Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves' 10 Most Clutch Players

Herb HatleeContributor IIIAugust 23, 2012

Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves' 10 Most Clutch Players

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    Few things in sports are more exciting than a come-from-behind win. The buzzer-beater lob from half court, the miraculous Hail Mary touchdown as time expires and of course the walk-off home run are all sensational plays that can make games legendary.

    The players that pull off those memorable plays are, at least in those moments, clutch. In sports, "clutch" means performing well when the game is on the line and in high-pressure situations.

    While walk-off hits get most of the glory, not all clutch performances are offensive. Looking back at Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, Tom Glavine was the epitome of clutch, as he stifled the potent Cleveland Indians lineup, giving up only one hit over eight masterful innings.

    If the Atlanta Braves hope to make a deep run in the playoffs, the team will need clutch performances from players all over its roster. 

    Which players do the Braves want up when the game or their season is on the line?

10. Kris Medlen

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    If the Braves ever get desperate for a win, they should just start Kris Medlen.

    Over his last 16 starts, the Braves are a perfect 16-0. The dynamic youngster from California has been a major contributor this year both from the bullpen and in the starting rotation.

    The Braves have needed Medlen to step up big as a starter, and he has come through. Medlen has a 0.83 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP in his five starts.  

    He has also been solid out of the bullpen all year. His 2.48 ERA and 1.08 whip combined with his ability to gobble up multiple innings in relief put the Braves in a tough position. Do they keep him in the starting rotation, where he has done great, or do they put him in the bullpen, where he has done great?

    Regardless of where he ends up, Kris Medlen has been able to perform at a high level when the pressure is on, day in and day out.

9. Tim Hudson

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    During the '90s, the chances of a prolonged losing streak were greatly diminished because the likes of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz were toeing the rubber three out of every five days.

    Tim Hudson has been Atlanta's slump buster this year.

    Hudson is still a quality pitcher despite being in the twilight of his career. He has ended eight different losing streaks, as eight of Hudson's 12 wins have come following Braves losses. The crafty righty will be the cornerstone of Atlanta's starting rotation in the playoffs.

    Braves fans have every reason to be confident whenever the team hands Huddy the ball.

8. Dan Uggla

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    How can someone who is struggling as bad as Uggla is this season be considered clutch?

    Despite his .210 batting average, Uggla is third on the team in RBI, with 62. When Uggla's hits come, it's when it counts. In his 74 plate appearances with runners in scoring position and two outs, Uggla is hitting .298 with an OPS of 1.073. Ten of Uggla's 86 hits have been go-ahead hits. 

    It was Dan Uggla who carried the Braves offense down the stretch in 2011.

    Thirteen games into what ended up being his 33-game hit streak, Uggla was called upon to pinch hit in the ninth inning of a tied game against the Reds.

    He promptly launched a two-run home run to put the Braves ahead for good.

    Despite his clutch hitting, the Braves fell short at season's end. But it wasn't Uggla that let the team down in that game, as he reached base three times and drove in two of the Braves' three runs with a home run during Atlanta's heartbreaking, season-ending loss to the Phillies.

    Yes, Uggla has had his struggles as a Brave, but the run of bad luck this guy has had is remarkable.

    His BABIP—batting average for balls put in play—is .274 for the year. Andrew McCutchen leads the majors with a .403 BABIP. McCutchen has had much better luck in terms of the balls he makes contact with finding holes, while almost everything Uggla hits seems to be right at somebody.

    The power he posses is undeniable, and because of such, Uggla will always be a threat to opposing pitchers. 

    When his luck finally turns around and the balls he hits start finding holes instead of gloves, Uggla's numbers will bounce back to normal.  

7. Andrelton Simmons

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    While Andrelton Simmons' opportunities have been much more limited than those of his teammates due to his late call up and recent injury, in the time he was able to play, his clutch numbers were through the roof.

    After the seventh inning this year, Simmons has batted .385. With two outs and runners in scoring position, the Curacao native has hit .357.

    Baseball-Reference.com has a "Late & Close" stat that they track to help reflect players' aptitudes for succeeding in clutch situations. At-bats that fall under the category of "Late & Close" are ones that happen in the seventh inning or later with the the given player's team tied, ahead by one or with tying run on deck.

    In those situation, Simmons is hitting .500 over 17 plate appearances.

    When you factor in the importance of the SS position, Simmons has been able to come up with run-saving plays in his short tenure.

    Is his current production in the clutch untenable? Probably. But as far as the numbers go, there are not many players the Braves would rather have at the plate or in the field when the game is on the line than Simmons. 

6. Michael Bourn

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    The super-speedy Michael Bourn has emerged as the key piece of the Braves' offensive puzzle. Bourn's 83 runs rank third in the majors (fourth if you include players who use performance-enhancing drugs and then try to cover it up).

