Some sports fans will argue that “clutch” is not a thing. That there is no scientific way to measure whether one athlete is more likely to come through in an important situation than any other athlete. And then there are the moments when MVP-caliber stars inevitably choke in those high pressure spots, leading to a media feeding frenzy. Like when LeBron James kept missing (or passing up) game-winning shots, or the fact that Mike Trout can’t seem to get his Angels deep into the playoffs (or into them at all, lately).
In baseball, there are more numbers and stats to pour over than any other sport. Advanced analytics have turned things like WAR and wRC+ and BAbip into truly important measurements of a player’s value at the plate. While there are multiple definitions of what a “clutch” hitter is (game winning hits, performance in September vs. performance in May, postseason numbers, etc), here’s the simple formula we are using:
Using stats from the 2017 season, we have ranked the 15 most clutch players based on their OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) in situations where they batted with runners in scoring position (RISP). In an attempt to eliminate any outliers, we didn’t include any hitter who had less than 25 plate appearances with RISP in 2017 (so a single pinch hit grand slam didn’t automatically jump some bench player to the top of the list). We admit this formula isn’t perfect — there are plenty of additional ways to try and measure “clutch” play — but we think it’s a good start.
Some of baseball’s biggest stars are included, but there are a few surprise names as well — proving that maybe, just maybe, there is such a thing as being “clutch.”
15. Paul Goldschmidt – 1.085 OPS
The Arizona Diamondbacks slugger kicks off our list with a solid clutch OPS of 1.085 over 159 at bats with RISP in 2017, which is actually the most opportunities of anyone on this list. Amazingly, he cashed in 80 runs under those conditions, which means he averaged one RBI for every at bat where he had a runner on second or third base. That’s damn impressive!
Goldy managed 58 hits and 34 walks in our clutch situation, for a slash line of .365/.440/.587. Of those hits, eight were home runs and 12 were doubles or triples. You shouldn’t be surprised by these numbers, though, since Goldschmidt is a five-time All-Star and has finished in the top three of NL MVP voting three times (2013, 2015, and 2017). His overall stats for 2017 were pretty impressive too (.297/.404/.563), but all his averages spiked upwards when he had a chance to cash in some runners.
14. Trey Mancini – 1.091 OPS
The 2017 season was Trey Mancini’s first full year in The Bigs, after getting into just five games for the Orioles in 2016 as a September call-up. He certainly made the most of it, as the then-25-year-old proved to be quite valuable for the O’s in clutch situations. Over 106 at bats with RISP, the young rookie shocked everyone by hitting .340/.383/.708 — check out that slugging percentage!
Mancini belted nine home runs, six doubles, and three triples with ducks on the pond, leading to an impressive 57 RBIs from his 106 at bats. Those clutch moments helped him finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, but Aaron Judge ran away with that award. But (spoiler alert) the gigantic Yankees slugger doesn’t make an appearance on this list, so at least Mancini can hang his hat on that. Unfortunately, Mancini’s clutch hitting was one of the lone bright spots in the Baltimore season — they finished 12 games below .500 and dead last in the AL East.
13. J.D. Martinez – 1.125 OPS
J.D. Martinez spent the beginning of 2017 languishing away in the heart of the awful Detroit Tigers lineup. A mid-season trade to the contending Diamondbacks really helped, as he hit a remarkable 1.125 OPS with RISP across the entire season. He did a lot of his damage with the long ball, hitting 14 dingers in his 123 situational at bats. He also hit strongly for average, with a slash line of .317/.393/.732 when runners were in second or third.
In these clutch situations, Martinez was often feast or fathom. His 68 RBIs are among the highest on this list (third highest, actually), but his 35 strikeouts are also the most. Nonetheless, his impressive hitting in key spots was enough to earn him some MVP votes (he finished 14th). And also enough to attract deep-pocketed suitors like the Boston Red Sox, who gave Martinez a five-year, $110 million free agent contract in the winter. He will now attempt to provide the same clutch hitting at Fenway Park.
