Donnie Murphy is doing his best to capture the hearts and minds of Marlins fans everywhere. In just a short period of time as a Fish, he has already endeared himself in a big way by delivering in the clutch. Even though he has only been a Marlin for less than 100 plate appearances, he already is getting a sort of nickname treatment by being referred to primarily as “Donnie BLEEPIN’ Murphy.” Soon enough, you’ll hear chants of “BLEEP-IN” in the stands when he arrives at the plate and Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton will be yelling out “Donnie BLEEPIN’ Murphy” every time he hits a home run.
Murphy is an oddly interesting case that got me thinking about the history of clutch Marlins hitters. Sure, a lot of our clutch memories happened in the biggest moments of the season, particularly in the 2003 playoffs. Who could forget Alex Gonzalez‘s extra-innings home run that won Game 3 of the 2003 World Series against the New York Yankees? But what about the clutch happenings of the regular season? Who among the Fish, past and present, were the “clutchiest” and where does Donnie Murphy stand in his brief stint with the Marlins?
To answer this question, I used the statistic “Clutch,” originally designed by Tom Tango and implemented both on FanGraphs and on Baseball-Reference. The Clutch stat measures how much better (or worse) a player performed in the clutch compared to his usual play. It does this by taking the difference of two numbers, Win Probability Added (WPA) and context-neutral WPA (WPA/LI). Essentially, the WPA aspect takes into account the context of the situation, weighing the important events heavily and the unimportant events lightly. WPA/LI evens out the context, weighing everything evenly. The difference is how well a player played in the important situations. You can read more about clutch here and here.
Using Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I found the Marlins’ most and least clutch players. Before looking at the following table, try to guess which Marlins brought his game up a notch in the clutch compared to usual, and which Marlins lost a step compared to normal when under heavy pressure. Let’s see the lists.
Interesting lists, huh? The most clutch Marlins (that is, the players who brought their normal games up the most in the clutch) were players who were significantly less successful over the course of their Marlins careers. Juan Pierre stands at the top of that list, and I think his name is a bit surprising. Pierre did spend three season with the Marlins from 2003 to 2005, but I don’t think it ever felt like he was a “clutch” player. If anything, it felt like much the exact opposite, that Pierre was a metronome of performance who would always hit right around .300 and do a lot of damage on the bases. However, he ended up with more than 1.5 “clutch wins” in each of the 2003 and 2004 season.
The remaining players on that list are either too long ago for my era of Marlins baseball (Pendleton and Carr) or household names in the “pinch-hitting veteran” role the Marlins so adore (Uncle Wes and Gload). How does Murphy stack up with these guys? Murphy has racked up 1.2 clutch wins, ninth in team history, right behind Jesus Tavarez and Jorge Cantu and tied with, among others, Cliff Floyd and Darren Daulton (there’s an odd nostalgia name). The amazing thing is that Murphy has done all of this in just 60 PA, while each other player on the list in front of him had at least 200 shots at the plate. In part because of how Murphy received his plate appearances (primarily in clutch pinch hitting situations last season), he hasn’t needed a lot of time to make a big impact in terms of win, as his plate appaearances have all been heavily leveraged.
As far as the non-clutch players, you can see that a lot of those names are actually big names in the annals of Marlins history. Lowell leads the list with almost five clutch wins below average, while CJ, the best catcher in Marlins history, is second. Seeing Uggla’s name is no surprise here, as he was well known for not hitting as well in high leverage situations (as Marlins fans gladly pointed out at every opportunity). Gary Sheffield is an interesting name because he was so good that it was difficult to imagine him hitting poorly, but remember that this measurement of clutch compares a player against his average self; the fact that Sheffield was so good meant that even if he still hit pretty well with the game on the line, if it was worse than his normal .288/.426/.543 self, it would reflect poorly on him. It’s also hard to imagine Alex Gonzalez being any worse than what his.245/.291/.393 line suggests, but apparently he playd even worse than that in the clutch.
It is extremely important to realize that while Murphy has been very clutch for the Fish so far, it does not mean that he will be this clutch in the future. Clutch talent exists, but it is impossible to pinpoint the true talent effect on any given individual. As a result, we can’t be certain that Murphy will deliver again for us in the future, and for essentially every major league player it would be best to assume a player’s normal expected batting performance instead of predicting based on their previous clutch performance. Of course, he is Donnie BLEEPIN’ Murphy, so I guess he could hit another game-winning home run in a continued attempt to defy the baseball gods.