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 RBIs in six seasons between 1967 and 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 RBIs 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 RBIs, 28 homers and 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 and 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 RBIs with 20 home runs 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 2015, there were 15 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) Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B, 21.4% - This is in addition to winning his 3rd Gold Glove at age 24.
2) Danny Valencia, Athletics OF, 19.8% - Somewhat misleading because he's essentially a platoon player, but still impressive.
3) Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays 3B, 19.7% - Another statistic to validate his MVP honor.
4) Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins OF, 19.3% - What we wouldn't give for an injury-free season.
5) Kendrys Morales, Royals DH, 19.1% - If you weren't already convinced of Kansas City's smarts, Billy Butler's number was 13.1%.
6) Adam Lind, Brewers 1B, 19.1% - His second consecutive year on this list, but remember his .221 BA and zero homers against left-handed pitching.
7) Matt Kemp, Padres OF, 19.0% - Another great second half helped produce 100 RBIs for the season.
8) Justin Smoak, Blue Jays 1B, 18.8% - Part-time role but a big-time contribution to this playoff team.
9) Andrew McCutchen, Pirates OF, 18.8% - Just because he didn't have another MVP season doesn't mean he didn't have a great season.
10) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B, 18.6% - Second straight year in the top ten...not a bad way to begin a career.
11) Ryan Braun, Brewers OF, 18.6% - Finished 2nd in 2014 and this is a nice follow-up...the post-PED numbers are solid.
12) Mookie Betts, Red Sox OF, 18.6% - This is how good your rookie season can be when you're also an avid bowler.
13) Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 1B, 18.6% - Came through in the clutch...when he was on the field.
14) Caleb Joseph, Orioles C, 18.3% - Another part-timer who excelled in 2015...and he won't cost $15.8 Million.
15) Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 3B, 18.2% - A player who looks like he needs a decent meal turns into a power-hitting clutch performer.
Last year's leader, Miguel Cabrera, finished 17th despite an injury-plagued season. Rookie of the Year winners Kris Bryant (17.2%) and Carlos Correa (17.9%) were both solid in this category. Bryce Harper (14.2%) and Mike Trout (14.4%) were surprisingly low while Torii Hunter finished 20th (17.9%) in his final season.
The three worst clutch hitters in baseball were Mike Zunino at 6.6%, Anthony Gose at 7.5% and Marcus Semien at 7.6%.
Hope all your fantasy players come through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.