Baseball’s Clutch Factor

The clutch factor is an attribute that is talked about in every single sport. Despite the constant complaints over which players are clutch, it is something that is very difficult to describe. The most logical definition would be consistent production in high pressure scenarios.  

Baseball players have different situations in which they can be considered clutch. Sure, basketball players may have to knock down a game winning shot or game winning free throws where he is isolated at the line, but even if he misses a shot, he can be considered clutch if he dominates the fourth quarter. Baseball players, however, usually only get one at-bat or one inning to show their late game heroics. So that brings in the ultimate question, how often must a player succeed to be considered clutch? Bill Mazeroski hit the only game 7 walk-off homerun in World Series history in 1960. Without that single swing, there is a chance Mazeroski wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. Despite 8 gold gloves, the two-time champion was a well below average hitter, and his hall of fame induction rests almost solely on one singular swing in the World Series. 

When it Matters Most 

The postseason is a time to separate the good players from the great. Guys like Clayton Kershaw have a reputation of struggling in the postseason, and until he can get a ring, that reputation will stay with him for the rest of his career. Kershaw’s regular season ERA is 2.43, but when he reaches October that number inflates to 4.23. (Kershaw Stats) The playoffs are the time when everything is on the line, and so the pressure is raised, and the clutch factor can be shown on full display. 

Kershaw has not yet displayed the clutch factor in his illustrious career.

 It is hard to determine what makes a player clutch though. In my opinion, to be clutch you must sustain success in the times that matter most. Although Mazeroski had the one singular swing, he also was a career .323 hitter in the postseason. He may have had the “clutchest” singular swing in history, but it is his career production in the high-pressure situations that can give him the reputation of being a guy that comes through when you need him. Meet David Freese, the man behind the most clutch postseason performance of all time. 

The Best Singular Postseason 

2011 was a memorable one for major league baseball. Derek Jeter homered for his 3,000 hit, and Evan Longoria walked it off in game 162, clinching a playoff berth. The postseason was no different, with one of the greatest World Series of all time. The wildcard St. Louis Cardinals took on the Texas Rangers, and the teams split two one-run games to start. Third basemen David Freese scored the go-ahead run in game one and added another hit in game 2. Freese was the NLCS MVP just one series before and had already played a huge part in the Cardinals’ success. Freese cooled off in games 3-5, going 3 for 11 with a double as the Cardinals fell behind 3-2. Games 1-5 had been good to Freese, but barring elimination in game 6, the 1-time all-star heated up. 

Game 6 

Game 6 was a back and forth affair throughout the entire game. There were 5 lead changes, and Freese was a part of 2 of them. In the fifth inning, Freese muffed a pop-up, and his error led to the Rangers eventually taking a 4-3 lead. A big 3-run seventh inning led to the Rangers taking their 7-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Following a leadoff strikeout, Albert Pujols doubled, and Lance Berkman walked to induce a little hope in Cardinals fans. Allen Craig struck out, leading to Freese to take the dish with 2 on, 2 out in the ninth. Down to his final strike, Freese drives one into right field, just over the outstretched glove of Nelson Cruz off the bottom of the wall, tying the game at 7-7. 

 Freese’s two-out, two-run triple swung the Cardinals’ chances of winning from 8% to 62%, one of the highest single play swings in MLB history. Even Mazeroski’s homer didn’t rank very close, with only a 37 percent swing in WPA (Win Probability Added).  So that’s where our story ends right? Freese comes up with a big game-tying hit, and the Cardinals go on to win the game and series?  

Freese was able to show how clutch he was with a game-tying triple.
We will see you tomorrow night 

Yadier Molina lined out to end the thrilling ninth, and the Cardinals got to take their momentum to extra innings. Josh Hamilton hit a clutch homerun of his own, immediately reversing this momentum. His two-run shot had a WPA of 43%, but it wasn’t as huge, because the Rangers lost their lead. The bottom of the tenth featured a Lance Berkman, game tying single that featured a WPA of 47%. Berkman also displayed his clutch factor in this series, with a total WPA of 1.00. Berkman’s big single could have gotten him WS MVP honors, but the game wasn’t over yet. After a scoreless frame pitched by Jake Westbrook, the Cardinals entered the bottom of the eleventh in good position. They also entered the inning with David Freese leading off. 

Freese took Mark Lowe’s 3-2 fastball into centerfield, walking it off and forcing a game 7. Freese’s homerun, which prompted one of the most mediocre sounding home-run calls from Joe Buck, had a 37% WPA swing.  The third baseman closed out an unbelievable series by replicating his success in game 7. Freese tied the game in the first inning with two-run double. The double just added onto his WPA domination, with a 20% increase. Despite many other legendary playoff performances, Freese’s was the best. 

A True Playoff Performer 

David Ortiz is the only player in history to match Freese’s 1.9 WPA in a singular season. However, Freese won both WS and NLCS MVP, while Papi could only take home the ALCS honors. The biggest stat separating the 11-time veteran from the future hall of famer is the stat cWPA. cWPA or Championship Win Probability added basically shows how valuable a player was to his team winning the championship. In Ortiz’ 2004 postseason slashing, his cWPA was only 14.1. The 2011 season from David Freese? An astonishing 84.5, meaning the University of South Alabama product’s playoff performance gave his team an 84.5% higher chance of winning than if Freese was not on the field. He almost single-handedly brought the Cardinals to the trophy. 

Even in the past few years, Freese has shown that the clutch factor is not something that disappears. Since joining the Dodgers in 2018, he has batted .400 in 30 playoff at-bats, which is phenomenal. As the ninth-round draft pick has proved, the clutch factor is something that comes out of athletes when their team is at an all-time low and is truly depending on you to come through. Freese came through, every single time. His average with runners in scoring position is an astonishing .529. (9-17) Overall, his postseason is one that will be talked about for a very long time. Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is one of the best ever, and David Freese’s clutch factor was put on fill display.

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2 thoughts on “Baseball’s Clutch Factor

  1. It is true in baseball but also in life. When you are low a good friend or relative digs deep to pull you out of the slump. Article well written and informative

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