When He's Needed Most
When you think of clutch players in MLR History, who do you think of? I could tell you the first few who come to mind for me, the first being Dakota Carolina Montana, as I see him just as a player who gets it done all the time. This is a first stab, with no data behind it, but I just feel like he's a clutch player. How about Zander Ackley in Season 4's ALCS, who threw 7 innings of shutout ball, albeit in New York, to win the ALCS for the previously white-hot offense of the Royals to bring them to the Paper Cup? One might point to Rick McLightning, who hit a walk off home run for the Indians to end their season 2 run (though a win by the Devil Rays would shut them out of the playoffs), then follow that up with a walk off home run in the first session of the following season?
I asked League News Discussion and got a pretty disdainful response from the MLR Public:
While DCM was already mentioned, Cali just had his first swing of her career and struck out. Jeff Dingerhitter nominated himself, of course. But Ben Bradle had a pretty phenomenal season 4.
With a game-tying triple against the Los Angeles Angels (which led to him scoring the winning run) in session 5, followed by a walkoff home run in session 9 and a game-tying home run in the 4th inning of session 10, Bradle certainly qualifies as a clutch hitter. Bradle had a 1.252 OPS in his 15 games in season 4, and was certainly a force the whole season long. He drove in 13 runs on the season, which tied for 4th in all of MLR in season 4.
While Dingerhitter nominated himself, I still gave him a quick glance. And it turns out that, while not phenomenal, Dingerhitter did hit a home run to tie and take the lead against the Mets in the 4th inning of session 9 last season, as well as hitting a 3 run homer to start off a game against the A's, albeit in the Winter Woes tournament.
We received some more entries as well, all of which could be investigated:
Lane Drew has been around MLR quite some time, and he's had his fair share of big hits along the course of his career. With a runner on 3rd and 2 outs in a tie ball game against the Pirates in session 9 of season 3, Drew laced a single to left which broke the tie in the bottom of the 5th.
In season 4, in the bottom of the 4th, Drew found himself in a tie game with the bases loaded and 2 outs against the Phillies. He slapped a double to right field, taking a 3 run lead, and assuring a Marlins victory. He, as well, walked off a session later with a double in the bottom of the 7th against the Expos-led by his former teammate Joey McCarty.
Drew has failed in his share of big moments though; In session 18 of season 2, he had a runner on 2nd with 2 outs and the chance to tie in the top of the 6th, but flew out to center to solidify the Blue Jays as a 3rd seed in the playoffs. He, as well, had a big moment against the Dodgers in season 3 while losing by 1 in the 5th with 1 out and runners on the corners, and grounded into an inning ending double play.
(I am just continuously writing this intro with no end goal in mind, so if you want to skip to the point of this article where there's graphs and stuff scroll down a page or two).
Jackie Jackson has come up big in big moments; he's hit 2 walkoffs in his career, one being a 3 run shot while down 1 with 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th. Another to break a scoreless tie occurred in the bottom of the 6th against the Orioles in season 4. But to level with you, Jackie Jackson just hit a lot of home runs; it wasn't just in clutch moments, it was ALL THE TIME. This shouldn't take away from his clutch hitting, it's just that the situation didn't matter. Which I suppose makes a clutch hitter clutch, too.
Tara Dactyl walked off 2 straight games in season 4; One with a double in session 6 against the Rockies, the next with a Pinch-hit home run against the Mets. Out of 21 plate appearances for Dactyl in seasons 3 and 4, that's pretty good, and Tara may be the most clutch.
Tyler Gordon's had his chances and delivered a few times. In season 4 he walked off the Tigers with a 2 out single in the bottom of the 7th to break a 6-6 tie. 2 sessions later, he would homer in the 4th to tie a ballgame with the White Sox at 1, and a session after that, clear the bases with a double to take a 4-2 lead against the Braves. He would provide a few other clutch hits throughout the seasons for the Royals, but he, just like JJJ, is good ALL the time, not just in clutch situations.
Dixon Uraz is the last I'll look at, sort of suggested by him, but the young Alex Curvingsworth was much more vocal. Against the Blue Jays in season 3, his team down by 4 with 1 out in the 4th, Dixon hit a 3 run homer to pull the game to within 1. In the 6th of the same game though, Uraz struck out, giving Boston a much worse outcome than desired. In the next season, Uraz faced Oakland, and with 2 outs in the bottom of the 5th and runners on the corners, Uraz smashed a ball to deep center to take a 1 run lead, so his clutch status is still in tact, but similar to some players we've listed, he's had a great career outside the big moments as well.
