Numerous big hits throughout his career put Brian McCann on this list.
When building a ball club, a front office looks to get a little of everything—from a top pitcher, to a strong bullpen, to good defense and of course some power in the middle of the order. All of those things are important, but in order to be able to win big games it is important to have players capable of coming through in the clutch.
This article takes a look at the 15 most clutch players in the National League East, a division that has become increasingly more competitive after teams like Miami and Washington added some talented players this winter.
Brian McCann just seems to come up with big hits whenever the Braves are in need of them.
It seems whenever the Braves need a clutch hit, Brian McCann delivers. In addition to delivering numerous big regular-season hits that have tied or won games for the Braves, McCann's three runs batted in late in the 2010 MLB All-Star game won that game for the National League.
McCann's heroics don't stop there. In two playoff series, McCann has hit .300/.313/.633 with three homers and eight runs batted in over a total of seven games. While the Braves lost both times, it's hard to fault McCann's performance.
It's easy to see why the 27-year-old is already a six-time All-Star and one of the most clutch players in the NL East.
Carlos Ruiz being included may surprise some, but that is because he doesn't get the credit he deserves.
While it's fairly obvious that Brian McCann was going to be included, a catcher that is only a career .265 hitter with an average of six-and-a-half homers per season is a bit of a surprise to make this list. However, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies has quietly become one of the most clutch performers in the league, stepping up in a big way when his teammates need him to.
While Ruiz may not be a big threat overall, he really flips the switch in during clutch situations. Throughout his career, in high-leverage situations, Ruiz is a .282/.369/.397 hitter with six homers and 94 runs batted in over 380 at-bats. Add in his two out runners in scoring position line of .269/.458/.374, and you get a clutch performer.
Ruiz goes from just an average hitter to a real threat once the pressure is on him, which is why he was among the first to be mentioned here.
Heath Bell is a top-notch closer.
One of the newest players to enter the division is 34-year-old closer Heath Bell. Bell, the former San Diego closer, accepted a three-year deal with the Marlins this winter to become their closer. Although Bell has only spent three years in a closing role, he has been among the best in the game in each of those seasons.
Bell got his first crack at being a closer in 2009, and it's safe to say he didn't disappoint as Trevor Hoffman's replacement. His first year in the role, Bell saved a league-leading 42 games while posting a 2.72 ERA. He followed that up in 2010 by improving upon those numbers, racking up 47 saves while lowering his ERA to 1.93. Bell came back in 2011, and despite constant trade rumors was able to notch 43 saves while posting a 2.43 ERA.
Closers are always among the most clutch performers in the game, considering the fact that they really only pitch in clutch situations. Anytime a closer is successful enough to average 44 saves per season over a three-year stretch for a bad team, it's impressive. That's why Bell was a lock to make this list.
Roy Halladay is among the most clutch pitchers in the game.
Prior to his trade to Philadelphia before the 2010 season, Roy Halladay had never been to the playoffs. That wasn't his fault, as the two-time Cy Young Award winner pitched for an average team in the best division in baseball. As good as Halladay is, he could only to so much when his team had to contend with the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees.
Since the trade, Halladay has really shown what a clutch performer he is. In addition to winning 40 games in his first two seasons in Philly, Halladay has thrown a perfect game in addition to winning his second Cy Young Award and finishing second in the voting for the award in 2011.
That's not all, as Halladay has been dominant in the playoffs. The ace has proven why he's among the best in the game by going 3-2 with a 2.37 ERA over five starts, and has averaged nearly eight innings per start. As if that's not enough, he was able to throw a no-hitter in the 2010 playoffs to cement his reputation as a clutch pitcher.
It only took one season for Craig Kimbrel to crack this list.
In only one full season in the Major Leagues, Craig Kimbrel has accomplished a lot. He's been named National League Rookie of the Year, set the all-time rookie saves record and placed himself in the mix for the best closer in baseball not named Mariano Rivera.