    Bourn's non-artificially enhanced ability to score is crucial to Atlanta's success. The Braves are 44-15 when Michael Bourn gets a hit and scores a run. He has nine go-ahead hits this year and a .347 batting average when there are runners in scoring position.

    His surprising surge in offensive production is a welcomed addition to the top of a Braves lineup that has suffered through years of not having a true leadoff hitter, since the days of Rafael Furcal.

    While Bourn has been clutch on the offensive side of the ball, his contribution in the field cannot go unmentioned, either. Bourn's defensive ability has been a staple throughout the 2012 season on the highlight reels. There are not many balls hit in his direction that he can't get to, because of his great speed.

    Whether the Braves need him to get on base to help manufacture late runs or he's making a diving catch that no other outfielder could have gotten to in the first place, Bourn has the ability to perform when the pressure is on.

    And that is a big reason for the Braves' thus far successful season. 

5. Freddie Freeman

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    Freddie Freeman is tied for second on the team with 11 go-ahead hits. The slick-fielding rookie of the year runner-up does his best hitting when there are men on base. Freddie Freeman's 77 RBI are the best on the team and the 10th best in the NL.

    When batting in the ninth inning, Freeman is hitting a robust .360. Even better for the Braves are his numbers with two outs and runners in scoring position, in which situations he is hitting .368 for the year.

    Freddie might be doing so well this year because his intro music strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents.

4. Brian McCann

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    If there is anyone on the team that seems to shine when the pressure is on, it is McCann.

    Despite his early-season struggles, McCann is also tied for second best on the team with 11 go-ahead hits this year.

    Though his stats are significantly below his career averages, McCann has always had a penchant for hitting home runs in big situations, especially those of the walk-off variety.

    His game against the Astros on May 17th of 2011 comes to mind, a game in which he hit the game-tying home run in the ninth and followed that up by hitting the game-winning home run in the 11th.

    Furthermore, it was only a few weeks ago that McCann hit an opposite-field shot with two outs and two strikes to tie the Giants in the bottom of the tenth.

    Even more recently, McCann hit a grand slam off Antonio Bastardo that catapulted the Braves ahead of the Phillies. 

3. Jason Heyward

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    Talk about a rebound season.

    The yo-yo-like seasons Heyward has had over his first three years could give any fan an ulcer. His performance this year has done much to silence the critics that questioned his ability after his abysmal sophomore slump.

    The Braves have a 23-year-old physical specimen on their team that can be a leading figure in the new generation of baseball for years to come.

    Heyward leads the team this year in go-ahead hits with 17, six more than second place. He has already set new career highs in home runs and stolen bases this season. He needs only nine more RBI, seven doubles and one triple over the last 39 games to surpass his impressive rookie numbers in those categories.

    Heyward has also displayed the strength of his arm out in right, which invokes memories of the cannon David Justice used to use to hose runners on the basepaths.

    So far this year, no one has put the Braves ahead of their opponents more often than the kid from McDonough, Ga. 

2. Chipper Jones

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    What else can be said about this Braves icon?

    Even when he was performing far below his career averages, as he was in 2011, he still had 16 go-ahead hits for the Braves.

    Despite his reduced time on the field, Chipper has 11 go-ahead hits for the Braves this year. Of those hits in 2012, none of them may be more memorable than his walk-off home run against the Phillies in the video above.

    Chipper Jones is hitting .360 in the ninth inning, and he is hitting .400 when the team goes to extras. There is no one else on this roster that the Braves could possibly want at the plate when the game is on the line more than Chipper.

    The Braves are going to be hard pressed to find any type of replacement that can come through in the clutch as much as Chipper does after he retires.

    Enjoy these last few games watching one of the five best players ever to wear a Braves uniform.

1. Craig Kimbrel

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    There is no one on the roster that is put in more clutch situations than Craig Kimbrel. The very nature of his job as the Braves closer means that when he is brought in, the game is on the line—excluding games he pitches in to get reps in because of a lack of save opportunities.

    Every time he steps in to close for the Braves, it is in a high-pressure situation.

    Kimbrel's name is on the very short list of the game's most dominant and successful closers. He has been lights out both this year and last. He is by far the most clutch player for the Braves. 

    The closer's role is one of the most volatile and frustrating in the sport. Craig Kimbrel has taken on that pressure and thrived. He has come through in the clutch for the Braves 31 out of 33 times this season. A hitter would need to be batting .939 in clutch situations to match that rate of success.

    In his 46 appearances, Kimbrel has had a 1.17 ERA and 0.65 WHIP, striking out a staggering 6.83 batters for each batter he walks.

    Dominant is the only word worthy enough to describe Kimbrel this season.

    The Braves are lucky to have such a steadfast arm in the bullpen that has shown that he can consistently come through in the clutch.