Kendrys Morales wasn't the most popular signing in Royals' history. Instead of a pre-Billy Butler Oakland Athletics-DH-by-committee approach, Dayton Moore locked the position down for Ned Yost when he inked the switch-hitting free agent.
Morales was coming off what was easily the worst season of his career. Although he made just 401 plate appearances, he managed to accrue a staggering -1.8 fWAR, third worst in baseball. FanGraphs calculates a player's worth based on their performance, and last season Morales should have owed the Twins and Mariners $13.8 million. It was an ugly season. It was a signing that was met with a shrug, or worse. Now, he's the most clutch hitter in the league.
This isn't just an arbitrary assessment. Clutch is actually a statistic that you can look up. Here's how it works. With every plate appearance, a batter either adds or takes away from the probability that their team will win the game. This is appropriately labelled Win Probability Added, or WPA. Clutch compares a player's WPA in high leverage situations to context neutral ones to show how much better or worse they perform when the game is on the line. So let's look at the ten most clutch players this season.
If you split out Morales' performance by situational leverage, it's not difficult to see how much better he's been when leverage is high. Despite making up just 22% of his plate appearances, he's hit four of his 14 HR in these situations, his OPS is nearly two hundred points higher, and he's driven in nearly half of his 87 RBIs.
Morales hasn't been the only clutch Royals' hitter. He's joined by Eric Hosmer and Omar Infante in the top ten, and Cain (1.26) comes in as the 12th most clutch hitter on the season. Wait, what?!? Omar Infante? No, clutch isn't broken. Remember that it compares how a player performs at the plate in high leverage situations against themselves in context neutral ones. That means bad players, even players who, overall, lower the probability their team will win games, can have a positive clutch rating.
Led by Morales, the Royals as a whole have been the most clutch team at the plate this season, and it's not even close. They've been nearly twice as clutch as the next closest team, division rival Minnesota Twins, and are one of only seven teams to post a positive clutch score.
Not only have the Royals been the most clutch team this season, they've been one of the most clutch teams of all time. Since 1974 -- the first year for which these data are available -- only the 2010 Astros (8.19) and 1990 White Sox (8.10) have been more clutch at the plate. What's exciting is the season is still young enough that the Royals could set the new high water mark for clutchness.
While looking back on who's been most clutch over the first five months helps us to understand why the Royals have been so successful this season, it's important to remember that this statistic doesn't hold predictive power. Being clutch over a season, or month, or week, doesn't mean that the player, or team, will be clutch in the future.
The good news is that clutch hitting isn't the only reasons for the Royals' success. While it has certainly benefited what is a league average offense if you remove context from the equation (100 wRC+) their defense (58 DRS) and bullpen (3.21 FIP) are both tops in the league. Nothing but blue skies these days in Klutch City, so take some time to enjoy what could be a historic season. Hopefully, in a big way.
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Matt Jackson is a staff writer for Royals Review and a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score . You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.