Rangers Hitters Couldn’t Be More Clutch

Thursday afternoon, I wrote about the Mets’ offense, and about how it’s been remarkably unclutch. It’s not the only thing that’s been going wrong for them, but it’s been a big deal, and it’s one of the reasons why the Mets feel like they’ve lost a lot of their momentum. Consider this a companion piece, as everything came out of the same research. If things were to keep up, then by one measure, the Mets would have the least-clutch offense since at least 1974. Similarly, if things were to keep up, then by the same measure, the Rangers would have the most-clutch offense since at least 1974.

The Rangers own the best record in the American League. As the majors go, they’re hanging around with the Cubs, and the Rangers have also staked out a massive lead in the AL West. It would be a shocker if they didn’t win the division, and whenever you have a team playing this well, there’s a lot that goes into it. What’s interesting is it’s not like the Rangers have been particularly lucky with health — players have seemingly dropped left and right. But replacements have stepped in, and the Rangers are blowing away their estimated BaseRuns record. The biggest contributor has been offensive timing.

I know this verges on coming off like a bad word; no one wants to think of their team as being sort of fluke-y. That’s really not the point I want to drive home, anyway. The Rangers deserve credit for what they’ve done. What they’ve done has been almost unbelievable.

I’m going to get to a table just like the one I embedded in the Mets post. In there, I looked at the 10 least-clutch teams since 1974. Here, I’m going to look at the 10 most-clutch teams since 1974. I’m relying on our Clutch statistic, which is fun, if a little complicated. To review: For every team-season, I’ve calculated Clutch per 162 games, adjusted for the season’s league average. I know this season isn’t over — I’m not that big of an idiot — but where the Rangers are is incredible. So:

10 Most Clutch Offenses
Team Season G Clutch/162
Rangers 2016 80 13.2
Reds 2016 79 10.0
Astros 2010 162 8.9
White Sox 1990 162 8.5
Reds 1981 108 8.3
Red Sox 2005 162 7.9
Angels 2008 162 7.5
Red Sox 1975 160 7.4
Twins 1994 113 7.3
Brewers 1981 109 7.0
1974 – 2016. Note that certain seasons are incomplete.

Two things in there are amazing, actually. The Rangers are on pace to have the most-clutch offense in decades. And then, if it weren’t for the Rangers, the Reds would be on pace to have the most-clutch offense in decades. Unlike the Rangers, the Reds haven’t been good, and they aren’t good, but this is a helpful reminder that clutch performance isn’t exclusively achieved by the league’s elite. All that’s required, for this measure, is performing better in higher-leverage chances. Anyone could be capable of that, in theory.

I don’t want to just outright dismiss the Reds, but honestly, for now, they’re not relevant. It’s the Rangers who’re gunning for the playoffs, and it’s the Rangers who’re in first here, anyway. Lately it’s felt like it was impossible for them to lose. A couple tough games in New York in a row have cooled them off, but they’re still on track to win 100-some games. This is how they’ve gotten to this point. Some of it has been timely pitching. Some of it has been quality defense. But the lineup has come up big time and time again, and that’s the sort of thing that can feel contagious.

No Rangers hitter has been more clutch than Ian Desmond, who’s looking like the acquisition of the winter. Desmond had actually struggled with that before, but he’s been the Rangers’ most important player, and he leads all of baseball in position-player Win Probability Added (WPA). Of 14 Rangers who’ve batted at least 50 times, only two have negative Clutch ratings, and they’re both slight. It’s funny — Prince Fielder has been their second-most-clutch hitter, such that even though he has a lousy overall batting line, he has a higher offensive WPA than guys like Michael Saunders and J.D. Martinez. Fielder, at least, has saved his hits for the important times. He hasn’t been the drag his wRC+ would suggest.

One way to examine this on the team level: in combined low- and medium-leverage situations, the Rangers rank 12th in baseball in runs per plate appearance. However, in high-leverage situations, they lead baseball in runs per plate appearance, and they lead by quite a bit. They lead the second-place Cardinals by about the same difference that exists between second place and 22nd. The Rangers have gotten the big runners home. Not every time, but more than other teams.

Just for fun, I looked at the Rangers’ 25 highest-leverage plate appearances on the season. In those 25 plate appearances, they’ve had three walks, two hit batsmen, and seven hits, with a couple dingers. Just nine of the plate appearances wound up decreasing the Rangers’ odds of winning. For extra hilarity, the numbers could look even better. In the fifth-most high-leverage plate appearance, Mitch Moreland lined out, after driving a ball 109 miles per hour off the pitcher’s body. In the sixth-most high-leverage plate appearance, Ian Desmond lined out, after driving a ball 97 miles per hour into a corner. In the seventh-most high-leverage plate appearance, Adrian Beltre hit a flare up the middle that required a full-extension diving catch. All three of those could’ve been hits. So I was wrong — the Rangers could be more clutch. They’ve tried to be! But no one needs to be greedy.

All the same assumptions from the Mets post probably ought to apply to this one. Paces slow down, first-half and second-half clutchness don’t appear to be correlated, and so on. The Rangers didn’t have a massively clutch offense a season ago, and, look, you already know how this paragraph goes. No team should be considered really this clutch on talent. But the Rangers have done what they’ve done. They’ve mostly been in control of that, and they deserve that credit. More importantly, the division lead is now large, with half the season in the books. The Rangers got themselves here. That doesn’t count for nothing. It kind of counts for half of everything.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

They also didn’t have Desmond a season ago 😉

7 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Sullivan

Well then it sounds like this year he’s just lucky.