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Daniel Descalso: a profile in “clutchness”

Daniel Descalso has a notable history of getting on base in key spots, even though he’s basically your average (if slightly grittier) utility player.

Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Players who continuously come up big in do-or-die situations are “clutch.” When you hear that word, who comes to mind? Daniel Murphy, maybe? Andrew McCutchen or Anthony Rizzo? There are lots of options, but for me, I think of Daniel Descalso. My impression of him is defined by one key moment:

That is Daniel Descalso in a nutshell: clutch single. He has continued to produce in key spots this season after signing with the Dbacks over the winter. For example, earlier this season, he hit a walkoff homer in the 13th inning.

Warning: content below may be unsuitable for those uncomfortable with small sample sizes.


As a utility infielder/outfielder, he is not getting nearly as many opportunities to make an impact, but when those chances arise he has a habit of making an impression. When the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Descalso, they knew they got a stabilizer. He is not the guy who can right the ship for a team, but when a fielder hits the DL or needs a day off he can ensure they never get too far off course in the first place.

From FanGraphs:

“Clutch hitting” is generally the result of small sample sizes and random variation. A player shown to be very clutch one season does not necessarily mean that he will be very clutch in the next.

Except Descalso has been clutch clutch every season. He has been good in high-leverage spots consistently since he first got significant playing time in 2011. This season is a small sample size for Daniel Descalso. We’re talking 241 total plate appearances, but in those plate appearances he has two walkoff hits!

Descalso has the 20th-highest walk rate in the National League at 12.9 percent. While his .244 batting average is not great, his .347 OBP is bolstered by that high walk rate. Everything else is fairly middle-of-the-pack. His 23.2 percent strikeout rate is sixth of nine Dbacks with 180+ plate appearances. He is fourth in Speed rating, so he’s not all that quick or all that slow, and fifth in wRC+. Ho-hum, right?

Wrong.

He’s had 73 plate appearances with runners in scoring position this season. He bats .305 with 31 RBIs and six extra-base hits. He’s had five plate appearances with the bases loaded where he worked two walks and hit two singles. Which is, to me, quintessentially Descalso. He’s not going to overwhelm with his power, but he can get on base when a team needs it most.

This season, Descalso has 29 plate appearances Fangraphs labels “high-leverage.” In those spots he only has one strikeout, so he’s excellent at putting the ball in play. His on-base percentage is .565 and nearly one-third of those plate appearances resulted in a walk. He’s patient and it pays off.

I know numbers fluctuate a lot when dealing with small sample sizes. However, because I watched Daniel Descalso for years as a Cardinal, I knew he had a knack for clutch hitting. He got the leadoff single to set up Lance Berkman’s game-tying hit in the tenth inning of game 6 of the 2011 World Series. He had that clutch hit in game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. Both were singles, but they were also the clutchiest of clutch. Without Descalso getting on base, the guy we remember as the hero would never have made it to the plate. He’s like the offensive version of a set-up man.

Take a look at his stats in high-leverage situations each season since 2013:

Descalso High-Leverage Plate Appearances

Year PA AVG XBH BB/K wOBA RBIs
Year PA AVG XBH BB/K wOBA RBIs
2013 36 .303 4 0 .331 11
2014 20 .500 4 3 .567 6
2015 17 .250 0 4 .337 2
2016 29 .333 2 0.6 .363 9
2017 29 .455 5 7 .578 14

His batting average in these situations is consistently above .300. The 2015 season was particularly weak and has the smallest sample size, but it’s sandwiched by significant production. And he does most of it with singles! Stephen Strasburg had a great quote after one loss this season,

“I just got singled to death.”

And that reminded me of Daniel Descalso. He can get the single that puts the nail in the coffin of a pitcher win. It’s not just 2017, it’s the weirdly under-the-radar gets-hits-when-they’re-most-needed way he plays the game. He has always been able to get on base in these situations, and maybe not get the RBI, but he can keep the inning alive to get to someone who can bring that run home.

He has been particularly effective this season. As you can see in the table above, 2017 has his highest walk rate and batting average to go along with that fabulous wOBA. The Diamondbacks are giving him so many of these opportunities and he’s just rolling with them like he always has. Now that he is walking so much overall, it’s making his production in those spots even better.

Being clutch is all about producing in a small subset of situations. In Daniel Descalso, you have a player with a career wRC+ of 80 and on-base percentage of .319. He’s below-average offensively, but he can get on base when a team needs it the most. Maybe it’s not a skill. Perhaps I’m super biased and Descalso is really lucky in high-leverage spots. Maybe he just understands how pitchers approach him and come up clutch. Either way, it’s a pretty cool tidbit. This is just Descalso’s style.


Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.