In major league baseball, "gamers" enter an entirely new level of the focus when the calendar turns, the lights come on, and the score is close. Their level of play is elevated; they are the embodiment of "clutch."
Can "clutch" be identified or quantified? Does "clutch" even exist? I don't think anyone can know for sure. Some analysts and statisticians might argue otherwise, but I do think there is something to the pressure of intense situations that can either allow a player to shift his game and focus to a new gear or cause a player to wilt under its burden.
Regardless of your beliefs regarding "clutch" though, I believe that the Braves could have used some of it on their roster last season when they underwent the historic September collapse. The 2012 version of the team, while comprising many of the same components, has been a much more resilient club, mounting comeback after comeback.
The Braves on this slideshow are the members of this ball club I believe will step up in the biggest ways, in the biggest moments. Perhaps others will step up, but these five have proven their "gamer" status time and time again, and will be looked to as the leaders of the Braves' resilient march through the postseason.
All of the statistics (splits, events, advanced metrics) in this slideshow are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
When I sat down to write this slideshow, the first Brave I thought to include was Chipper Jones. After that, my thoughts went directly to Jason Heyward; my instincts screamed that he should be given a slide.
Heyward's "clutch" stats are so contradictory though, that I don't know what to do with him.
In "high leverage situations" during the 2012 campaign, Heyward has a slash line of .242/.305/.411 with four home runs and 25 RBI. With two outs and RISP, Heyward sports a .185/.343/.296 (no, that's the right order) line with one home run and 16 RBI. With the game late and close, his line isn't much better: .192/.284/.321 with three home runs and 10 RBI.
These stats are all bad, Gavin. Why are you even considering Heyward?
One: he passes the eye test. Two: he has other stats supporting the idea that he is "clutch."
Here's where the curiously contradictory part comes in. When the game is within one run, Heyward has a .304/.372/.522 line to pair with 13 home runs and 40 RBI. When the game is tied, Heyward's line is boosted to .367/.437/.667 with 11 home runs and 29 RBI. And of Heyward's 27 home runs in 2012, two have tied the game and 11 have put the Braves ahead.
Add that to the fact that he has incredible defensive prowess in right field with agility, a good glove, and an excellent arm, and you get a player that could definitely be classified as a "gamer."
You see the predicament? I believe he will step up for the Braves as the year grows older and the season wanes, and he certainly has some statistics that support this belief. But even if I were to throw the first set of stats out the window, I'm not sure he would have the credentials to unseat the five ahead of him.
And thus lies the curious case of Jason Heyward.
On a side note, Andrelton Simmons has also played excellently when the Braves have needed him most, and in a future year, he could find himself on a list like this. His career is simply too young at this point though.
If you don't know how I feel about Martin Prado by now, you're either an extraterrestrial being still contemplating the allure of this baseball, or you're a Phillies fan and thereby ignorant of my work.
Prado is just such a solid ball player across the board that I cannot even find a statistic supporting the notion he isn't clutch!
In high leverage situations for his career, Prado owns a .291 average and a .343 OBP. With two outs and RISP, his line is .292/.362. Tie games? .300/.356.
He's been a gamer this year too, posting a .329/.385/.481 line in high leverage situations. With two outs and RISP, his line is .314/.397/.431, and in tie games, it's .326/.394/.444.
Prado has come up big when the Braves have needed him the most too, tallying up five game-tying and ten go-ahead hits.
So you can add "clutch" to Prado's resume that includes invaluable assets such as his versatile and elite defense, his ability to tear the cover off of any ball, and his ability to do all the little things right.
This guy needs a raise already.
I shouldn't need to give you this guy's resume. His career should speak for itself. But nonetheless, even at 40 years of age, Chipper Jones is a gamer.
In 2012 alone, Chipper has launched two walk-off home runs to pair with his 14 go-ahead hits. Staying in 2012, high leverage situations have seen Chipper OPS (verb, verb, verb) .824.
For his career, Chipper sports that famous .300/.400/.500 slash line of his in high leverage situations, posting a .304/.405/.513 line with 82 home runs. Late and close, he has a .294/.416/.490 line with 59 home runs. When the Braves have been behind in his career, Chipper has OPSed .911 with 155 home runs.
Please don't argue with me here. You won't win, and you'll just look hateful.
Don't be hateful.
It's pretty much a requirement that the always under-appreciated Tim Hudson makes this list. A 3.43 ERA after 14 professional years should be cause for admiration, but because he doesn't strike hitters out, Hudson often gets no publicity.
He owns a 3.46 ERA in almost 55 postseason innings, and he's pitched in big games before. His last appearance in October must have left a sour taste in his mouth: seven innings, four hits, and one unearned run was endured by Hudson in a game the Braves lost.
Lack of run support doesn't bother him. Throughout his career, when he's been given two or fewer runs to work with, Hudson has posted a 3.64 ERA.
Hudson's "clutch" stats for his career are essentially uniform; nobody hits this guy. With the game late and close, Hudson has allowed only a .308 OBP and .367 SLG. In high leverage situations, those numbers are .318 and .338.
It's ridiculous how uniform all of his "clutch" stats are. And they all lead the student to one conclusion: Hudson is a gamer.
With the way Kris Medlen has been pitching, it would be a travesty to leave him off this list.
As a starter, he's allowed opposing hitters a measly .229 OBP and a .260 SLG; absurdity is about as precise of a synonym as you're going to find.
When he's been given two or fewer runs, Medlen has allowed a .468 OPS. When it's late and close, he has held hitters to a .218 SLG. In high leverage situations, hitters are batting .173 against him.
Think about those numbers.
Medlen has given the Atlanta pitching staff an extremely timely lift, but with pitchers Paul Maholm and Tommy Hanson scuffling, the Braves will need to continue relying on Medlen throughout the playoffs.
Can he sustain his dominance? Who knows? His change-up is his only above average pitch (albeit, it happens to be pretty elite), and he is relying on a fierce pounding of the strike zone for success.
I wouldn't bet against him though.
Craig Kimbrel ends Atlanta's games so it's only fitting that he should end this slideshow.
People, Kimbrel has a 1.12 ERA, a 0.675 WHIP, and 105 strikeouts in 56.1 innings pitched.
I should end the slideshow right there.
In high leverage situations this year, Kimbrel has allowed hitters a .196 OBP. With the game late and close, Kimbrel doesn't allow hitters to OPS .400. When Atlanta's ahead, Kimbrel's opponents have hit .127 against him. Lastly, with two outs and RISP, Kimbrel allows an absolutely lethal .143 OPS.
Add that to the fact that this year Kimbrel is rested for the postseason, and you've got yourself a gamer who is ready to shut the door on your hopes and dreams.
Having Kimbrel in the bullpen is one of the most exciting things about being a Braves fan; when he's called in to send the Braves home with a win, Braves fans can envision the strikeouts Kimbrel gets with his flaming fastball and filthy slider.
Game (whiff), set (whoosh), match (pop).