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Ranking MLB’s 10 most clutch players in 2018

Michael Dixon
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout MLB history, some players have just seemed had a knack for coming through in the tight spots.

The 2018 season has seen its own share of clutch players. These are the players you’d most want on your team in a big spot. Conversely, they’re the players you’d least want to see against your team. So, who are those guys?

Players like J.D. Martinez, Christian Yelich, Aaron Nola, and Jacob deGrom have been among the best in the league in 2018. So, it probably won’t be a surprise to anyone to see them listed as the season’s most clutch players. Others could be a little surprising, especially when we think about what we were expecting at the beginning of the year.

Baseball players can be considered clutch for various reasons. Putting all of them together, these have been the 10 most clutch players of the 2018 MLB season.

J.D. Martinez, designated hitter, Boston Red Sox

Martinez has hit .335/.406/.647 with 39 home runs in his first year in Boston. He’s been one of baseball’s best hitters. Additionally, a credible case could be made that Martinez has been MLB’s best hitter in the high-leverage spots. In the seventh inning or later, Martinez is hitting .340/.400/.639 with 12 home runs. With runners in scoring position and two outs — when hitters have the most to gain and lose for their teams — Martinez has hit .431/.529/.724 with five home runs. So, his gaudy offensive numbers have been anything but empty production.

Blake Snell, starting pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays

When pitching with men on base, Snell has posted a 3.14 ERA. For reference, Max Scherzer has a 4.80 ERA in those spots. The totals are even higher for Justin Verlander (5.20) Corey Kluber (6.00), and Luis Severino (6.72). For another perspective, that 3.14 ERA matches what Charlie Morton, who has the seventh-best ERA in the American League, has done. Or, to put it another way, even if we handicap Snell by looking only at his numbers with men on base and looking at everyone else’s total number, he’s still one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Christian Yelich, left fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Much like Martinez in Boston, Yelich is thriving in his first year in Milwaukee. He’s been an absolute star for the Brewers in the most meaningful spots. With two outs and runners on, he’s hit .386/.476/.671 with two home runs and nine steals. In the seventh inning or later, he’s hitting .329/.377/.514 with six home runs and six steals. Those numbers, combined with what’s been a great overall season in Milwaukee, have made him a real National League MVP candidate for the 2018 season.

Clay Buchholz, starting pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

There’s a lot to like about the way that Buchholz has pitched this year. Two stats really jump out, and they both have to do with how he’s pitched with men on. First of all, he’s got a 3.34 ERA in those spots. But also, Buchholz has struck out 9.3 hitters per nine innings in those spots. Buchholz is not a strikeout pitcher. Overall, he’s struck out 7.3 hitters per nine. So, 2018’s tightest spots, Buchholz has really toughened up and has actually pitched better than in the regular spots. That’s the definition of clutch.

Jed Lowrie, second baseman, Oakland Athletics

The A’s have had a number of clutch players throughout the year, especially on offense. But as good as many of them have been, it’s hard to put anyone ahead of Lowrie. In two-out, runners-on-base situations, he’s hit .362/.482/.623 with five home runs. In the seventh inning or later, where Oakland has really feasted throughout 2018, Lowrie has hit .360/.439/.659 with 11 home runs. That’s just an incredible model of consistency in the tightest spots that games have to offer.

Aaron Nola, starting pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies

Beyond simply being one of baseball’s best pitchers and young players, there are a couple of things that we love about Nola. One, while not quite as proficient as Snell or Buchholz, Nola’s 4.38 ERA with men on base is more than acceptable for that spot. Two, in games after a loss, Nola is 7-1 with a 1.79 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. Losses obviously happen in baseball. Teams get in trouble when those losses turn into losing streaks. But Philadelphia has been able to count on Nola as a stopper all year. That’s certainly helped the Phillies stay in playoff contention.

Miguel Andujar, third baseman, New York Yankees

Giancarlo Stanton has righted the ship, but struggled at times this year. Aaron Judge has been out since late-July. Gary Sanchez has missed significant time and dealt with poor play. But despite that, the New York offense remains potent. The performance of rookies like Gleyber Torres and especially Andujar, particularly in the big spots, has been a big reason why. The rookie third baseman has hit .307/.333/.497 after the sixth inning. With two outs and men on, he’s hit .291/.333/.570. With runners in scoring position, Andujar has hit .292/.350/.538. He’s been everything the Yankees could have expected, and more.

Edwin Diaz, closer, Seattle Mariners

While no other closer has even hit 40 saves, Diaz has 51 and could set a new single-season record this year. And this isn’t just a matter of getting a lot of opportunities, either. Diaz has pitched very well, posting a 1.93 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and a 15.4 K/9 rate. It looks as though the Mariners will miss the playoffs. Even still, Seattle has maintained a fantastic record despite being outscored in its games. How has that been maintained this late in the year? A 33-18 record in one-run games helps that. A record like that doesn’t happen without a great closer like Diaz.

Javier Baez, second baseman, Chicago Cubs

This goes a little deeper than just Baez’s numbers with men on, or late in games. While the Cubs have the NL’s best record, the 2018 season has been anything but smooth in Chicago. The guys who have carried the Cubs offensively in recent years haven’t really done that. Anthony Rizzo has struggled at times this season. Kris Bryant has been hurt for much of the year. That’s really put the a significant amount of pressure on the remaining hitters. Baez has answered the bell. If that doesn’t move you, Baez has also stolen home on two different occasions. That’s clutch.

Jacob deGrom, starting pitcher, New York Mets

While he’s played on a losing team, deGrom has been nothing short of fantastic this year. With men on base, he’s posted a 3.53 ERA 0.86 WHIP. Overall, he’s posted a 1.68 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. And really, pitching for the Mets, a team that offers essentially no run support, every situation is high leverage. Any run deGrom allows, even if is in the first inning, could be a game winner. But despite that, he has not cracked. deGrom will be watching the postseason from home. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been one of the game’s most clutch players all season.