In fact, most players listed here have played exceptionally well throughout their career, and stepped up in big moments to deliver a little more than usual. But when I think of clutch players in other major sports, I don't just think of the Tom Bradys and Big Papis; I think of David Freese or David Tyree; players who played mediocre, then shined the brightest with the spotlight on them (or maybe I just think of the name David a lot). It's as if these players played best with the world watching, a reflection of the limelight shining on them; in relatively menial moments, they hardly performed, but with the most light, they shined brighter than anyone had ever seen.
With ALL of that said, let me tell you about Victor Justice.
Victor Justice was a neutral left-handed hitter. He played 3 seasons in MLR. Technically he played 4, but in his 4th season he started 1 game and was subbed out 10 minutes before he auto-K'd. So really, he played 3 seasons.
The Tragic Backstory
In the inaugural MLR season, Victor Justice was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. He would start 4 games for the Twins and appear at the plate 10 times. In those 10 plate appearances, Victor Justice went 0 for 9, with 0 walks and a single sacrifice fly to avoid going a flat 0 for 10. In session 6, he was involved in a whirlwind trade that landed him in Toronto. He finished the shortened season with 2 more plate appearances, and got on base once. It was a walk.
For those keeping track at home, that is a season slashline of .000/.083/.000. That's an OPS of .083. An OPS+ of 83 is a bad season. But no, this is an OPS of .083; his OPS+ in season 1 was -75. Negative. seventy. five. One may know that OPS+ cannot be negative, so Victor Justice needed 75 points from nowhere to make his OPS+ the minimum of 0.
It's hard to get worse than an 0 for 10 season with a walk, but Justice certainly seemed to try. His next season, he would hover around the Mendoza line and play in 11 of the 18 games for Toronto in season 2. Through 10 games, Justice was 4 for 21 with 2 walks. While not terrible, this was certainly not great, and left him at a .190 average on the season. He could still hit the Mendoza line though with a hit in the season finale against the Red Sox. Do you think he can do it?
Season 2 triple slash:
We did it, folks.
In season 2, Justice finally got to the Mendoza line. I mean, not in his career, as his career slash was still .147/.216/.147. And I mean, a .478 OPS isn't stellar, but you know what, it's better than an OPS of .083. For now, we made it. Victor Justice was above the Mendoza. Victor Justice was almost mediocre. Victor Justice was...
No, even in season 2. An OBP of .269? A SLG of .208? This is atrocious. This is not ok, even randomly guessing should do at least a little better than this, right?
In his first 38 plate appearances, Victor Justice's lowest difference was an 87. I wanted to see how hard this was to randomly attain, so I did. I fired up the random number generator to help me determine how bad this season really was. I set up 38 cells to randomly generate a number between 1 and 500, to simulate the difference in Justice's 38 plate appearances. (I originally had 0 to 500, but this gave an unfair leniency to a 0-diff: as you readers may recall, a 0 diff can only happen with 1 swing, but a 1, 2, 69, 300, or any other diff besides 500 can happen with 2 swings). So essentially, this is a conservative approach to see how unlikely this season is. I took the 38 randomly generated numbers and found the minimum value of those numbers. The experiment would end either when I had a number 87 or higher as the minimum of the remaining numbers or until I got bored and couldn't keep watching.
After 1000 simulations, the highest minimum I got was 84. The second highest was 70. The next highest was 67, and nothing else was larger than 65. Most of the minimums were, unsurprisingly, single digits.
From 1000 randomly generated careers of 38 plate appearances, not a single one was as bad as Victor Justice. Even the ones that were close weren't even that close. Victor was truly awful, and was almost going to be cut if his performance didn't improve. But Victor was one of 3 outfielders for the Blue Jays, so when the playoffs rolled around, he was still there, trying anything to get past first base on his own swing.
Do or Die
For Victor Justice, the playoffs were do or die in more than one way. Obviously, if the Blue Jays lost, their season was done. But if Justice struggles, his career is over. Justice found himself in the 9 spot in the ALDS against the Texas Rangers, and spent his first at bat flying out to Left. A move that lowered his DPA on the season, but didn't get him on. Then in his next at bat, in the top of the 6th, the Blue Jays were up 2-0.
