When we think of clutch performance, we usually focus on hitters. But certain pitchers also show consistent ability to lift their games in make-or-break situations with men in scoring position.
In 2015 eight starters, facing at least 125 batters each in those game-turning moments, held hitters to a sub-.200 batting average. Not surprisingly, given his historic season, the toughest in the clutch was the Dodgers' Zack Greinke, new ace of the Diamondbacks.
Among relievers who worked at least 50 innings, the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez, now in Detroit, was top of the line. Eight others held hitters to averages of .140 or lower with men in scoring position.
Over a broader sample of five seasons, Clayton Kershaw and Aroldis Chapman have been the toughest to crack under pressure. Since 2011, Kershaw has held hitters to a .192 average and a .548 OPS with men in scoring position, best among starters. With two outs and men in scoring position, Chapman (.112 BA, .383 OPS) has been almost unhittable.
A look at the game's best in 2015 in high-leverage situations:
Greinke, D-backs: Engaging 133 hitters with men in scoring position for the Dodgers, Greinke held them to a .157/.238/.243 slash line. With men on base: .176/.232/.252. His cool, easy demeanor masks the intense makeup of a rare competitor.
Rodriguez, Tigers: The game's most underrated reliever, K-Rod allowed a total of five baserunners (no extra-base hits) in 41 confrontations with runners in scoring position. His line was a ridiculous .081/.122/.081. With men on base in 78 at-bats, Rodriguez was .139/.169/.222. In 1,044 career situations with men in scoring position, he has held hitters to a .187 BA and a .278 slugging rate.
Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins: Making a move from Baltimore to Miami, the 30-year-old southpaw was lights out last year in 181 situations with men in scoring position, holding hitters to a .170 BA and a .448 OPS. In Chen's four seasons, only Kershaw among starters has been tougher under pressure. Chen has held hitters to a .212 average and a .594 OPS with RISP.
Will Harris, Astros: A pivotal figure in the Astros' renaissance, Harris led all American League relievers with his .097 batting average allowed with men in scoring position. With runners on, he was fourth at .143, behind Wade Davis (.110), Dellin Betances (.115) and Andrew Miller (.129).
Jake Arrieta, Cubs: The National League Cy Young Award winner, Arrieta held hitters to a .170 BA with men in scoring position, trailing only Greinke. With men on base, Arrieta (.194) was third behind Greinke (.176) and Kershaw (.193).
J.J. Hoover, Reds: Setting up for Chapman, Hoover was nails when it counted. The right-hander held hitters to a .120 BA with men in scoring position, second to K-Rod in the NL, and .157 with runners on base, third in the NL.
Lance McCullers, Astros: A star on the rise, McCullers encountered 126 hitters with men in scoring position and shut them down: .176/.270/.287. The son of a durable MLB reliever with the same name, Lance clearly inherited his dad's competitive fires.
Betances, Yankees: The big man stood tall in 2015, leading all relievers in innings pitched (84) while holding hitters to a .115 BA with RISP and with runners on base. Miller (.125 with RISP, .129 with men on base) was equally dominant -- and here comes Chapman.
Carlos Martinez, Cardinals: A future ace, Martinez showed the toughness of Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez under pressure last year, limiting hitters to a .181 BA with RISP, third best among NL starters.
Kevin Siegrist, Cardinals: A lefty hammer in front of closer Trevor Rosenthal, Siegrist was the NL's best with runners on (.130 BA) and tied for third (.140) with men in scoring position. He's durable, too, racking up 74 2/3 innings.
James Shields, Padres: Not being involved in a pennant race did nothing to diminish the veteran right-hander's fire. With men on second and/or third, Big Game James held hitters to a .191 BA and a .575 OPS in 212 plate appearances.
Davis, Royals: Simply the best out of the 'pen, Davis was typically dominant when it mattered most: .110 BA yielded with runners aboard, best in the AL, and .118 with RISP, fourth lowest.
Nate Karns, Rays: An under-the-radar craftsman, Karns held hitters to a .193 average with RISP and .214 with men on base in a rock-solid season.
Hector Santiago, Angels: An All-Star who faded late under the strain of a career-high 180 2/3 innings, the lefty sustained his stout work under pressure, holding hitters to a .197 average w/RISP.
Zach Duke, White Sox: In his 11th season with his sixth team, the resourceful lefty was brilliant under pressure, holding hitters to a .107 batting average and a .411 OPS with men in scoring position. Only seven of 37 inherited runners scored, making Duke popular with mound mates.