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 2018, there were 17 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) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox OF, 19.82% – Helped the BoSox to 100+ Wins and was a free agent actually worth his contract.
2) Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS, 19.75% – Came all the way back from an injury-plagued 2017.
3) Gregory Polanco, Pirates OF, 19.73%- His OPS in ’17 was .695…in ’18, it was .839.
4 Yulieski Gurriel, Astros 1B, 19.30% – An unheralded contributor to Houston’s success, he provided 85 RBI’s.
5) Christian Yelich, Brewers OF, 19.16%- Another reason he’s a MVP favorite.
6) Jed Lowrie, Athletics 2B, 19.10% – Made his first All-Star team at age 34.
7) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B, 18.97%- Slowed down by some injuries but he’s still a force in the line-up.
8) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, 18.88%- No surprise here, he’s the glue and veteran presence on a young Atlanta team.
9) Matt Kemp, Dodgers OF, 18.82%- Wasn’t even supposed to make the opening day roster but provided solid stats.
10 Gerardo Parra, Rockies OF, 18.80% – Critics wanted to see more of Dahl & McMahon but he produced…a free agent in 2019.
11) Wilson Ramos, Phillies C, 18.71%- Got a late start but did a good job of building future value as a 2019 fee agent.
12) Robinson Cano, Mariners 2B, 18.60%- “Cheaters never prosper” isn’t always true.
13) David Freese, Dodgers CI, 18.43%- If you recall, he has World Series experience.
14) Edwin Encarnacion, Indians DH, 18.38% – Still a professional hitter at age 35.
15) Robinson Chirinos, Rangers C, 18.36% – The .222 BA is misleading, as he posted a .338 OBP with 18 HR’s.
16) Mitch Garver, Twins C, 18.27% – A .749 OPS in over 300 AB’s is a plus at a defensive position.
17) David Peralta, D’Backs OF, 18.24% – A break-out year at Age 30…hit 30 HR’s.
Just outside the top 17 was Shohei Ohtani with a clutch number of 18.06…yes, he’s for real.
For everyday players, JaCoby Jones was the worst in baseball at 8.21%. Others under 10% included Adam Engel, Carlos Gomez, Michael Taylor, Hernan Perez, Billy Hamilton, Mike Zunino, Lorenzo Cain & Mike Kingery.
Hope all your fantasy players came through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.