2010 MLB Pennant Races: Joey Votto, Troy Tulowitzki and The MLB All-Clutch Team

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIISeptember 21, 2010

2010 MLB Pennant Races: Joey Votto, Troy Tulowitzki and The MLB All-Clutch Team

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates as he rounds third base after hitting his second two-run home run of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fifth inning at Dodger Stadium on September 18, 201
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The advent of sabermetrics has changed the way we look at "clutch."

    "Situational hitting" is luck. "Inducing weak contact" is luck. "Performing under pressure" is luck. It's all been proven with math and logic and regression analysis.

    But screw that, because it's a pennant race, and even the most logical stathead has subjective ideas about who he'd most want to see step to the plate with his favorite team's season on the line.

    Here is my 2010 All-Clutch team, comprised of the players who have demonstrated the best ability to perform when it counts. I tried to limit my list to players from contending teams, since they're the only ones who really matter at this point.

    Here's to hoping we get to see one of these guys come up with a big hit this October.

1B: Joey Votto, Reds

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    CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 12:  Joey Votto #19 of  the Cincinnati Reds runs to third base in the fourth inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ballpark on September 12, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Ima
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Where would the Reds be without Joey Votto?

    Unless you have the power to interact with parallel universes, that is a rhetorical question. But it's pretty safe to say that they wouldn't be running away with the NL Central.

    Votto's appearance on this list shouldn't be a surprise—because of his walk-off home run September 11, he's definitely on most fans' radars right now. But to point to that game as the primary evidence is completely unfair to the presumptive NL MVP.

    With runners in scoring position, Votto is hitting .371/.494/.653. In the ninth inning, he's raked to the tune of a .459/.535/.703 slashline. In extra innings, that shoots up to .385/.467/.923—good for an unbelievable 1.390 OPS.

    Overall, in high-leverage situations, he's hit .408/.525/.735. Given that they have this guy in the middle of their lineup, is it any wonder that the Reds are surging towards October?

2B: Chase Utley, Phillies

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 31:  Chase Utley #26 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a base hit in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 31, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Phillies defeated the Dodgers 8-4.  (Photo
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    It hasn't been a banner year for Chase Utley.

    The usually consistent slugger is in the midst of his worst season since 2004. Save for his walk rate, his numbers are down across the board—part of that is from missing playing time (he's played just 104 games this year), but that doesn't explain things like batting average and OPS.

    Utley hasn't been particularly clutch this season. But he's definitely come through when it counted this year, meaning in the last 365 days. It's just a matter of semantics.

    Lost in the Phillies' World Series defeat last October was the fact that Utley clubbed five home runs in six Fall Classic games. This is my attempt to retroactively recognize his incredible accomplishments.

SS: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates as he rounds first base after hitting a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning at Dodger Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Los Angeles, Cal
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Fourteen. That's how many home runs Troy Tulowitzki has mashed this month. A tater every 5.3 at-bats.

    RBI, you ask? He's racked up 34 in 74 September at-bats. When Tulowitzki takes a hack, there's a roughly 50/50 chance that someone's going to score.

    His slashline? .351/.407/1.000. That last number isn't OPS, it's slugging percentage. Troy Tulowitzki is averaging a base per at-bat.

    I have nothing more to say. To try and describe this any further would be an insult to what this man has done.

3B: Placido Polanco, Phillies

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 31:  Third baseman Placido Polanco #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies lunges for a ball hit by Rod Barajas of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fifth inning at Dodger Stadium on August 31, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Phillies
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    When you're thinking about players you'd want to walk to the plate with the game on the line, some of the top choices are pretty clear. Pujols. Papi. Jeter. Peralta (kidding, kidding).

    You probably wouldn't think to call on Placido Polanco when the going gets tough. But the numbers say you should.

    Every time a batter does something in a game, it affects his Win Probability Added. The difference between the chances that his team would win when he walks to the plate and when the at-bat is over (based on how many teams in the same situation have won through the years), and Leverage Index, which is the average amount that whatever the batter did, helps his team's chances of winning.

    If a batter hits a home run, that improves his team's chances to win from 43 percent to 72 percent, and his WPA increases by 0.29. But if the average value of a home run is a 0.17-point shift, his LI would increase by that amount.

    A player's Clutch factor is determined by the extremely complicated act of subtracting a player's WPA from his LI. The result is a reflection of how the timing of each hit or out helped or hurt his team, relative to the norm.

    At any rate, Polanco leads all of baseball with his 2.20 clutch factor—meaning the Phillies have won a full two extra games because of his timely hitting.

OF: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

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    DENVER - SEPTEMBER 06:  Carlos Gonzalez #5 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates as he scores in the third inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field on September 6, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Reds 10-5.  (Photo by Doug Pensing
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Heading into the All-Star Break, Carlos Gonzalez was having a fine season. He'd hit .314 with 17 homers, 60 RBI, and stolen 12 bases in 77 games—more than enough to validate the 11th-round pick I spent on him in my fantasy league.

    But he was just getting warmed up.

    Since July 16, CarGo has been on an absolute tear, hitting .379 with 15 homers and 47 RBI to launch himself into the MVP and Triple Crown discussions. He's posted a 1.145 OPS over that span—screw the Coors effect, that's just pure insanity.

