A familiar site in past Septembers is that of Ryan Howard crushing home runs in key situations.
When it comes to this time of the year in major league baseball, when every pitch of every at-bat can determine a team's postseason fate, there is one player whose performance stands far above the rest.
Since Howard's career began with the Phillies in 2004, he hasn't just been good in September and October. He's dominated.
Howard has played in exactly one season's worth of September/October baseball --162 games.
In that time he's hitting .314 and reached base nearly 43 percent of the time. He's hit 52 home runs and driven in 141 runs. His OPS is over 1.100. There's no other month in which it clears 1.000.
Highest Win Probability Added
September/October, Last 3 Seasons
Baseball statisticians use the metric "Win Probability Added," tracked on Fangraphs.com to look at how much a player's performance, in every plate appearance, contributes to winning or losing a game.
If you do something positive in a close game, it's worth a lot of Win Probability points. If you do something positive in a blowout, it's not worth that much to your Win Probability score, because it isn't as valuable.
From 2007 to 2009, Howard not only has the highest Win Probability Added in September/October, but he dwarfs the second-rated player on the list--Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. It's not even close. That's true, even if you stretch the data back to 2006.
Sabrmetrician Bill James awarded Howard his "Clutch Player of the Year" award in 2009. James knows of what he speaks.
Tom Tango, the same person who devised the Win Probability Added formula, also has a formula for "Clutch Rating." In figuring a player's clutch rating, you look foremost at situations that are high-leverage, in which the game is on the line in that turn.
In 2006, Howard, for whatever reason, didn't have a good clutch rating in the final month of the season, but the Phillies weren't exactly in the race for the NL East title. But over the last three seasons, in which the Phillies have played a LOT of meaningful baseball, there's nobody with a better "clutch" rating than Howard in the season's final month.
Looking for examples? Here's one from each of the last three years.
September 10, 2007: Howard had a sixth-inning home run to cut a 3-1 deficit against the Rockies to 3-2, then after the Phillies forced extra-innings, Howard won the game with a walk-off double.
September 16, 2008: With the Phillies trailing the Braves, 7-4 in the seventh inning, Howard triples in a run. After another run cut the deficit to 7-6 by the eighth, Howard won the game with a two-run home run vs Mike Gonzalez.
September 3, 2009: After striking out in his first two at-bats against Giants ace Tim Lincecum, Howard raps a go-ahead double in the sixth inning, snapping a 1-1 tie in a game the Phillies would win, 2-1.
Perhaps the greatest sign of respect for Howard's prowess comes from opposing pitchers, who have intentionally walked him 34 times in September/October. They figure there's no point in trying to get out someone who has proven to be an impossible out at this time of year.