The rookie not only set the all-time rookie record for saves, but also led the National League with 46. His 2.10 ERA is great, but it was much better until the wear and tear of pitching in 79 games took its toll and helped to cause him to blow two saves late in the year. His 127 strikeouts over 77 innings show his dominance, as does the fact he only gave up 48 hits over those 77 innings.
Just like with Bell, top closers are always among the most clutch performers in the game, and Kimbrel has quickly become one of the best in the game.
Jonathan Papelbon improves the back end of the Phillies pen.
Heath Bell isn't the only elite-level closer to sign with an NL East club this winter, as former Red Sox star Jonathan Papelbon has decided to join the Phillies. Papelbon may not put up big save numbers, but he's accustomed to pitching and succeeding on the big stage.
Papelbon spent the first seven years of his career with the Red Sox as one of the best closers in the game. His 219 career saves is impressive, but not as impressive as the 2.33 ERA while pitching in the AL East. In fact, Papelbon has never seen his ERA reach 4.00 in a season.
While pitching in Boston, Papelbon was able to win a World Series ring, and his playoff contributions were a big part of that. Over 18 career playoff games he has a 1.00 ERA and seven saves, with three of them and a zero ERA in the World Series.
It's easy to see why Papelbon is such a clutch performer and why he was among the first players to sign with a new team this winter.
Despite not closing Jonny Venters has earned a spot on this list of clutch players.
Shortly after breaking through to the Major Leagues in early 2010, unheralded prospect Jonny Venters became a key piece of the Braves bullpen. Soon after that, he emerged as the eighth inning man to then-closer Billy Wagner. After getting a look for the closer role this past spring, Venters stayed in that role as a second-year pitcher this year.
While Venters has only been in the league for two seasons, he's been in the discussion for the top setup man in the game in each season. He has posted a 1.89 ERA, while allowing only six hits per nine innings and striking out nearly 10 per nine innings. Venters has appeared in a whopping 164 games and pitched 171 innings combined over the last two years, mostly in an setup role.
Even though 26 year-old Venters isn't a closer, it's easy to see why he made this list. If it wasn't for his ability to pitch basically every other game, and pitch very well, who knows what the Braves may have done the past two seasons.
Cliff Lee has been one of the top postseason pitchers in the league.
In spite of being traded a total of three times between the start of the 2009 season and the middle of the 2010 season, Cliff Lee is a special pitcher. The former Cy Young Award winner, now with the Phillies, has been moved around the Majors throughout his entire career but just keeps having success at each stop.
Lee is 119-69 over his career, with a 3.69 ERA, but over the last four seasons he has averaged a record of 16-8 with an ERA never higher than 3.22. During those four seasons he has won a Cy Young, finished seventh one time and then third another time.
That's not what makes Lee such a clutch performer, however. What makes him so clutch is his 7-3 record with a 2.52 ERA in 11 playoff starts. He's been so successful that his combined walks and hits per inning pitched is under one, a remarkable statistic for a starting pitcher, let alone one going up against the best teams in the game during the playoffs.
Lee's postseason performance is a huge part of why he was an easy selection for this list of the most clutch players in the NL East.
Cole Hamels is the third Phillies' starter to make this list.
Cole Hamels is easily the best third starter in all of baseball. The young left-hander from California has been everything the team hoped for when it drafted him in the first round of the 2002 MLB Draft, if not even more than what they hoped for.
Just as with Lee, Hamels regular-season performance is strong. He is 74-54 with a 3.39 ERA—a number that would be lower if not for some 2009 struggles caused by a heavy workload increase in 2008. Hamels, who has won double-digit games in each of the last five seasons, has since bounced back from his down year, as evidence by his ERA last year being a career-best 2.79.
Also like Lee, Hamels makes this list because of his playoff performance. Hamels has 13 career playoff starts, and he has gone 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA. It was actually his pitching in the 2008 postseason that really helped the Phillies win the World Series, as he gave up seven runs over 35 innings during the course of five starts.
