In baseball, clutch performances certainly exist. You can't watch a day of baseball without seeing a well-timed hit, a big defensive play or a key strikeout that pushes a team toward victory.
The biggest moments in baseball history are almost all examples of players doing extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances. Those moments make the game great, and the players responsible for them deserve credit for their heroics.
It's a common thought that only clutch performances exist in baseball, not clutch players. I believe both do. The mental aspect of baseball is just as significant of a factor as physical ability.
There are an elite group of players throughout the league that demonstrate an elevated ability to perform under pressure or in high-leverage situations.
The following piece will take a look at which Washington Nationals you would want at the plate with the game on the line.
Ian Desmond has proven to be one of the most clutch players on the Nationals. In his young career, he has consistently come through when the team needed him most.
In 2012, Desmond finished the year hitting .333 with the bases loaded and .292 with runners in scoring position (with two outs). He also added a solid triple-slash line of .304/.478/.825 with men on base and two outs—another indication that he isn't fazed by high-leverage situations.
Those numbers alone show that he can be counted on with the game on the line, not to mention a memorable walk-off home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks last May.
Desmond carried his clutch hitting over into this season as well, hitting a crucial go-ahead home run in extra-innings against the Cincinnati Reds last week. That act of timely hitting was a great example of Desmond's development thus far.
He seemingly had a rough game with a couple of fielding errors, but his mental toughness prevailed in the end, helping the Nats bounce back with a win after losing 15-0 the day before.
Ian Desmond is, without a doubt, one of the Washington Nationals I would like to have at the dish with the game on the line.
High-Leverage Career Moments: one walk-off, six tying, 14 go-ahead home runs
Equipped with a bit more experience under his belt than the aforementioned Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth is no stranger to coming through in clutch moments.
Werth may have gotten off to a slow start during his short-lived tenure as a Washington National, but he has certainly made up for it in key moments. His most memorable moment to date came against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS last year.
Werth hit a walk-off shot after an epic 13-pitch at-bat to force a Game 5 for the Nationals. It doesn't get much better than that. That instance may have earned Werth his stripes within the organization and amongst the Nationals fanbase for good.
It's instances like that walk-off shot that separate clutch hitters from average hitters and earn Werth the spot on this list.
High-Leverage Career Moments: two walk-off, 24 tying, 35 go-ahead home runs
It may seem like a stretch to have a 20-year-old on this list, but Bryce Harper is certainly an exception to the rule. He was bred for baseball from a very early age, and I believe he possesses a "clutch gene."
Harper seems like a very rare breed who does not buckle under pressure, regardless of the setting. That is a quality you want in a player when he's up to bat with the game on the line.
Harper's Rookie of the Year campaign, an honor earned at the age of 19, put him up there with some of the best players in history. His 5.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was the most in any single season by a teenager.
Over the course of his young career, Harper has hit a respectable .284 with runners in scoring position. He's had even more success with the bases loaded (.333). Harper proved his ability to perform under pressure pretty early into his call-up in 2012.
Last June, with the score tied and the bases loaded, Harper lined an RBI single to left field for the first walk-off hit of his career in a wild 7-6 win over the New York Mets. While this will most likely be the first of many, Harper has shown he can be relied on when it truly counts.
There is no doubt he deserves to be atop the list of Nationals you want up in crunch time.
High-Leverage Career Moments: two tying, six go-ahead home runs
Since then, Zimmerman has cemented himself as the face of the Nats franchise. He has had a very respectable run since entering the league and has gained a reputation of being a dependable hitter in the clutch.
Zimmerman has tallied a whopping eight—yes, eight—walk-off home runs over the course of his career. In fact, he has more game-ending homers than any other major leaguer since he made his debut in September of 2005. That alone justifies his spot on this list.
He possesses the confidence and the ability to hit in late-inning and high-pressure situations.
The only slight question mark is his health. But if he is truly past his shoulder woes of last season, Zimmerman should certainly be the player that Nationals fans have grown accustomed to over the past five or six years.
And if that is in fact the case, there is nobody on the roster you should want at the plate more than Ryan Zimmerman.
High-Leverage Career Moments: eight walk-off, 22 tying, 51 go-ahead home runs