Most Clutch Hitters During the First Half of the 2010 MLB Season

Okay, I am bored.  Let’s look at stats!

The All-Star Farce wrapped up last night and I watched all of one inning.  That makes two years in a row that I actually watched any part of baseball’s All-Star Game, although I still have not watched a complete game since 2002.

I am not going to bitch and moan about the game and how players are selected.  It is a beauty contest and name recognition that “excites” the fans during the doldrums of the sports calendar.  But, I would like to look at some of the best players of the first “half” of the MLB season.  In particular, I want to look at clutch players.

Anyone with a computer can go look up who is leading the league in homers or batting average (or who is turning into Richie Sexson).  But it takes someone with free time on their hands to discover who the clutch All-Stars are.  And we have done that here at Uncle Popov.  So…

BEST LATE INNING HITTERS (minimum 25 at bats)

  1. Nick Markakis (0.556 OBP; 3 RBIs; 12 BB; 10 Ks)
  2. Ichiro Suzuki (0.537 OBP; 0.457 Batting Average; 3 RBIs; 6 BB; 5 Ks)
  3. Josh Hamilton (0.500 OBP; 3 HRs; 9 RBIs; 6 BB; 6 Ks)
  4. Albert Pujols (0.500 OBP; 2 HRs; 4 RBIs; 10 BB; 7 Ks)
  5. Michael Young (0.489 OBP; 9 runs scored; 9 BB; 8 Ks)

This scenario is derived from games that are close in the late innings.  The players listed above are ranked based on on-base percentage due to the significance of drawing walks late in games, especially against tough relievers.  All are familiar names, although Nick Markakis topping the list is a surprise (0.394 batting average places him seventh).  Considered how some people criticized Ichiro for not being clutch (see comments section of link), the fact that he is second here (and first in batting average) should put that criticism to rest (it won’t, but it should).

Josh Hamilton is probably the most clutch hitter so far in 2010.  He is fourth in batting average, tied for second in home runs (Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp, Paul Konerko, and Ryan Doumit lead with four home runs each) and RBIs, and is tied with Jose Lopez for first in hits (16).

BEST WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION (minimum 50 at bats)

  1. Albert Pujols (0.530 OBP; 6 HRs; 42 RBIs; 39 runs scores; 33 BBs; 7 Ks)
  2. Adrian Gonzalez (0.527 OBP; 3 HRs; 34 RBIs; 33 runs scored; 23 BBs; 10 Ks)
  3. Ryan Ludwick (0.500 OBP; 5 HRs; 34 RBIs; 0.446 batting average; 8 BBs; 12 Ks)
  4. Chipper Jones (0.500 OBP; 2 HRs; 28 RBIs; 26 BBs; 14 Ks)
  5. Elvis Andrus (0.494 OBP; 24 RBIs; 47 runs scored; 16 BBs; 11 Ks)

Given the role of hitters batting third, fourth, fifth and sixth to drive in runs, it is not surprising to see Pujols and Gonzalez on this list; they usually have the table set for them.  However, Andrus is in at five and he is primarily the Rangers’ leadoff hitter.  Additionally, players like Carlos Quentin (0.474 OBP with RISP) are in the top 10 despite batting 0.244 on the season!  [Apparently Quentin needs runners on base as he is batting just 0.189 with the bases empty].  Quentin, along with the Reds’ Jonny Gomes, lead the league with eight home runs with RISP.

In terms of the top 5, Pujols is indeed a machine, making his second appearance in these listings.  He is dangerous enough to lead all batters with runners in scoring position in walks.  Seven strikeouts in 79 at bats is also impressive.

BEST HITTERS AFTER FALLING BEHIND IN COUNT (minimum 70 at bats)

  1. Adrian Beltre (0.325 batting average; 2 HRs; 14 RBIs; 32 Ks)
  2. Placido Polanco (0.323 batting average; 1 HR; 7 RBIs; 15 Ks)
  3. Dustin Pedroia (0.321 batting average; 4 HRs; 17 RBIs; 13 Ks)
  4. James Loney (0.314 batting average; 2 HRs; 11 RBIs; 30 Ks)
  5. Marlon Byrd (0.311 batting average; 3 HRs; 14 RBIs; 31 Ks)

This was a tough stat to grab.  MLB’s website was the source and while I would have liked to look at on-base percentage rather than batting average, for some reason the stats did not include walks.  It did give OBP but because I could not determine walks I chose to use batting average instead.  For the record, Juan Pierre (0.336) has the best OBP after falling behind, followed by Byrd (0.329), Beltre (0.328), Pedroia (0.327), and Polanco (0.323).

