The quantification of clutch hitting has bamboozled the statistic community for years. Some players just are clutch and numbers can’t explain why. Whatever DNA strand the clutch gene exists in, Justin Turner certainly has it.

Amid a Blue Jays batting order that’s struggling once again to hit in big spots, Turner is the exception. The 39-year-old DH has brought a lot to the Toronto lineup, but nothing is more important than his ability to come up clutch.

For a second season in a row, the Blue Jays have come out of the gate collectively anemic in big spots. In the first half of last season, the Jays hit a combined .246 with runners in scoring position — good for 23rd in MLB. This year, they’re hitting .204 with RISP — third-worst.

Turner is one of the few exceptions. He, IKF, and Cavan Biggio are the only regular Blue Jays with an OPS over .700 with runners in scoring position this year. Most of Toronto’s everyday bats are hitting .250 or worse in those situations. To kick off the 2024 season, Turner is hitting .333 with RISP and has driven in eight runs in 20 plate appearances in those spots.

“I think right now we need him, for sure,” shortstop Bo Bichette said in an interview. “He’s helping stabilize some things when we really need it. He’s being that veteran that is sticking to who he is, despite maybe people struggling around him. You always need somebody like that in times like this.”

The veteran’s success in big spots to start the season is nothing new. For his career, Turner is a .312 hitter with an .892 OPS with runners in scoring position. That’s 15% higher than his OPS in all situations. He somehow has a higher OPS in high-leverage situations than medium or low. When the lights get bright, the red-bearded slugger steps up.

“When you’re driving in 100 runs pretty consistently over the course of your career, you have a pretty good idea what you’re doing,” manager John Schneider said.

For Turner, hitting in the big spots is a lot easier than it used to be, he said. The 16-year MLB vet has 1461 plate appearances with runners in scoring position to his name. That’s more than Danny Jansen’s total plate appearances in his entire career.

When you ask the former Dodger, success with runners on is about mitigating the worst-case scenarios. Before every plate appearance, Turner “sets an achievable goal,” he said. With runners on, that goal is usually pretty simple. Many on second, no outs? Get the guy to third. Man on third, one out? Cash him.

“When he gets up there with guys on base, he just goes into that situation mode,” Schneider said.

Within those attainable goals come Turner’s more micro approach. Take, for example, the man on second no outs scenario. Turner’s goal (and any other batter’s), is to move the guy to third base, at the very last. A hit is an easy way to do that, but a ground ball to the right side of the field does just fine. So, he’s looking for a pitch he can push the other way — likely something on the outside half of the plate. If it finds a hole, great. If it’s an out, the AB was still productive.

“It’s about slowing the game down and getting something that I can handle,” Turner said. “To where even if I make an out it’s still a win because I got the guy to third base.”

But, it’s not like every other hitter all the way down to little-league knows that’s what they’re supposed to do in that situation. The difference between Turner and the rest is execution. Since Turner broke out back in 2014, he has the fifth-highest batting average in MLB with runners in scoring position. He sits behind only Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, Charlie Blackmon, and Nolan Arenado. He’s ahead of multiple MVPs. Turner just has that unquantifiable clutch.

The 39-year-old talks opening in the Blue Jays clubhouse about the value of controlling your heart rate and breathing in the box, Schneider said. You can see it every time Turner calmly steps into the box with a man on third base ahead of him. The moments don’t rattle him. He’s seen them 1,000 times before. He’s been in the World Series. He’s won an NLCS MVP.

Whatever clutch is, Justin Turner has it. And for a Blue Jays lineup that’s seemingly lacked it over the last two years, it’s a welcome addition.

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