The Most Clutch Hits of 2011By
As the “too many homers” myth carried on through the season, it seemed like there were two things that this narrative suggested: the Yankees were a) unable to hit with runners in scoring position and b) the Yankees could only score was via home run (also c) that scoring via the dinger doesn’t work in the playoffs, but that’s an argument for another day). Now, the great thing about the season being wrapped up is that we have the entire season to look back on. We can compare predictions to what actually happened, we can figure out how certain moves worked out, and we can talk about the highlights of the season.
Like a good nerd living in my mom’s basement, I can’t simply be satisfied by separating the statistical highlights by WPA. That would be boring. Instead, I decided to separate the top five plays by leverage. For a quick and dirty definition, the leverage is how “clutch” the play is and is independent of the outcome; the WPA measure how valuable the hit or out was within the game. Therefore, a home run with two on and two out in the ninth has a much higher value/WPA than a single with two on and two out in the ninth, but the at-bat has the same leverage. This is also a interesting stat to measure the intensity of the situations relievers end up in (see my article on David Robertson earlier in the year), but that’s another story, maybe for tomorrow. I present to you, the top five highest-leveraged hits of the year. For reference, anything about 1.5 is considered “high leverage,” and anything above 3.0 is considered “very high leverage.” You can calculate your own leverage situations here.
AJ Burnett went seven, er, strong innings, allowing only one run while walking six (!) and striking out five. David Robertson gave up a run (!!) in 0.2 IP, though he also struck out two. The game was tied going into the top of the tenth when Buddy Carlyle came in. A walk, a wild pitch, and a Frenchy double later, the Royals had the lead going into the bottom tenth. Ned Yost sent out Joakim Soria to close it out, but a walk and TWO!! bunts later, Russell Martin was standing at third looking to re-tie the game. Curtis Granderson, the man himself, drove him in, as a man with 100 RBIs and having the year that Grandy is having is wont to do. That retied the game.
Unfortunately, the Yankees lost the game in the eleventh thanks to an Eric Hosmer sacrifice fly. Bummer.
If I didn’t know better, I would say Curtis Granderson knows how to come up in a big spot.
CC Sabathia was busy throwing himself a complete game on a mere 103 pitches, but the 4 runs he had given up were just one more than the three from the combination of Rickey Romero (7 IP), Casey Janssen, and Marc Rzepczynski. Luckily, the Blue Jays decided for some absurd reason that the pretty crappy Frank Francisco was going to be their closer, and so it was up to him to protect a one run lead in the ninth. Jorge Posada banged a pinch-hit double, and Chris Dickerson ran for him. Jeter moved him to third with two outs and the Grandyman coming up. And, like clockwork, Granderson singled up the hole between first and second to tie the game up. I am personally all right with him coming up in important spots.
The Yankees then promptly won when Granderson stole second and Teixeira singled him home. By the way, the Jays weren’t playing the shift on Tex, and they might not have lost if they were.
Though the Yankees had taken an early lead, the ever, er, reliable AJ Burnett dug the Yankees into an early hole against the Rays’ rookie Alex Cobb. Luckily, Cobb came out in the fifth to be replaced by Joel Peralta and Cesar Ramos. Peralta started off the inning giving up a single to Cano and a walk to Swisher followed by an out to the pinch-hitting Andruw Jones, so Maddon pulled him for his closer, Kyle Farnsworth. With the Rays up 4-2, it was a save situation for the man who Yankees fans remembered extremely unkindly. With Tampa, however, Farnsworth had so far posted an impressive 1.86 ERA.
Lucky for the Yankees, Farnsworth had flashbacks to his Yankees years and allowed two straight singles, the first to Russell Martin to load the bases with one out, and the second to Brett Gardner, a clean single through the shortstop hole opened up by the bases being loaded. This brought the score up to 4-3.
The Yankees would tie the game on Eduardo Nunez’s groundout to short (which was only not a double play due to Gardner’s tough slide) and then win the game on a bases loaded walk from Alex Torres.
Here’s one everyone will remember. After struggling through a year in which he was relegated to DH, platooned, then benched, Joe Girardi gave Jorge Posada the chance to clinch the AL East title by pinch hitting him for Jesus Montero with the bases loaded. The game had been tied 2-2 up until this point, though Jake McGee had worked himself into a little jam with first and second and one out. Robbie was intentionally walked to load the bases and Maddon brought in Gomes.
Posada, of course, ripped a solid single into right, clinched the AL East, and proved that he is the most amazing no-catch all-hit super slow catcher/DH of all time. Yay for Jorge.
Jake Arrieta had allowed two runs in the first and a run in the fifth while Freddy Garcia through six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and two walks (and we all assumed it was just because it was the Orioles). Joba Chamberlain came in, gave up two runs, making it 3-2, and Mo blew the save while the Orioles bullpen held the Yankees scoreless (!). To extras!
Jason Berken came in in the eleventh inning and allowed a Cano double, and a Cano stolen base before striking out Swisher and intentionally walking Chavez. This brought Russell Martin to the plate. Keep in mind that, at this point in the season, Martin was batting .328 with an OPS of 1.099. In this particular game, he had four at-bats with only a walk to show for it. On his fifth at-bat, he lined a ball to Robert Andino, who airmailed a throw to Brian Roberts at second, letting the Yankees take the lead. This was very generously scored a hit, to say the least. Either way, Martin gets credit for the high-leverage hit, and the Yankees beat up on Berken a little more to win the game 6-3.
Leverage is the closest thing to measuring clutch that we have to measure: high leverage hits are more “clutch” than low-leverage ones. The problem is that part of leverage factors in the inning, and it seems like you should be able to be clutch in the second inning as much as you can in the eighth.