Yadier Molina is not a “great” hitter. For his career, his wRC+ is almost exactly league average. And yet, in clutch situations, I often have this feeling in my gut: I wish Molina was up.
Commentators like to fawn over “situational hitting,” and in general I think they overestimate how hard it is to not just hit the amazing stuff modern pitchers throw, but to hit it in a particular way. But Yadi seems to be one of the few modern hitters with the skill to tailor his approach to the situation.
Need to dump the ball into right field to score a runner from 2nd? Yadi can do that.
Need to pull something deep for a sac fly? Yadi’s got that, too.
My gut has always told me that Yadi has an exceptional ability to do this and he’s the guy I want up in the clutch - even ahead of others who are, overall, clearly better hitters. Even so, I assumed this was mostly just emotion and selective memory on my part. So I decided to look it up.
It turns out Yadi is the most clutch hitter in postseason history.
When it comes to postseason stats, I often head over to a site called The Baseball Gauge, which has built out postseason-specific versions of a number of advanced stats. At Fangraphs, you may be familiar with a stat that measures clutch, called CLUTCH.
In a nutshell, it measures a player’s Win Probability Added in high-leverage situations compared to all situations. So the player is being measured against their own baseline, otherwise you’d just have the best hitters being the best in clutch situations because they are always the best. Here, we’re looking for whose performance rises in clutch situations.
And in the postseason version of CLUTCH at The Baseball Gauge, if you look at who has been the most clutch hitter since postseason play began in 1903, at the top of the list is Yadier Molina.
CLUTCH is not a counting statistic, so the fact that Yadi has played in a very high number of postseason games does not help him. We’re looking at guys who have been the most clutch relative to their postseason baseline regardless of if they’ve played in one postseason series or, as is the case with Yadi, TWENTY-ONE.
If anything, it speaks to Yadi’s extreme clutchiness that he has maintained that position while playing in 92 postseason games. We’re dealing with extremely small sample sizes in any postseason stat, but sustaining that level of clutchitude over 92 games is still a lot more difficult than doing it over, say, six.
Now I’m sure some wonk in the comments is going to point out that CLUTCH is maybe not the most useful stat in the world, and the preponderance of research suggests variations in clutch performance is random and due to luck, rather than - as Mike Shildt might say: Cojones.
You can choose to believe that, and if it was the middle of January and I had my analytical hat on, I probably would too. But this is the postseason and the Cardinals play a do-or-die game this afternoon. I choose to believe that Yadi is not only the most clutch player in postseason history, but also magic.