When the Houston Astros flirted with the prospect of dropping a home series to the lowly Toronto Blue Jays a couple weeks back, it was Alex Bregman who put the kibosh on that, propelling his club to a dramatic, come-from-behind win - and a series victory - June 27 at Minute Maid Park with a walk-off, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
At best, it'll be his third-most memorable walk-off hit this year.
A couple months earlier, after all, Bregman sunk the San Diego Padres in extra innings on a walk-off pop-up that had a hit probability of 0 percent. Then, last night, Bregman "did" this, authoring yet another improbable walk-off victory and playing a starring role in the most ignominious moment of Jonathan Lucroy's career.
(Video courtesy: MLB.com)
That two-foot dribbler, by the way, had a hit probability of seven percent.
At this point, it's salient to note that the myth of clutch hitting was expertly and thoroughly debunked eons ago. In 2004, when Bregman was 10 years old, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus cited in a piece titled "The Concept of 'Clutch'" a seminal David Grabiner study that concluded:
The correlation between past and current clutch performance is .01, with a standard deviation of .07. In other words, there isn't a significant ability
in clutch hitting; if there were, the same players would be good clutch
hitters every year.
Still, just because clutch doesn't exist as a predictive property doesn't mean Bregman hasn't been hilariously apt at getting the job done in high-leverage situations this season, by hook or by crook. To wit:
|Innings||wOBA||Exit velocity||Launch angle||Pitches/PA|
|7-9 + Extras (w/nobody on)||.391||90.7||12.8||3.95|
|7-9 + Extras (w/runners on)||.452||86.1||19.5||4.26|
It's no stretch to characterize Bregman's .452 wOBA in those (crudely defined) highest-leverage spots as completely bananas. For his career, Barry Bonds managed a .435 wOBA. Now, are all those wOBA points deserved? Certainly not, as Eric Hosmer - who let that fateful pop-up fall in for a hit - will surely attest. Bregman, who owns a .915 OPS (157 OPS+) overall in 2018, isn't hitting the ball with his usual authority in crunch time - according to Baseball Savant, batted balls with an exit velocity of 86 mph and a 20-degree launch angle literally never leave the yard and only rarely yield extra bases - and his expected wOBA in those plate appearances is 35 points lower than his actual mark. Nevertheless, the results are sublime. Even when he doesn't come through, he manages to come through.
So, with four walk-off hits already this year - he also did this June 18 against the Tampa Bay Rays - does that make Bregman the clutchiest guy who ever clutched? Well, not quite, actually. That distinction belongs to the resurgent Jed Lowrie, who boasts the biggest positive disparity between his wOBA in, for lack of a better term, Clutch Time (from the seventh inning onward with runners on base) and non-Clutch Time (innings one through six and nobody on) among the 73 hitters with at least 50 Clutch Time plate appearances.
|Player||Non-Clutch Time wOBA||Clutch Time wOBA||Diff|
Still, Bregman is right up there, delivering - or at least managing to flummox opposing defenders - in those late-game spots better than everyone except Lowrie, Dansby Swanson, Adam Duvall, Matt Olson, Manny Machado, and Nomar Mazara. (Using this model, Bregman gets penalized because he's so insanely good all the time, making it harder for him to distinguish himself in smaller samples.) And thanks to his penchant for late-inning heroics - as well as the Astros' ability to hang around in virtually any game - Bregman has done more to advance his team's chances of winning than any other position player, managing an MLB-best 3.56 win probability added as the All-Star break looms.
2018 WPA Leaderboard (position players)
Clearly, luck - beyond the small-sample randomness that once gave credence to the notion of clutch hitting - has factored heavily into Bregman's high-leverage success through the first half of the season, but if any team could use a little luck, it's the Astros, right?