B/R MLB Skill Rankings: Fernando Tatis Jr. and Baseball's Top 25 Clutch Hitters

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2021

B/R MLB Skill Rankings: Fernando Tatis Jr. and Baseball's Top 25 Clutch Hitters

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The task is simple: Name the 25 best clutch hitters in baseball.

    However, there has never been a go-to way to quantify "clutch," so in order to put together this list, a number of different statistics were taken into consideration.

    After some digging and debating, I landed on these four metrics to measure clutch:

    • Batting Average with Runners in Scoring Position (BA/RISP): A player's batting average when there is at least one runner on second or third base.
    • Batting Average in High-Leverage Situations (BA/HL): A player's batting average in high-leverage situations, as defined by the FanGraphs leverage index.
    • Weighted Runs Created with Runners in Scoring Position (wRC/RISP): A player's total offensive value contributed with runners in scoring position measured in runs.
    • Weighted Runs Created in High-Leverage Situations (wRC/HL): A player's total offensive value contributed in high-leverage situations measured in runs.

    The question was how to use those statistics to best demonstrate the difference between Player A and Player B in terms of contact ability.

    On the following slide, I've outlined my methodology and scoring system, and I encourage you to give that a read before diving into the article.

Methodology

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    To narrow the list of candidates for inclusion, I started by trimming the field to only players who met the following benchmarks since the start of the 2019 season:

    • 500-plus plate appearances
    • 100-plus wRC+ with RISP
    • 100-plus wRC+ in HL

    The result was a list of 120 players up for consideration.

    Since the goal was to determine how much better or worse a player performs in key situations, each hitter's overall batting average was used as a baseline to compare to his batting average in clutch spots.

    The thinking here is that a .250 hitter who hits .300 with runners in scoring position (+.050 BA/RISP) is displaying more clutch than a .300 hitter who hits .310 with runners in scoring position (+010 BA/RISP), and that is how the batting average statistics will be presented.

    From there, a point system was implemented that awarded points as follows:

    • 1 point for every .001 BA/RISP relative to BA baseline
    • 1 point for every .001 BA/HL relative to BA baseline
    • 2 points for every wRC/RISP
    • 2 points for every wRC/HL

    No bias. No preconceived notions. Just a set of statistical parameters and a straightforward point system.

    The full data can be found here.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jose Ramirez
    Jose RamirezRon Schwane/Associated Press

    These 25 players fulfilled the criteria and finished in the Nos. 26-50 spots in the rankings. They are listed alphabetically:

    • Brian Anderson, MIA
    • Nolan Arenado, STL
    • Xander Bogaerts, BOS
    • Matt Carpenter, STL
    • Nelson Cruz, MIN
    • Travis d'Arnaud, ATL
    • Hunter Dozier, KC
    • Tommy Edman, STL
    • Edwin Encarnacion, FA
    • David Fletcher, LAA
    • Yasmani Grandal, CWS
    • Didi Gregorius, PHI
    • Ramon Laureano, OAK
    • DJ LeMahieu, NYY
    • Evan Longoria, SF
    • Ryan McMahon, COL
    • Jeff McNeil, NYM
    • Jorge Polanco, MIN
    • Jurickson Profar, SD
    • Jose Ramirez, CLE
    • Bryan Reynolds, PIT
    • Danny Santana, FA
    • Eric Sogard, FA
    • Luke Voit, NYY
    • Mike Yastrzemski, SF

Nos. 25-21

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    25. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres (154 points)

    Metrics: +.052 BA/RISP, +.012 BA/HL, 34 wRC/RISP, 11 wRC/HL

    The jury is still out on the eight-year, $144 million contract that Hosmer signed with the Padres prior to the 2018 season. He saw plenty of clutch opportunities while playing in back-to-back World Series with the Kansas City Royals, and he's been a solid contributor when it matters in San Diego.

