The definition of “clutch” seems to be somewhat elusive for many people. The slang dictionary describes it as “the ability to deliver when peak performance is needed” and your imagination can take that beyond the realm of sports. The urban dictionary concurs by saying, “the ability to perform well on a certain activity at a particular moment, despite external pressures, influences or distractions.” Of course, the term also has a tendency to fit other circumstances such as, “you are really craving a beer…you go to the fridge and there’s one left…so clutch.”
For long-time baseball fans, clutch has always been linked with RBI’s. After all, don’t the leaders in that statistical category come through in the clutch? The answer, of course, is never that easy. The folks who study baseball statistics have known since the 70’s that raw stats can be misleading. Batting in runs is a very important factor in a player’s success but that outcome is influenced greatly by where he hits in the line-up, whether he has protection in that line-up and, more importantly, how many runners were on the basepaths when he came to the plate. To this end, baseballmusings.com gives you the historical data to determine “RBI Percentage”. It is a result of a player’s (RBI – HR) / Runners On, or in simplistic terms, what percentage of baserunners did a player drive in during the season. In 2017, the stat told us that Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies (22.4%) was the best clutch hitter in baseball and less than ten hitters had a number over 20%.
So, as the halfway point of the season comes and goes, let’s look at the best (and worst) clutch hitters in the game. The statistical information is as of June 30th and includes players who had at least 100 runners on base when they came to the plate. Many of these names will surprise you.
1) Gerardo Parra, Rockies OF 23.4% – Most pundits felt he wouldn’t get much playing time with the pending emergence of Ryan McMahon, David Dahl and others.
2) Daniel Descalso, D’Backs 2B 21.9% – One Phoenix sports columnist argued that the All-Star roster should include at least one “Utility” player.
3) Evan Gattis, Astros DH 21.6% – Back in April, there was talk of him being released.
4) Jesus Aguilar, Brewers 1B 21% – No longer just a platoon player.
5) Yolmer Sanchez, White Sox 3B 20.5% – Carlos was Clark Kent, Yolmer is the super-hero.
6) Ben Zobrist Cubs OF 20.5% – If you were wondering how he would find playing time on the Cubs roster, here’s one answer.
7) Jean Segura, Mariners SS 20.3% – A major factor in Seattle’s ’18 success.
8) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B 20.2% – Have you noticed Atlanta’s record? He’s their MVP.
9) Jed Lowrie, Athletics 2B 20.2% – A career year at age 34, he has 56 RBI’s.
10) Matt Adams, Nationals 1B 20% – Just off the DL, he’s had some big hits for Washington.
11) Matt Kemp, Dodgers OF 19.9% – Wasn’t expected to make the opening day roster…Jenny Craig had a similar season back in the 80’s.
12) Andrelton Simmons, Angels SS 19.3%% – As if playing Gold Glove SS isn’t enough.
Red Sox OF/DH J.D. Martinez leads the major leagues in RBI’s through June and his RBI percentage of 19% has him in the top 20.
When it comes to everyday players, the bottom of the barrel looks like this…
> Jarrod Dyson, D’Backs OF 6.3% – He’ll be a pinch-runner with A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza back in the line-up.
> Carlos Gomez, Rays OF 6.5% – He has great bat speed against the Gatorade cooler.
> Christian Vasquez, Red Sox C 6.8% – Catchers can keep their job in spite of this.
> Kolten Wong, Cardinals 2B 7% – Maybe it’s time to admit that he’s no longer a prospect.
> Alex Gordon, Royals OF 7.7% – He went over-the-hill in 2016 and hasn’t looked back.
> Jonathan Scoop, Orioles 2B 7.9% – Looked like a budding star in 2017, now just part of a dismal team in Baltimore.
For those of us from a certain generation, it would have been nice if Carlos Gonzalez had made the list because it would have brought back memories of “Clutch Cargo”.
We’ll re-visit the numbers in October and determine flukes from facts.