Paul Goldschmidt and hitting in the clutch

June, 10, 2013
6/10/13
1:17
PM ET
Paul GoldschmidtStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesPaul Goldschmidt has been money in late-inning situations for the Diamondbacks in 2013.
So Paul Goldschmidt's "clutch" credentials so far are pretty spectacular:

  • He's hitting .431 and slugging .914 with runners in scoring position.
  • He has four go-ahead homers in the eighth or later, most in the majors, including this three-run homer with two outs in the eighth on Friday against the Giants. (Why Goldschmidt was allowed to face a left-hander there is another discussion).
  • He's hitting .368 and slugging .754 in so-called high-leverage situations.
  • He leads the majors in a statistic called Win Probability Added, which calculates the change in probability of a player's team winning the game based on each individual outcome while batting. A single in the ninth inning of a tie game, for example, is worth more than a single in a 10-0 game. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs calculate the results a little differently, but Goldschmidt is best on both sites -- 4.0 WPA at B-R and 3.6 at FanGraphs.

The myth of the clutch hitter is one of the key sabermetric tenets, but that doesn't mean Goldschmidt hasn't been clutch; he has. He's been amazingly clutch. In focusing on the WPA statistic, for example, the only other players with a WPA of 3.0 are Chris Davis (both sites) and Josh Donaldson (FanGraphs). Miguel Cabrera, who leads the majors with 67 RBIs, ranks seventh on B-R (2.5 WPA) and sixth on FanGraphs (2.6 WPA). He's hit .493 with runners in scoring position, but has also had many more opportunities than Goldschmidt, who has 58 RBIs; Cabrera has 93 PAs with RISP versus 69 for Goldschmidt. But no hitter can match Goldschmidt's late-game heroics.

What sabermetricians argue, however, is that clutch hitting isn't a predictable result. Right now, for example, nine batters are hitting at least .400 with runners in scoring position -- Cabrera, Carlos Beltran, Freddie Freeman, Goldschmidt, Brandon Phillips, Adrian Gonzalez, Kelly Johnson, Alejandro De Aza and Allen Craig. Last year, only Craig finished at .400. Cabrera hit .356 with runners in scoring position, but he hit .356 because he's a good hitter. In 2011, nobody hit .400 with RISP, with Victor Martinez topping the list at .394.

Since 2009, the top 10 leaders in batting average with runners in scoring position are Craig (.367), Joey Votto (.360), Cabrera (.357), Adrian Gonzalez (.357), De Aza (.351), Joe Mauer (.341), Salvador Perez (.336), Goldschmidt (.328), Donaldson (.328) and Jordan Pacheco (.324). No. 11 is Jesus Guzman. There are some odd names in there (De Aza is even slugging .554), but I've never heard anyone refer to De Aza or Pacheco as one of the game's best clutch hitters. But the odd names are guys with small sample sizes; the big names -- even Craig is a career .302 hitter -- are guys who hit well regardless of the situation.

Back to Goldschmidt. What I'm getting at is that his clutch hitting will likely slow down, considering he's on pace for over 10 WPA. Here are Baseball-Reference's 10 best WPA seasons since 2009:

1. Prince Fielder, Brewers, 2009: 8.0
2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays, 2011: 8.0
3. Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 2009: 8.0
4. Prince Fielder, Brewers, 2011: 7.7
5. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 2011: 7.6
6. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 2010: 7.5
7. Joey Votto, Reds, 2011: 7.1
8. Joey Votto, Reds, 2010: 6.9
9. Ryan Braun, Brewers, 2011: 6.4
10. Ryan Howard, Phillies, 2009: 6.4

(FanGraphs rates Pujols' 2009 as the best in this period at 8.2).

If we go back 20 years to include seasons when offensive levels were much higher, only three players have cracked the 10.0 WPA barrier -- Barry Bonds in 2004, Barry Bonds in 2001 and Barry Bonds in 2002. Both sites also agree that the only two other seasons to top 9.0 WPA were Pujols in 2006 and Mark McGwire in 1998.

How good was Bonds? Since we have play-by-play data (mostly complete since 1954), Baseball-Reference rates only one other season at 10.0 WPA -- Willie McCovey's 1969 MVP year with the Giants when he hit .320 with 45 home runs and drove in 126 runs despite being intentionally walked 45 times. McCovey hit .349 with RISP but he really shone in the same situations Goldschmidt has thus far: He hit .390 with eight home runs in "late and close" situations. Even then, however, his heroics didn't quite match what Goldschmidt has done. McCovey hit three game-tying home runs in the eighth or later, but no go-ahead home runs. He did hit three go-ahead home runs in the seventh inning.

That's how great Goldschmidt has been; he's been more clutch than one of the great clutch seasons ever.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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