The Cubs were losing 3-2 with two outs and two on when Kris Bryant took stepped to the plate in the top of the 7th inning. It was the kind of situation the slugger’s critics have been quick to bemoan, believing almost to the point of hoping that he’d come up short. Perhaps because he’s smooth as an eight-speed automatic transmission, there remains a pervasive undercurrent of belief that Bryant isn’t clutch.
Though there exist enough different situational statistics for folks on various sides of the argument to plausibly defend their stances, a quick look at some common numbers presents convincing evidence for KB’s clutchness. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a hill on which you could build a fortified position capable of withstanding a prolonged siege.
Before we get into what he’s done this season, including that big go-ahead homer in Cincy Sunday afternoon, let’s look at Bryant’s career numbers. As you can see, his situational performance is actually quite solid. The problem is that it’s not on par with his elite overall production, which leads people to believe he can’t get it done in big moments.
While there’s merit to looking at how much better or worse a player performs based on the situation, we have to establish context. Anyone would be happy to have a hitter who posts a .362 wOBA and 126 wRC+ for the season, since only 40 qualified hitters are currently exceeding either mark in 2019. That’s Bryant’s career with RISP in general and with two outs, so we’re talking pretty solid production by just about any standard.
Ah, but those career numbers are buoyed by markedly better results here in 2019. As you can see below, Bryant has posted higher stats in nearly every major offensive category this season, both relative to his career marks and in terms of his situational hitting.
If we isolate the stats to just 2019, it becomes quite clear that Bryant has actually been better as the pressure is dialed up. Those highlighted numbers are flat-out incredible and would rank among the top 3-4 hitters in the game if extrapolated out over more than the 45 plate appearances from which they’re drawn.
But therein lies the real issue at the root of this whole argument, which is that we’re comparing the results of a small sample of those of a much larger one. As such, there will be some fluctuation that leads us to draw conclusions. And since human nature is to pay closer attention the big moments, those in which Bryant’s production had previously fallen short of his overall numbers, a narrative developed early and has persisted in the face of contrary evidence.
Even if you remain willing to die on a “KB isn’t clutch” hill, the important thing here is that Bryant’s situational production has remained well above league average even when it hasn’t measured up to his own lofty standards. Would you rather have that or someone like Daniel Descalso, who is considered among the most statistically clutch hitters of all time? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Ed. note: A tip o’ the cap is due to Joe Ostrowski for some tweets Sunday night that spurred this.