Hamels was yet another easy choice for the most clutch players, as he had a huge hand in his team winning a World Series.
While Jason Bay has struggled in New York, he has been very good in the clutch throughout his career.
It would be obvious to say that 33-year-old Jason Bay has struggled with injuries and performance in his first two years with the Mets after a career year with the Red Sox in 2009. Still, that doesn't take away the fact that throughout his career, Bay has been a force in the clutch.
A career .274/.369/.494 hitter, Bay has stepped it up with the pressure on. In 835 career high-leverage at-bats, Bay is hitting at a .274/.366/.503 clip, even better than his regular-season numbers. His playoff .306 average and three homers in 14 games only gives more proof that Bay is a clutch performer.
While Bay needs to remain healthy to stay on this list, his career accomplishments in the clutch earn him the nod here.
Chipper Jones has long been a clutch performer.
How can there be a list of clutch players in the NL East without including Chipper Jones? The 39-year-old likely future Hall-of-Famer has consistently produced in the clutch when called upon throughout his entire career.
Jones has hit .288 with 13 homers in 92 career playoff games, but it's his regular-season performance that really gets him high up the list. In high-leverage situations, Jones is a .305 hitter with a .922 OPS. He's also a .302 hitter in his career with runners in scoring position.
You don't get to where Jones is without producing in the clutch, and the future Hall of Fame plaque, batting title, MVP and World Series ring only add more evidence.
David Wright has delivered in the clutch while playing in New York, something many can't do.
It's easy to call David Wright one of the game's best third basemen. The 29-year-old hits for average and power, steals bases and, of course, plays Gold Glove defense at the hot corner. What doesn't get mentioned is his ability to come through in the clutch.
Wright is a career .300 hitter with 183 homers, yet his highest average comes in situations considered to be high-leverage. During those situations, Wright hits .314 against a .294 average in medium-leverage situations and .298 in low-leverage situations.
The fact that he plays in New York and puts up his best numbers under the most pressure is what puts Wright on to this list.
The veteran leader of the Braves' young rotation, Tim Hudson is used to pitching in tough situations.
Tim Hudson began his career in Oakland and quickly became the leader of their great young pitching staff. By the time he came to Atlanta in 2005, Hudson was already an ace. After some struggles and Tommy John Surgery, Hudson has gotten his career back on track in Atlanta.
Hudson has a 181-97 record with a 3.40 ERA in his career, but what really helps his case is the fact that he has been nearly as good in the playoffs. While only 1-3 in 10 postseason games, his 3.46 ERA is close to the same as his regular season ERA.
Hudson's duels with the Yankees in the playoffs early in the 2000's will long be remembered, as will his seven inning shut-out over the Giants in the 2010 playoffs. That is good enough to make the most clutch players of the NL East list.
New Marlin Mark Buehrle may not be flashy, but he succeeds.
Another newcomer to the division makes the list, as new Miami starter Mark Buehrle joins Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell. Buehrle had been the top guy for the Chicago White Sox for the past few seasons, but decided he'd like to help the Marlins compete now.
In his career, Buehrle is 161-119 with a 3.83 ERA, numbers that don't really impress on the surface. Still, he has won double-digit games in every one of the 11 seasons he has been a full-time starter, and he's been solid in the playoffs.
Burhele's not the type of pitcher that will blow anyone away; however, he's a consistent guy you can match up against against another team's ace and look for a win.
Hitting five homers in the 2009 World Series earned Utley a spot on this list.
Knee injuries robbed Chase Utley last season and cause some to question his potential to return to his previous level in 2012. Still, Utley has accomplished a lot during his career and has done some big things in clutch situations.
Utley's playoff performance is what earned him a spot on this list. The fact that he mashed five homers during six games in a loss to the Yankees in the 2009 World Series just shows what he can do in the clutch. Overall, he's hit .262 with 10 homers in 46 postseason games.
In his other trip to the World Series, a win over the Rays in 2008, Utley managed two more homers on the big stage. That just goes to show how clutch he is.