It was the first extra base hit of Justice's career, and it was a 0-diff home run in the playoffs. Though, in the top of the 6th already up 2, an insurance run was seemingly inconsequential to the result of the game. However, after a 2 run home run by Dixie Wrecked in the bottom of the 6th, this home run was the difference in the game. The Blue Jays held on to win 3-2. The unlikely savior of Toronto-and the Blue Jays as well-survived for another game.
The Red Sox lost to Tampa Bay in the other ALDS, so the Blue Jays hosted the ALCS in Rogers Centre. Justice would start the day in a typical fashion for him with a groundout. His next time at the plate, Justice would walk. Of course, the Grams brothers following him flew out and grounded into a double play.
Then in the 5th inning with the game tied, Ziggy Ceder would drop a bunt to move Jorgenson to 2nd. After a flyout, Justice came up with 2 outs.
Grams would follow him up with a single, driving him in from 2nd for the insurance, and the Blue Jays moved on after a 3-1 ALCS win. After a career 16 games without even so much as an extra base hit, Victor Justice would put up a home run and a double in 2 straight games, giving the Blue Jays the deciding runs in both and sending them to the Paper Cup.
The Blue Jays faced off with the Phillies in the Paper Cup, and while Victor didn't have an XBH this game, he would have production every at bat. In his first 2 plate appearances, Justice singled twice. Neither time would he score, but 2 for 2 with 2 singles is incredibly beneficial when talking about production, especially from a career .150 hitter. In the bottom of the 5th Toronto trailed 3-0. But with a double from Quentin Adams and a Triple from Thomas Berry, the Blue Jays were in business. Justice would record his first out of the game being the first to face the new pitcher Hildebrandt, but even that out drove in Thomas Berry to inch the Blue Jays closer with a score of 3-2.
In the bottom of the 6th, the fat lady was warming up her vocals. Toronto was down 3-2, there were 2 outs, and there were runners on 1st and 2nd. With everything coming to a close, who else could bat except for the Hero himself?
But then, a twist.
And with the end of the game in someone else's hands, our heroic tale becomes a tragedy:
Victor Justice went 4 for 7 with an RBI groundout and a walk in the playoffs and was pulled from the moment meant for him. Our hero who turned his whole career around just in time had his shining opportunity ripped right from under his hands. The Phillies, the evil empire of MLR, were almost removed from their throne. And now that moment was gone. The Blue Jays couldn't go home. They were already home. There was no place for Victor Justice to go. There wasn't a feeling of sadness in Justice's eyes, there wasn't anger as, hell, given his season at the plate, who could blame Madis for subbing him out. There wasn't confusion, frustration, or anything. The climax of our protagonists' tale did not shift from hopeful and joyous to sad or lonely; there was nothing. No hurt, no joy, no rage. Just... nothing.
The following season, Victor would go 3 for 15 with one double. He slashed .200/.294/.267. He would never get an OPS in any season above .600. His OPS+ never broke 70. In season 4, he would remain with the Blue Jays through 15 games, but he would only start 1 and would be pulled before a single at bat due to fear of an auto-K. He would never play fakebaseball again, and has been retired now since the final session of season 4. And Justice's career, even though not expected, ended how it started; sans victorious roar, avec quiet whisper.
When we talk about clutch players, we often think of those who are good all the time. But Victor Justice put together some of the worst seasons in MLR history, then decided to put together one of the most legendary playoff runs in MLR history to back it up.
When the future talks about Victor Justice, they may talk about the man who was awful for years and who, for some reason, couldn't pull it together day-to-day. Some may talk about the legendary playoff run that any player would love to have. I never really shared that 3 game stretch with you in terms of triple slash, as I did every other stat Victor had. During these 3 games, Victor was .571/.625/1.143, for an OPS of 1.768. He had 8 total bases in these 8 plate appearances, compared to the 9 in the other 55.
Victor Justice was an enigma, and is now somewhere residing as his alter ego. He may come back some day to serve justice. But more likely, he may never return, and hasn't even existed on reddit for a year now. I wish there was more to this story to tell you; to tell you that Victor comes back to save the day, for Toronto, the Twins, or some team. But I can almost assure you that even sometimes in fake life, sometimes he who is meant to be the winner may not be the Victor after all.
This is Riley Terr, signing off