    He's exceptionally talented, full of energy, and has a knack for getting hot at the right time. He could become a household name by the end of October.

OF: Josh Hamilton, Rangers

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    ST. PETERSBURG - AUGUST 17:  Outfielder Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers misses this pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on August 17, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    On June 1, the Rangers sat at 26-24, a half game behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West. Within a week, they had claimed first place for good. On August 1, they held an eight-and-a-half game lead.

    On June 1, Josh Hamilton was hitting .281/.335/.500 with nine homers and 27 RBI. Over the next two months, he hit an inhuman .437 with 14 homers, 48 RBI, and a 1.237 OPS.

    Now, I'm not saying the Rangers won because of Hamilton. I'm just saying...well, alright, maybe that is what I'm saying.

OF: Jason Heyward, Braves

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves breaks his bat on an infield grounder in the seventh inning against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field on September 15, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Jason Heyward stormed out of the gate for the first two months of his MLB career, hitting .292/.410/.578 with 10 homers and 38 RBI in 47 games.

    Then came a putrid June and an injury-plagued July, when everyone and his mother dismissed him as over-hyped and more sizzle than steak—which is why no one has noticed his resurgence in the home stretch.

    Since the All-Star Break, he's posted a .946 OPS—a 125-point improvement over the first half. Since August 21, he's gone .400/.519/.648 with six homers and 18 RBI in 28 games.

    In addition, he has a 1.017 OPS in the ninth inning, and his 5.09 WPA ranks third in the league.

    He's had his struggles and he won't be mistaken for an MVP, but that kind of production means a lot to a contending team desperate for offense.

C: Miguel Olivo, Rockies

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    DENVER - MAY 12:  Catcher Miguel Olivo #21 of the Colorado Rockies heads for second on a ground rule double in the fourth inning as he went 5 for 5 including the game winning homerun against the Philadelphia Phillies in the 10th inning at Coors Field on M
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    When subjected to the "what have you done for me lately?" analysis, Miguel Olivo doesn't seem like a candidate for this list.

    After enjoying the best first half of any catcher in the game, the journeyman backstop has hit just .192 in August and September with a .480 OPS. 

    He has a .475 OPS in the ninth inning and a .568 OPS in High-Leverage situations. So maybe he's not Reggie Jackson.

    But Olivo displayed a subtler form of clutch earlier this season, carrying the Rockies in the first half before guys like Tulowitzki and Gonzalez found their grooves.

    Plus there was that game in April where he passed a freakin' kidney stone and stayed in the game. If that's not clutch, I don't know what is.

SP: Roy Halladay, Phillies

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 30:  Roy Halladay #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 30, 2010 at Dodger Stadium  in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    There's no doubt that the Phillies regret trading Cliff Lee this past winter, but the damage has been severely mitigated by the acquisition of Roy Halladay.

    A Phillies fan would tell you that it's impossible to overstate what Doc has meant to the team this year. When the rest of the rotation struggled at the beginning of the season, having a consistent ace was one thing they could count on.

    He's thrown eight complete games, including three shutouts. All season long, every fifth day—day, not game—the Phillies have been confident in their pitching. For a team in a close pennant race, that means a lot.

    Even when he loses, he's kept the Phillies in the game. He has a 4.77 ERA in games where he's taken the L; Philadelphia is averaging 4.76 runs per game.

SP: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on September 9, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Cardinals' playoff hopes are almost mathematically gone, but you certainly can't blame Adam Wainwright for that.

    After taking the bronze in the 2009 NL Cy Young voting, Wainwright has been even better this season, matching last year's 19 wins while posting an improved 2.45. His peripherals suggest that the improvement isn't mere luck; his impressive superficial stats are backed by a 2.86 FIP and a 2.92 ERA.

    Especially impressive is Wainwright's 2.35 ERA in 88 innings against .500-plus teams. In 25 frames against the division-leading Reds, he's posted a 2.88 ERA.

SP: David Price, Rays

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    ST.  PETERSBURG - SEPTEMBER 13:  David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees during the game at Tropicana Field on September 13, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    David Price established himself as the epitome of clutch in 2008, when the then-rookie repeatedly shut down the Red Sox as a reliever in the ALCS.

    This year, he's made a name for himself as the Rays' go-to pitcher in a big game.

    A 2.76 ERA is something to be proud of in the AL East, even if his peripherals (4.01 xFIP) indicate a large degree of luck.

    His reputation as a big-game pitcher is wholly deserved. His ERA against .500-plus teams (2.59) is significantly better than his mark against sub-par clubs (3.24).

    Throw in his ludicrously low 2.16 ERA against division rivals, and Price has clearly been one of the most clutch pitchers in the game.

RP: Rafael Soriano, Rays

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    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 15:  Relief pitcher Rafael Soriano #29 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates his save against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field on September 15, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    The Rays have found a replacement relief ace now that David Price has moved to the rotation.

    Winter acquisition Rafael Soriano has been fantastic for Tampa Bay this season, converting 43 saves and throwing 59.1 innings with a 1.82 ERA. Just two years removed from taking a walk on the wild side (5.8 BB/9), he's got things under control, allowing just 1.8 BB/9.

    Soriano's 4.67 WPA is the highest of any reliever on a contending team—that speaks volumes about the impact he's had on important games.