          

    23 (tie). Dexter Fowler, Los Angeles Angels (155 points)

    Metrics: +.048 BA/RISP, +.051 BA/HL, 25 wRC/RISP, 3 wRC/HL

    There are a few surprises on this list, but this might be the biggest. To call Fowler's tenure in St. Louis rocky would be an understatement, but with a batting average roughly 50 points higher with both clutch situations we highlighted, he did seem to have another gear in big spots.

           

    23 (tie). Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics (155 points)

    Metrics: +.038 BA/RISP, +.021 BA/HL, 35 wRC/RISP, 13 wRC/HL

    Hitting in the middle of a good Oakland lineup, Chapman has seen as many RBI opportunities as anyone on this list over the past two seasons. With that in mind, the fact that he outperforms a middling .246 baseline batting average when the stakes are raised is pretty significant.

          

    22. Marwin Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox (168 points)

    Metrics: +.050 BA/RISP, +.062 BA/HL, 22 wRC/RISP, 6 wRC/HL

    The poster boy for Houston's sign-stealing scandal given his outlier season in 2017, Gonzalez ended up being a bit of a flop on a two-year, $21 million contract with the Minnesota Twins. Despite the downturn in his overall production, he continued to hit in the clutch, and that no doubt helped him land a one-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox this winter.

          

    21. George Springer, Toronto Blue Jays (169 points)

    Metrics: +.034 BA/RISP, +.015 BA/HL, 44 wRC/RISP, 16 wRC/HL

    Despite hitting in the leadoff spot rather than a traditional run-production slot in the lineup, Springer has been extremely productive with runners in scoring position. His 44 wRC with RISP were tied for seventh among the players who qualified for inclusion, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to hit leadoff in Toronto.

Nos. 20-16

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    Mookie Betts
    Mookie BettsEric Gay/Associated Press

    20. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox (172 points)

    Metrics: +.042 BA/RISP, +.000 BA/HL, 51 wRC/RISP, 14 wRC/HL

    Despite limited variance in his batting average, Abreu earns a spot in the top 25 thanks to the 51 wRC he piled up with runners in scoring position. That should come as no surprise after he led the American League in RBI in 2019 (123) and 2020 (60) while posting a better baseline average than most power hitters.

             

    19. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers (174 points)

    Metrics: +.047 BA/RISP, +.023 BA/HL, 37 wRC/RISP, 15 wRC/HL

    With a .341 average with runners in scoring position and a .317 average in high-leverage spots, Betts produces when the game is on the line. However, those numbers don't necessarily represent a significant spike from his baseline, which keeps him from ranking any higher. Top of the first or bottom of the ninth, he's just a really good hitter.

              

    18. Jean Segura, Philadelphia Phillies (175 points)

    Metrics: +.022 BA/RISP, +.071 BA/HL, 29 wRC/RISP, 12 wRC/HL

    Despite his under-the-radar status relative to some of the other names on this list, Segura had the ninth-highest batting average in high-leverage spots (.347) among the 120 players who qualified. That gave his point total a significant boost, and rightfully so given his clear ability to produce when the game is on the line.

              

    17. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros (177 points)

    Metrics: -.028 BA/RISP, +.105 BA/HL, 34 wRC/RISP, 16 wRC/HL

    One of just two players on this list with a negative differential in batting average with runners in scoring position, Bregman more than made up for it with a .389 average in high-leverage spots. That was more than 100 points higher than his baseline and speaks to his importance to the Astros' success.

             

    16. David Peralta, Arizona Diamondbacks (179 points)

    Metrics: +.056 BA/RISP, +.037 BA/HL, 33 wRC/RISP, 10 wRC/HL

    Peralta just continues to hit, posting a .300/.339/.433 line in 218 plate appearances during the 2020 season. The 33-year-old is a .306 career hitter in high-leverage spots, and that's why he has often been entrusted with a run-production spot in the order despite his average power.

Nos. 15-11

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    Christian Yelich
    Christian YelichAaron Doster/Associated Press

    15. Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels (185 points)

    Metrics: +.030 BA/RISP, +.003 BA/HL, 58 wRC/RISP, 18 wRC/HL

    Since the start of 2019, Rendon leads the majors with 58 wRC with runners in scoring position, and that accounted for the bulk of his points. With a .311 baseline average, he didn't have as much room for variance as most hitters, but he still showed a better average in both clutch metrics.