12. Mike Trout – 1.149 OPS
Mike Trout is generally considered one of the best all-around players in baseball. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that he is the best single player in The Bigs, when you factor in hitting, defense, speed, etc. In his first six full seasons with the Angels, he’s won the Rookie of the Year (2012), two AL MVP awards (2014 and 2016), and been named an All-Star every single year. He regularly leads the league in various offensive categories, so it’s no surprise to see him show up here in our list of clutch hitters — although it may be a surprise he’s not higher than No. 12.
Trout recorded just 65 at bats with RISP in 2017 (but walked another 34 times too), but he made the most of them. His 20 hits included five home runs and 5 doubles and an impressive 34 RBIs. Final final betting line with RISP looked like this: .308/.533/.615 — meaning he recorded an out less than half the time. The only knock on Trout so far in his career is that he’s been unable to find post-season success. Baseball is obviously a team game, but Trout was definitely not clutch in the 2014 NLDS — his only playoff appearance to date. He went 1-for-12 with three walks as the Angels were swept by the Royals in three games.
11. Daniel Murphy – 1.156 OPS
In the final year of his contract with the Mets in 2015, Daniel Murphy had a solid season. His .281 average, 14 home runs, and 73 RBIs made him an above-average player. But he became a man possessed in the 2015 postseason, hitting .333 in the NLDS and a ridiculous .529 in the NLCS, leading the Mets to the World Series (which they lost to the Royals).
That performance earned Murphy a shiny new contract (three-years, $37.5 million) with the Washington Nationals, where he’s turned into one of the best hitters in baseball — and definitely one of the most clutch. In 2017, Murphy had 115 at bats with RISP and hit with a clip of .409/.503/.652. Of his 47 hits in these situations, 16 went for extra bases (nine doubles, two triples, and five home runs). He only struck out 11 times, which is among the lowest on this list. Interestingly enough, Murphy’s superstar teammate Bryce Harper does not appear on this list at all.
10. Charlie Blackmon – 1.162 OPS
Charlie Blackmon may very well win the NL MVP, as we wrote in this article before the season started. He came close in 2017, finishing fifth in voting after leading the NL in runs, hits, triples, batting average, and total bases. When it comes to Blackmon being at the dish when there are runners on second or third… well, those numbers get even better.
In 120 at bats with RISP, the Rockies center fielder hit a stupidly good .383/.462/.700, plus an additional 18 walks. In these clutch moments, Blackmon connected for 46 hits, including nine doubles and nine home runs, for grand total of 67 RBIs. His offensive is a large reason why the Rockies finished 87-75 and made the postseason in 2017, although they fell to the D-Backs in the NL Wild Card game. With a stacked lineup (that includes another clutch player who is further down on this list), Blackmon and the Rockies are a legit contender in 2018.
9. John Donaldson – 1.163 OPS
The former AL MVP (2015) missed almost 50 games due to injury in 2017, and the Toronto Blue Jays suffered because of it. Josh Donaldson’s absence in 2017 (among other things) led to the Jays missing the playoffs after two straight ALCS appearances. When Donaldson was healthy, though, he was still a complete terror for opposing pitchers.
The Bringer of Rain clubbed 33 home runs and 78 RBIs while only playing two-thirds of a season. When he was at bat with RISP, Donaldson was even more deadly. In 78 of these clutch at bats, he racked up 31 hits (including seven dingers and six doubles) and bringing in 44 runs. His final slash line with RISP was .383/.448/.705, for a final OPS of 1.163. Those definitely sound like MVP numbers.
Donaldson enters 2018 in the final year of his current contract, and will likely continue to come through in the clutch as he searches for a big off-season free agent deal.
8. Anthony Rendon – 1.165 OPS
Another Washington National makes our list (but still no Bryce Harper), as third baseman Anthony Rendon had himself a career year in 2017. His overall line of .301/.403/.533, with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs, was impressive enough to garner him a handful of MVP votes. When it came to clutch situations, Rendon was even better. Playing with a strong team like the Nats, the former first round draft pick in 2011 found himself in 136 at bats with runners on second or third, and he didn’t disappoint.
