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 2019, there were over 20 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. There will be players you expected to see and others that will cause you to scratch your head.
1) Josh Phegley, Athletics C, 22.83% – When a team seems to over-achieve, you’ll find contributors like this 31 year-old backstop.
2) DJ LeMahieu, Yankees U, 22.16% – One of the strangest free agents signings turned out to be the best…100+ Runs & RBI’s.
3) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, 22.13%- One of the most consistent players in the game…he was #8 last year.
4) Anthony Rendon, Nationals 3B, 21.40%- A MVP candidate and a free agent…Cha-Ching!
5) Charlie Blackmon, Rockies OF, 21.01% – Colorado gave him a big contract and his productive season got lost in the team’s disappointing results.
6) Travis d’Arnaud, Rays C, 20.95% – Practically given away at mid-season, he was a huge factor in Tampa Bay’s playoff run…he’ll also be a free agent in 2020.
7) Didi Gregorius, Yankees SS, 20.93%- Didn’t miss a beat coming back from elbow surgery…over 50 RBI’s in half a season.
8) Daniel Murphy, Rockies 1B, 20.63%- All the clutch hitting in the world can’t make up for Colorado’s pitching staff.
9) Eric Hosmer, Padres 1B, 20.21%- This number resulted in 99 RBI’s, but he’s still not a $144 million corner-infielder.
10) Nelson Cruz, Twins DH, 20.18% – At age 39, he just keeps producing…OPS over 1.000
11) Kurt Suzuki, Nationals C, 20.09%- Seemed to be on the highlights every night…over 60 RBI’s in a little more than 300 AB’s
12) Rafael Devers, Red Sox 3B, 20.00%- When you hit 50+ Doubles and 30+ HR’s, you lead the league in Total Bases…he’s also only 22 years old.
13) Asdrubal Cabrera, Nationals 2B, 19.84%- Another player dumped during the Summer, his OPS in Washington was over .950
14) Adalberto Mondesi, Royals SS, 19.78% – Still just 24, only injuries are holding him back.
Others over 19% were Josh Bell, Bryce Harper, Jose Abreu, Colin Moran & David Dahl
What about the MVP candidates? All were outside the top 30…Alex Bregman (17.93%), Mike Trout (16.39%), Christian Yelich (16.16%) & Cody Bellinger (15.89%)
For everyday players, Willy Adames was the worst in baseball at 9.61%. Others under 11% included Brian Dozier, Adam Eaton, Robinson Cano & Leury Garcia.
Hope all your fantasy players came through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.