of statistical analysis, our old observations may be called into question. Even a math-challenged fan understands that you can’t get a plethora of RBI’s without baserunners. And, boy, did those Reds teams have baserunners!
Statistics on RBI Percentage (RBI-HR/Runners On) now go back to 1974, so let’s see how our legendary clutch hitter fared in a season where he was an All-Star. Perez had 101 RBI’s, 28 HR’s & 489 runners on base for a RBI percentage of 14.93%. That didn’t even crack the top 50 for the major leagues in ’74! He finished behind household names such as Reggie Smith, Richie Zisk, Jimmy Wynn, Cesar Cedeno & Ted Simmons. The leaders were Jeff Burroughs at 21.18% and Sal Bando at 21.15%.
Our Hall-of-Famer improved considerably in 1975 as he accumulated 109 RBI’s with 20 HR’s and 489 runners on base (again). His percentage improved to 18.20% and he just snuck into the top ten for that season. The only hitters at 20% or higher were Willie Stargell at 20.48% and Thurman Munson at 20.00%.
As a fan, you certainly have an opinion on today’s clutch hitters but do the stats back you up? In 2017, there were 25 hitters who exceeded the 18.20% that Perez posted in ’75. We’ll only include players who had at least 200 baserunners during the season to eliminate the “small sample size” outliers. These are “Quacker’s Clutch All-Stars” and we’ll see how well their performance aligns with their reputation.
1) Charlie Blackmon, Rockies OF, 22.4% – Maybe his season was even better than it appeared…had 104 RBI’s out of the lead-off spot.
2) Adrian Beltre, Rangers 3B, 21.6% – This future Hall-of-Famer got his 3,000th hit and still was clutch at age 38.
3) Marwin Gonzalez, Astros OF, 20.8% – Also played every infield position during the season and hit .303 to go with his 90 RBI’s.
4 Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B, 20.7% – Talk about consistency, he was also 4th last year with a 20.6% number.
5) Josh Reddick, Astros OF, 20.5% – Another under-the-radar contributor for Houston.
6) Scooter Gennett, Reds 2B, 20.5% – If you don’t get it, join the club…the Brewers waived him prior to the start of the season and he had 97 RBI’s. That’s like finding a Mantle rookie card in the bargain bin.
7) Nomar Mazara, Rangers OF, 20.5% – Seems like everyone got off the bandwagon when he was off to a slow start. Yes, he only hit .253, but 101 RBI’S at age 22?
8) Wilson Contreras, Cubs C, 20% – Should only get better after less than two seasons in the “show”.
9) Anthony Rendon, Nationals 3B, 19.8% – Health was all he needed and the last two years have been stellar…85 RBI’s in ’16 and 100 in ’17.
10) Justin Bour, Marlins 1B, 19.6% – May only be a platoon player due to lefty splits, but produces when he plays.
11) Adam Frazier, Pirates OF, 19.3% – Got the chance to play regularly thanks to Starling Marte’s stupidity…might be an everyday player in ’18?
12) Nick Castellanos, Tigers 3B, 19.3% – Seemed to be on everyone’s watch list in the Spring and came through with 101 RBI’s.
13) Gerardo Parra, Rockies OF, 19.3% – A free agent bust in ’16, he was much improved this season.
The rest of the 25 included expected performances from the likes of Daniel Murphy, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson & Jose Abreu. The emerging stars are Marcell Ozuna, Jonathan Schoop, Whit Merrifield & Nick Williams.
How about some of the game’s young stars? Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton were solid at 18% but some of the other numbers will surprise you. ROY locks Cody Bellinger (15.3%) and Aaron Judge (14.5%) were decent but Mike Trout at 15.9% and Kris Bryant at 11.6% seemed to underperform in this category.
For everyday players, the worst clutch hitters in baseball were Kevin Pillar at 7.7%, Gregory Polanco with 9.6% and Russell Martin at 9.9%.
Hope all your fantasy players come through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.