His 51 clutch hits brought in 81 runs (the second-most on this list). He smoked 13 doubles and 11 home runs, and only struck out in 18 of his clutch situations. His final slash line of .375/.452/.713 with RISP was a major part of the Nationals 97-65 record in 2017, helping them to a NL East division title and a trip to the postseason. Unfortunately, Rendon (and his teammates) cooled off in October and lost the NLDS to the Cubs in five games. In 2018, it’s World Series or bust for Rendon, Murphy, Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephan Strasburg, and the rest of the Nationals.
7. Freddie Freeman – 1.176 OPS
Despite languishing away on an Atlanta Braves team that hasn’t had a winning record in four seasons, first baseman Freddie Freeman continues to put up stellar numbers. While he didn’t get as many opportunities to cash in RISP as other players on this list, he definitely made the most of his chances. Freeman had just 78 at bats with RISP, but managed 27 hits and another 26 walks. He hit seven doubles and six home runs, knocking in 43 RBIs. By the end of the season, his numbers in clutch hitting situations looked like this: .346/.509./667.
Freeman is under contract with the Braves until the end of 2021 (for over $21 million a season), so he may as well continue to mash and collect a fat paycheck. The Braves are in the bottom-third of total MLB payrolls, so unless they catch fire with shrewd roster fillers like Dansby Swanson, Preston Tucker, or Ender Inciarte, it could be another long (losing) season in Atlanta. We’re sure Freeman will continue to put up big numbers in the clutch though, and would make for some very tempting trade bait at the Summer deadline.
6. Greg Bird – 1.196 OPS
The Yankees were supposed to be rebuilding in 2017, but the sudden emergence of guys like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius pushed their timeline ahead in a hurry. First baseman Greg Bird was projected to be a big part of the Yankees resurgence, but he suffered yet another injury setback that kept him out of 114 games last year (he missed all of 2016 with a torn labrum). In the 48 games he did play (19 in the Spring, and then another 29 in August/September), Bird came through when it mattered the most.
In 48 at bats with RISP, Bird connected for 15 hits, including six home runs. Despite his limited opportunities in clutch situations, he still managed to score 25 RBIs and hit .333/.418/.778 in those situations. His hot hitting continued into the 2017 playoffs, where he hit three more home runs and picked up six more RBIs as the Yankees came within a game of the World Series, eventually losing Game 7 of the ALCS to the Astros. Bird is sitting out of the first part of the 2018 season with (yet another) ankle injury. Hopefully he can return healthy and get back to knocking clutch hits around AL ballparks.
5. Joey Votto – 1.225 OPS
Joey Votto is probably the most patient, skilled batter in the Major Leagues today. We regularly leads the league in both walks and on-base percentage, and that’s not even mentioning a career batting average of .313 and routinely hitting 25+ home runs. His five All-Star appearances and a 2010 MVP nod should tell you everything about how dangerous Votto can be at the plate.
In 2017, his clutch numbers were among the very best. In 97 at bats with RISP, Votto slashed for a .371/.565/.660 line — plus 50 walks, which is the most of anyone on this list. In short, it’s already hard to get this guy out when the bases are empty, and almost impossible when there’s a chance to put up some runs. His 36 hits (including four doubles and eight home runs) in those 97 clutch situations resulted in 60 RBIs.
Votto is now 34, and remains under contract with the Reds until the end of 2023 (plus a club option for 2024). Hopefully the Canadian slugger can help the Reds finally make some playoff noise before he retires — they’ve never made it past the NLDS with Votto, despite making the postseason in 2010, 2012, and 2013. His clutch batting definitely won’t hurt the cause.
4. Willson Contreras – 1.245 OPS
Now here’s a man who can do it all. In 2017, Cubs utility man Willson Contreras appeared in games at five different positions — catcher, first base, third base, left field, and right field. Unfortunately, be missed over 40 games due to various injuries and ailments (and a short suspension for throwing a helmet — that was entertaining!). When he was in the lineup, though, his bat was loud and powerful. He put up 21 home runs and 74 RBIs is what was basically three-quarters of a full season, but was even better in clutch situations with RISP.
