The Phillies have put themselves in playoff position and are a legitimate threat to dethrone the Braves atop the NL East thanks to having won 12 of their last 16 games. 

They lost the nightcap of the doubleheader on Tuesday, but in the first game, they won in a walk-off knock from rookie Alec Bohm as part of a four-RBI game. 

The previous night, Bohm tied the game with a single in the eighth inning. The Phillies beat the Mets in extras. On Sept. 3, he came through with a walk-off sac fly after getting three hits earlier in the game. 

That’s a lot of clutch packed into a 24-game career so far, no? For many people, there isn’t a such thing as being a “clutch” hitter. While I don’t think it’s a predictive thing by any stretch (Bohm could strikeout in every big spot the rest of the year), I think it would be foolish to dismiss that some players are simply more comfortable in the big moment than others. 

“Yes,” said a scout when I asked if there are clutch players. “The reason why is they do not panic. They are able to slow the situation down and perform. When you can control adrenaline that is an indicator that you’ll be able to execute.” 

“For sure,” said another scout. “Kinda speaks to the term ‘clutch gene.’ Those who ‘have it,’ I do believe feel real comfortable in those moments. Jordan, Durant (in my opinion), Brees, Brady, Rodgers and a whole host of big-league batters just seem to come through in the clutch.” 

A big part of this has to be early success in big spots creating confidence. Sure, a player isn’t going to succeed at near the rate of other sports in big spots, but some of the best baseball players hit .300 with a .400 on-base percentage. That’s an awful lot of failure. Mental toughness matters. 

Someone that comes to mind here is Cubs infielder David Bote. Everyone remembers his walk-off grand slam with two outs, two strikes and a three-run deficit on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball in 2018. Many fans don’t remember he hit a ninth-inning, game-tying homer less than a month earlier. A few weeks later, he hit a walko-ff homer in the 10th. 

Early on, he was a WPA (win probability added) machine. For those who aren’t sure what this means, it simply takes the win probability of a team in a given situation and then the change in said probability after a plate appearance. I used Bote here mostly due to the walk-off slam. It goes without saying that’s as big a swing as there can be on a play. The Nationals had a 90 percent chance to win before the pitch and the Cubs had a 100 percent chance of winning after. 

From WPA we get leverage readings. Here is baseball-reference.com’s explanation on leverage index: 

Within a game, there are plays that are more pivotal than others. We attempt to quantify these plays with a stat called leverage index (LI). LI looks at the possible changes in win probability in a given situation; situations where dramatic swings in win probability are possible (e.g. runner on second late in a tie game) have higher LIs than situations where there can be no large change in win probability (e.g. late innings of a 12-run blowout). 

Before moving forward, let’s note that using the eye test, it doesn’t feel like Bote’s “clutch” ability has waned. Earlier this year, with the Cubs in a major rut, he hit a go-ahead, three-run, sixth-inning homer (in a seven-inning game) to lead his team to victory. Tuesday night, in a 0-0 game with two runners on and two outs, he tripled home two and the Cubs won, 3-0. In his career, Bote is hitting .321/.439/.642. It’s a small sample, sure, but check out the leverage numbers: 

High: .274/.336/.564
Med.: .249/.346/.376
Low: .233/.344/.387

He definitely seems to be better when it matters more. Perhaps there’s something to building early confidence with clutch hits. 

That’s where Bohm is building a foundation. 

We already mentioned a few specific plays, but overall things look great in so-called clutch situations. With runners in scoring position — which, again, I don’t consider a predictive stat — he’s 11 for 24 (.458) with two doubles and 13 RBI. With men on base, he’s hitting .364/.423/.455 compared to .214/.250/.381 with the sacks empty. 

In “late and close” situations (seventh inning or later, batting team tied, ahead by one or with tying run on deck), he’s 5 for 11 with five RBI. The leverage numbers? Hoo boy. 

High: .588/.600/.647
Med.: .214/.267/.393
Low: .220/.283/.341

We shouldn’t have to reiterate, but we will: These are all incredibly tiny samples with Bohm, but it’s why we set the table a bit with Bote (who doesn’t have the raw talent Bohm does) and the mental/confidence factor. It can’t be measured, but it matters to build confidence in a young player in big spots. 

Let’s not also forget that Bohm is incredibly talented, as noted in the above parenthetical. The third overall pick out of Wichita State in 2018, CBS Sports prospect expert R.J. Anderson had him ranked as baseball’s 42nd-best prospect heading into the year. He profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat. 

There will be growing pains. It happens to everyone. Even Mike Trout slumps. The point here is Bohm’s big upside teamed with him laying the foundation to be pretty comfortable, mentally, in the box for huge spots is a great sign for the Phillies both in 2020 — especially with that bullpen and it’s ability to create high-leverage at-bats for him — and beyond. 

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