It is tough to say what really makes a player a good hitter after falling behind in the count.  Other than Polanco, there is nothing in these players’ career stats that suggest they are consistently good hitters after falling behind.  Jose Guillen has eight home runs, but he also has 40 strikeouts.

Of the list, I would say Pedroia has been the best after falling behind.  That he has struck out only 13 times in 106 at bats is a testament to his ability (David Eckstein has the fewest strikeouts with nine in 122 at bats).  If I had to choose someone not on this list it would be Vladimir Guerrero, who has a 0.300 batting average, five home runs, 24 RBIs, and 19 strikeouts in 110 at bats.

BEST HITTER WITH TWO OUTS (minimum 50 at bats)

  1. Joey Votto (0.484 OBP; 11 HRs; 26 RBIs; 0.396 batting average; 17 BBs; 24 Ks)
  2. Albert Pujols (0.481 OBP; 11 HRs; 29 RBIs; 36 BBs; 14 Ks)
  3. Geovany Soto (0.479 OBP; 2 HRs; 9 RBIs; 20 BBs; 6 Ks)
  4. Ian Kinsler (0.471 OBP; 3 HRs; 14 RBIs; 17 BBs; 12 Ks)
  5. Billy Butler (0.462 OBP; 4 HRs; 17 RBIs; 21 BBs; 20 Ks)

Another interesting collection of players.  Soto makes it in just barely above the at-bat minimum and he is rebounding from an abysmal 2009 season.  But overall he is still behind his 2008 numbers.  Most of the country has probably not heard much about Billy Butler, but he is quietly putting together a nice season in Kansas City.  The other three are all-stars.

Albert Pujols joins the list again, but it is Joey Votto that takes this category.  Votto leads not only the OBP category, but he leads all hitters in average and is tied with Pujols in HRs.  Pujols does have Votto beat in walks drawn and he has fewer strikeouts, but it is clutch hitting like this that make MVP calls for Votto not that far fetched, especially given how well the Reds have played this year.

And now, just to round things out, here are the most clutch starting pitchers from the first half of the 2010 season.

BEST PITCHERS AFTER FALLING BEHIND IN THE COUNT (minimum 15 innings pitched)

  1. Vincente Padilla (1.3 K/BB Ratio; 13 Ks; 14 hits; 5.06 ERA; 16 IPs)
  2. Zack Greinke (0.955 K/BB Ratio; 21 Ks; 37 hits; 2.65 ERA; 37.1 IP)
  3. Roy Halladay (0.947 K/BB Ratio; 18 Ks; 46 hits; 4.03 ERA; 29 IP)
  4. Jered Weaver (0.857 K/BB Ratio; 24 Ks; 32 hits; 5.10 ERA; 30 IP)
  5. Cliff Lee (0.833 K/BB Ratio; 5 Ks; 21 hits; 3.48 ERA; 20.2 IP)

If you look at the ERA of pitchers in this situation, you would get pitchers like Mike Pelfrey (not bad), Josh Johnson (he’s good) and Tom Gorzelanny (who?).  So, I looked at strikeout-to-walk ratio because it shows if the pitcher lost the hitter to a walk or was able to bounce back.

Four of the top five are not surprising — Greinke, Halladay, Weaver, and Lee are all elite pitchers.  But, Padilla?  The Dodgers’ opening day starter knows how to get out of a jam.  But of these five, I will give the nod to the Royals ace.  While Greinke does seem to get himself behind in the count often (37.1 IP means it happens too often), he sports a very solid ERA in those situations and limits the damage.

So, to conclude, overall Albert Pujols is the most clutch hitter of the first half, with a honorable mention to Zack Greinke as the most clutch pitcher of the first half (cannot give it to him outright because I only examine one stat).   By the way, when the two met Pujols was 0-3 with a walk.  I’d give the edge to Greinke.

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2 thoughts on “Most Clutch Hitters During the First Half of the 2010 MLB Season

    • all numbers were derived from the MLB.com stat database. i checked most of them with situational numbers from both Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com.

      MLB.com’s stat section is quite good with regards to situational stats. the only downside is that you cannot combine situations. for example, it would have been nice to see how hitters do when down in the count and runners in scoring position, or how well hitters do with two outs late in a close game.

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