Imagine: As the season winds down and there are only a few games to play, the Twins are once again on the edge of a playoff berth. It’s late in the game, and their opponent has one of their best relievers out on the bump. The Twins have runners on second and third, but there are two outs and they are still down by a run and need a big spot hit to win the game. Which Twin would you want up at the plate to knock in the runs to win?
In the hypothetical (albeit a bit cheesy) situation listed above, some players tend to grip the bats a little tighter and aren’t able to produce. Others gain more focus from the big moment and are able to pound out a big-time hit.
Through 11 games, the Twins are hitting .200 with runners in scoring position, which ranks 27th in the MLB. With two outs and runners in scoring position, they are hitting at just a .158 clip. They have left an average of 4.46 runners in scoring position per game, which is the second most in major leagues through Wednesday, April 18th. Though the Twins have found early season success scoring runs with solo home runs and run producing outs, they will need to be able generate more timely hits if they hope to make the postseason once again (or make a run in the playoffs?!?).
This data represents a pretty small sample size, so to get a better idea of how the Twins’ lineup will perform in the clutch, let’s look at the career numbers of some Twins players and other measures from the 2017 season.
First, let’s look at career numbers for batting average with runners in scoring position. The constant line in the graph below represents the 2017 league median batting average for the statistic (.261).
Career numbers for runners in scoring position from the Twins batters are clearly not top notch, but they do have a few standouts (notably, Joe Mauer). However, out of the four players above league average, one is bench player (Robbie Grossman) and another is suspended (Jorge Polanco).
Next, let’s take a look at how Twins’ batters fare with runners in scoring position and two outs in the inning. These situations are generally a little tougher on hitters, resulting in a league median batting average of .235 from 2017.
Again, the Twins struggle in this situation as a team. Joe Mauer has come up with some big hits throughout his career, but the next best option in these situations has been Polanco, who will not return until June. Max Kepler, Logan Morrison, and Jason Castro are once again the lowest of the group.
When it comes down to late game situations, Baseball Reference has splits that help quantify “clutch” situations. Late & Close situations are described by Baseball Reference as “Plate Appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.” Batting averages in these situations for the Twins players that get regular at-bats are listed below.
Once again, Mauer takes the cake as the best Twin in those situations, but most of the averages are closer to the Mendoza line than Twins’ fans would like.
Fangraphs also has a “Clutch” stat useful for measuring production in high leverage situations (explained in more detail here). This stat compares a player’s performance in the clutch to their performance in a lower leverage situation. Basically, the statistic measures if players would do better or worse in the clutch than they do normally. The graph below exhibits “clutch” numbers from 2017, with 2.0 being considered “excellent” and -2.0 being considered “awful”.
This graph presents some similar data, but shows especially how bad (or unlucky?) Morrison was in clutch situations last season. This data is likely a bit of an anomaly, as Morrison has actually recorded positive “clutch” ratings in five out of his nine seasons.
Looking at career “clutch” numbers for the Twins, most of their batters have positive clutch numbers in about half or a little under half of their seasons. Unsurprisingly, Polanco is an outlier with a positive clutch ratings in each of his four seasons. On the contrary, Jason Castro has recorded a positive clutch rating in just one of his eight seasons. Through the first couple weeks of this season, each of the Twins listed in the graphs above have negative clutch ratings except Robbie Grossman, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano.
A couple of quick notes to take away from these graphs:
- Joe Mauer is really good at baseball and has been a top level producer in clutch situations, even recently.
- The Twins may miss Polanco more than originally thought. The young shortstop seemed to have a knack for hitting in the clutch that the other players who are part of the Twins young core haven’t found yet.
- Some of the Twins veteran hitters (Morrison, Dozier, Castro) have struggled a bit in pressure at-bats, especially in recent years. However, these stats don’t usually produce consistent trends, so they could be in for a bounce back year.
- On some occasions, pinch-hitting Robbie Grossman late in game may not be a bad idea. Grossman has shown that he has the tendency to deliver when needed (or at least more than some other Twins have).
So what does all this mean for the Twins going forward? Looking at the charts cumulatively, it is apparent that the Twins have not been the best clutch hitting team in the past. However, they were still able to put together a run for the postseason last year and have been successful in a small amount of games without much clutch hitting this season. With a significant portion of young players on the roster, the Twins have room for improvement. To become a top tier team in the MLB, the Twins will need to have their young players take the next step in big-time at-bats. If they do so, they have the potential to be one of baseball’s most high powered offenses.
Click here if you would like to see the data that was compiled (career and 2017 clutch numbers) for this article. More clutch hitting graphs are available on that webpage as well.