Contreras had 91 at bats with runners on second or third, and came through with 33 hits and 59 RBIs. Of those 33 hits, 20 of them were for extra bases (11 doubles and nine home runs). He struck out just 16 times, which is among the lowest on this list, for a final slash line of .363/.464/.780. The Cubs are still in championship mode, with three straight trips to the postseason and a historic World Series win in 2016. In Contreras can continue the clutch hitting in 2018 (especially while playing catcher — a position notorious for its lack of offense), it will go a long way to getting the Cubbies back to the Fall Classic.
3. Nolan Arenado – 1.270 OPS
The Colorado Rockies are on the rise as one of the most exciting teams in baseball. Along with Charlie Blackmon, D.J. LeMahieu, and a solid young pitching staff, they boast perhaps the best third baseman in the entire league in Nolan Arenado. The 27-year-old led the NL in both home runs and RBIs in 2015 and 2016, and put together one of the most consistently solid seasons in The Bigs in 2017. He hit .309/.373/.586 with 37 dingers and 130 RBIs and finished fourth in MVP voting.
When it comes to his performance with RISP, Arenado was sublime. Over 156 at bats, he uncorked 60 hits (including 15 doubles, four triples, and 14 home runs) for a list-topping 98 RBIs. He also kept the lineup moving by drawing 24 walks in those clutch situations. His final batting numbers of .385/.469/.801 contained the second-highest slugging percentage of anyone on this list. He know that Bryce Harper and Joey Votto are always sexy picks for the NL MVP, but we’d bet money on Arenado winning it at least once in the next five seasons — especially if he continues to come through in the clutch.
2. Eric Young Jr. – 1.272 OPS
This is a bit of an aberration on our list, but journeyman bench player Eric Young Jr. technically qualifies. Known for his ability to come through as a pinch hitter, the Angels outfielder only appeared in 47 games in 2017, with just 125 plate appearances. That resulted in only 24 at bats with runners in scoring position, which may be a smaller sample size than the other stars on this list, but Young can do a lot with a little.
In those 24 at bats, Young managed 11 hits (with a pair of doubles and a pair of home runs) and 14 RBIs, which is actually a lot considering his limited chances. A final slash line of .458/.480/.792 proves that if Young’s job is supposed be that of a clutch pinch hitter, he does it extremely well. It’s too bad he could never be that dangerous over an entire year — he’s only had two seasons with at least 100 game appearances in his entire career, and batted just .229 with a single home run over exactly 100 games for the Mets in 2014. But if you need a pinch runner to steal a base or a pinch hitter to get a clutch hit, Young does the job as well as any other player.
1. Rhys Hoskins – 1.403 OPS
Not who you were expecting, right? Rhys Hoskins only made it to the Big Leagues in August 2017, after spending three years in the Phillies minor league system. But he arrived in a big way, taking the league by storm with a historic seven weeks. Hoskins only appeared in 50 games in 2017, but still managed to hit 18 home runs and get 48 RBIs. His offensive pace was blistering — just check out some of these facts: He was the fastest MLB player ever to ten home runs (needing just 17 games), he tied a Phillies record by hitting a home run in five straight games, he became the second-fastes player to record 25 RBIs (19 games), and recorded 43 RBIs in his first 39 games. Only Albert Pujols had more (44), and Hoskins surpassed Joe DiMaggio, who only had 42.
Are some of those numbers cherry picked? Sure, they are. But here are Hoskins clutch stats, which prove he’s no fluke. In 45 at bats with RISP, he managed 16 hits (including four doubles and seven home runs). His batting line of .356/.492/.911 was by far the best in all of Major League Baseball when it comes to clutch situations, and resulted in 33 RBIs — which is amazing when you consider he played less than one-third of a season.
The Phillies spent big in the winter, signing Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta to expensive deals. With young talent like Hoskins and pitcher Aaron Nola also on the roster, they are hoping to turn things around — they haven’t won more than 73 games since 2012 and have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons. If Hoskins continues to put up these kind of numbers in clutch situations (or anything even close to these numbers, since regression is almost a certainty), they will have a good chance.