Jul 18

Nats bench continues to come through in the clutch

With all the sabrmetrics and advanced stats that we baseball geeks toss around these days, there is still one aspect of the game we can’t accurately quantify: Clutch.

The official statisticians tried to do it for a few years back in the 1980s with the Game-Winning RBI, but that stat curly wwas abandoned after too many batters got credit for early-inning singles in eventual routs. So we’re left with and anecdotal evidence such as pinch-hitting numbers to say who has what it takes with the game on the line.

Daniel Murphy certainly has it. Even after spending most of three games on the bench with a hamstring injury, Murphy came through in the bottom of the ninth Sunday to continue an MVP-caliber season. Down to his last strike and the Nats trailing Pittsburgh 1-0, Murphy launched a Mark Melancon pitch into the second deck in right field to tie the game.

For a team to be 19 games over .500 and lead its division by six games at this point in the season, it generally takes a lot of clutch plays, and that is what the Nats have delivered more often than not. They now have 10 pinch-hit home runs this season, the most in 11 seasons since they moved to Washington.

Chris Heisey, who has 14 career pinch-hit homers, has come off the bench to go deep three times this season, as has Stephen Drew. One of Drew’s pinch homers was inside the park, against Philadelphia on May 31. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Clint Robinson, and now Murphy, have also contributed pinch-hit shots. All but Murphy’s have come in Nats victories.

When manager Dusty Baker has gone to his bench, the Nats have come through more often than most other teams. Their 10 pinch-hit homers ties with St. Louis for the National League lead, and their .602 pinch-hit slugging percentage is second to the Cardinals, as are the team’s 19 pinch-hit RBI.

There is lots of speculation on social media and in the blogosphere that general manager Mike Rizzo might make a trade to bolster the team’s offense before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. But if he did, one of the team’s clutch bench players would likely be displaced. On a team with this kind of chemistry, that might not be the wisest move.