             

    14. Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays (200 points)

    Metrics: +.058 BA/RISP, +.062 BA/HL, 28 wRC/RISP, 12 wRC/HL

    A .298 average with runners in scoring position and a .302 average in high-leverage spots are not numbers that jump off the page, but relative to a .240 baseline average it speaks to Biggio's ability to dial in when the stakes are raised. The 25-year-old is a bit overshadowed by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, but he's been the best of the bunch so far with 4.9 WAR the past two seasons.

            

    12 (tie). AJ Pollock, Los Angeles Dodgers (201 points)

    Metrics: +.029 BA/RISP, +.102 BA/HL, 24 wRC/RISP, 11 wRC/HL

    The oft-injured Pollock was limited to 86 games in the first season of a four-year, $55 million deal with the Dodgers, but he bounced back nicely in 2020 with a 134 OPS+ and 16 home runs in 55 games. A .372 average in high-leverage spots helped vault him up these rankings.

            

    12 (tie). Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers (201 points)

    Metrics: -.020 BA/RISP, +.111 BA/HL, 34 wRC/RISP, 21 wRC/HL

    If these rankings were based solely on the 2019 season, Yelich would have had a solid claim for the top spot after he hit .327 with runners in scoring position and .388 in high-leverage spots while piling up wRC in both categories. However, he hit just .132 and .118 in those situations, respectively, in 2020, and that dragged him outside the top 10.

           

    11. Rio Ruiz, Baltimore Orioles (204 points)

    Metrics: +.043 BA/RISP, +.111 BA/HL, 15 wRC/RISP, 10 wRC/HL

    A .229/.299/.393 hitter with an 85 OPS+ the past two seasons, Ruiz has no business showing up on a list of top hitters at first glance. However, he's hit .272 with runners in scoring position and .340 in high-leverage spots during that same span. Still just 26 years old, he'll be given every chance to prove himself in Baltimore.

10. Carlos Santana, Kansas City Royals (208 Points)

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.028 BA/RISP, +.052 BA/HL, 48 wRC/RISP, 16 wRC/HL

    The Kansas City Royals may have gotten the steal of the offseason when they signed Carlos Santana to a two-year, $17.5 million contract.

    Despite hitting just .199 overall last season, he still hit .283 with runners in scoring position, and his elite on-base skills make him less batting average dependent than most hitters.

    He'll provide a welcome veteran presence to a young roster on the rise.

8 (tie). Eddie Rosario, Cleveland (209 Points)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.072 BA/RISP, +.031 BA/HL, 42 wRC/RISP, 11 wRC/HL

    Eddie Rosario has some clear shortcomings, most notably a career .310 on-base percentage that has dragged down his overall offensive value.

    That said, he's a proven run producer with strong clutch numbers, and he'll be a welcome addition to the Cleveland outfield on a one-year, $8 million contract.

    With a .343 average and 42 wRC with runners in scoring position the past two seasons, there are few hitters in the game who have done a better job taking advantage of RBI opportunities.

8 (tie). Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies (209 Points)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.063 BA/RISP, +.016 BA/HL, 49 wRC/RISP, 16 wRC/HL

    Bryce Harper is never going to silence the critics.

    However, with a .325 average and 49 wRC with runners in scoring position since joining the Philadelphia Phillies, it's hard to say he hasn't lived up to his end of the bargain so far in the first two seasons of a 13-year, $330 million contract.

    With Alec Bohm and J.T. Realmuto hitting on either side of him, Harper should continue to see plenty of pitches to hit in key spots.

7. Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins (220 Points)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.054 BA/RISP, +.094 BA/HL, 26 wRC/RISP, 10 wRC/HL

    Max Kepler had significant room for variance points based on a .246 baseline average.

    His .300 average with runners in scoring position has helped boost his profile as a run producer, while his terrific .340 average in high-leverage spots ranked 12th among all qualified players.

    Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson may be the proven run producers in the middle of the Minnesota lineup, but it's Kepler who graded out as the team's most clutch hitter.

6. Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers (222 Points)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.080 BA/RISP, +.062 BA/HL, 30 wRC/RISP, 10 wRC/HL

    A late bloomer who didn't become a regular in the big leagues until his age-26 season, Chris Taylor has developed into a key cog in the Los Angeles Dodgers' recent success.

    He's hit .345 with runners in scoring position and .327 in high-leverage situations the past two seasons, and his 30 wRC with RISP is an impressive total given his profile as a top-of-the-order catalyst rather than a middle-of-the-order run producer.

    With Enrique Hernandez gone and Gavin Lux still developing, he should be the everyday second baseman to start the 2021 season after filling more of a super-utility role the past few years.

5. Shin-Soo Choo, Free Agent (224 Points)

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.032 BA/RISP, +.112 BA/HL, 26 wRC/RISP, 14 wRC/HL

    Is anyone going to sign Shin-Soo Choo?

    The 38-year-old played out the final year of his seven-year, $130 million contract last season, and at this point in his career, he's limited to DH duties or perhaps a move to first base.

    Still, he's just a year removed from hitting .265/.371/.455 with 57 extra-base hits, and he has always been a solid clutch hitter with a .273 average with runners in scoring position and a .286 average in high-leverage spots over the course of his 16-year career.

    His .372 average in high-leverage spots the last two years was tied for sixth among all qualified hitters.

4. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres (225 Points)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.072 BA/RISP, +.071 BA/HL, 31 wRC/RISP, 10 wRC/HL

    Add clutch hitting to the ever-growing list of areas where Fernando Tatis Jr. excels.

    He's hit .373 with runners in scoring position and .372 in high-leverage situations in his brief MLB career, which represents a significant spike relative to his also excellent .301 baseline average.

    The 22-year-old is sitting on 143 career MLB games, so his numbers are essentially one full season's worth of production. During that time, he's hit .301/.374/.582 with 39 home runs, 27 steals and 7.0 WAR along with those elite clutch numbers.

3. Jose Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels (228 Points)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.039 BA/RISP, +.097 BA/HL, 29 wRC/RISP, 17 wRC/HL

    Jose Iglesias was one of the players I had in mind when I decided to implement the baseline batting average factor, in an effort to weed out high-average hitters who are not necessarily clutch hitters.

    Turns out, Iglesias is both.

    In high-leverage situations the past two seasons, his .404 average (third) and 17 wRC (sixth) were both good for a top-10 spot among all qualified hitters.

    He may not be a traditional run producer, and his high batting average may look a bit hollow at first glance, but a deeper dive reveals he is one of the best clutch hitters in baseball.

2. Michael Brantley, Houston Astros (248 Points)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.038 BA/RISP, +.088 BA/HL, 43 wRC/RISP, 18 wRC/HL

    Michael Brantley took the No. 3 spot on our list of the best contact hitters in baseball a few weeks ago, and those elite bat-to-ball skills have also helped make him one of the most clutch hitters in the game.

    A .347 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .397 hitter in high-leverage spots over the course of his first two-year contract with the Houston Astros, Brantley re-upped for two more seasons this winter.

    He'll again be counted on to hit in the middle of the lineup and provide a healthy mix of home runs, gap power and clutch hitting. A .346 average with 11 RBI in 13 games last postseason is just another tally in the clutch column.

1. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (257 Points)

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Metrics: +.073 BA/RISP, +.032 BA/HL, 57 wRC/RISP, 19 wRC/HL

    Since the start of 2019, Freddie Freeman ranks second among qualified hitters in wRC with runners in scoring position (57) and wRC in high-leverage situations (19), and he backs up those broad value metrics with terrific batting average numbers.

    His .380 average with runners in scoring position during that stretch is elite, and he's done it while anchoring a young Atlanta lineup and leading by example.

    He hit an absurd .423 with runners in scoring position during the shortened 2020 season, and the end result was a well-deserved NL MVP Award and a third straight division title for the Braves.

                    

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.