The 2019 Minnesota Twins mashed the ball like few other teams in history. The Bomba Squad and their notorious lineup of home run hitters toppled records and terrorized pitchers in every possible situation. However, which of the team’s batters excelled the most in “clutch” situations?
Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index tool, I was able to sort out stats for the batters of MLB in “high leverage” situations. I also will be utilizing BRef’s “Clutch” stat. Here’s some short explanations of the stats I will be using:
High Leverage Situation: Baseball Reference defines High Leverage Situations as situations that have a “Leverage Index” that is greater than 1.5. This means that these situations have a 50% (or more) larger impact on the probability that a team will win or lose the game than the average play. For the OPS comparisons, I limited the list to players with 54+ “high leverage” plate appearances (1 for every 3 team games).
OPS: Simple and common, OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It is considered to be a fairly complete stat in judging a batter’s total performance.
tOPS+: A variation of the common OPS+ (which simplifies OPS into a comparative stat), tOPS+ compares a player’s OPS in certain situations to his overall OPS. For example, a tOPS+ of 113 would mean a player’s OPS was 13% better in the situations in question than in total. For our purposes, the situations will be “High Leverage” Situations.
Clutch: BRef uses a formula including WPA (the win percentage added on a certain hit or out) to come up with Clutch. Clutch gives a good idea at how batters perform in clutch situations vs. their normal output.
Now that you have a good idea of what we will be using, let’s dive in.
What does Twitter think?
Who was the most "clutch" hitter on the #MNTwins in 2019?— Jonathan Gamble (@JGambleBaseball) March 2, 2020
What do the numbers say?
While the eye-test may lead you to answer Eddie Rosario, or you may think of Nelson Cruz due to his general hitting prowess, the numbers tell us that....
Marwin Gonzalez was decidedly the most clutch hitter on the 2019 Twins (and one of the best in all of MLB).
First, we’ll look at just straight OPS. Gonzalez led the team in high leverage OPS with a mark of 1.067. He was followed by Cruz (1.048), Luis Arraez (1.012), Mitch Garver (.940), and Eddie Rosario (.900). While all of these are excellent numbers in their own right, Gonzalez’s is extra impressive. It ranked as the 14th-highest high leverage OPS in the majors.
Furthermore, Marwin’s OPS was a whopping 331 points higher than his total OPS. He elevated his performance in a huge way in clutch situations. This is captured effectively by tOPS+. Gonzalez ranked third in MLB in high-leverage tOPS+, with a mark of 188. This means that Gonzalez was 88% better (by OPS) than his usual performance in these clutch situations. Only two batters in the league improved more in these situations (and Gonzalez had more high leverage plate appearances than either of them). Similarly, the “Clutch” stat had Gonzalez ranked as the fourth-most clutch hitter in baseball, with a mark of 1.6.
Among the rest of the Twins’ top five “clutch” hitters, Luis Arraez elevated his performance the most in high leverage situations. Arraez’s OPS jumped 174 points in these plate appearances. Next we have Eddie Rosario (100 point jump), Cruz (17 points), and Garver, whose OPS actually dropped to a still-unbelievable .940 from his overall .995 mark.
The best news of all for the Twins is that all of these players are returning for 2020. The even better news is that the Twins added another clutch hitter to the squad in Josh Donaldson. Donaldson posted a high-leverage OPS of .983 last year, which was good for 38th in the majors, and would have been fourth on the team. This number also represented a jump of 83 points over his already-excellent .900 overall OPS.
All in all, the Twins will have plenty of guys they can trust at the plate with the game on the line. Chalk it up as just another reason to be excited about the Minnesota lineup in 2020.