‘He yearns for that’: Nico Hoerner thriving in clutch situations for Cubs
The word “clutch” is thrown around often in sports but it’s nearly impossible to accurately define.
Michael Jordan was clutch. David Ortiz was clutch — especially during the 2004 Red Sox run.
But what makes a player clutch? Why does one guy succeed in big moments when others fail?
In the Cubs’ case, it’s simple to determine why their most clutch player steps up when his team needs him the most: he wants the big moment.
Nico Hoerner drove in a pair of runs in Saturday’s victory over the Orioles on a 2-out double.
NICOOOOOO! pic.twitter.com/ODI8D4Rc7d— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) June 17, 2023
That hit gave Hoerner a .364 batting average with runners in scoring position and 2 outs since 2019 — which is just a percentage point off the MLB lead in that span:
Nico Hoerner is amongst some pretty strong company. pic.twitter.com/n4lITeCqdn— Andy Martínez (@amartinez_11) June 17, 2023
It proved to be a pivotal moment in the Cubs’ 3-2 victory, their 5th in a row.
Hoerner has succeeded in clutch situations throughout his career — which began in late 2019.
He is hitting .332 with an .852 OPS with runners in scoring position as a big leaguer. In high leverage moments, he sports a .314 average and .809 OPS.
And this season, Hoerner is hitting .339 with runners in scoring position and .344 in late-and-close situations.
“He wants the moment,” David Ross said. “He yearns for that. He wants to be that guy. He prepares that way. I think that’s exciting to him — that’s fun for him.
“He loves baseball in that way. So it’s a lot about just how he’s wired and built that makes a lot of sense.”
Hoerner is tied for the team lead with 33 RBI despite a stint on the IL and spending much of the season in the leadoff spot.
More recently, Ross has bumped Hoerner down to the 2-spot in the order with Mike Tauchman performing well atop the lineup.
After he put together the most complete season of his career in 2022, Hoerner shifted over to second base with the arrival of Dansby Swanson this year. He has played Gold Glove-caliber defense while hitting .288 and leading the team in stolen bases (16), runs (39) and hits (75) in addition to RBI.
“He learns every day,” Ross said. “What’s great about him is he’s trying to get better and he knows his game has a next level. He was talking about that in Spring Training — he feels like he’s got another level to his game than we’ve even seen and he’s been able to put out there.”
Hoerner just turned 26 in May and signed an extension in spring that will keep him in a Cubs uniform through at least the 2026 season.
After stealing a career-high 20 bases last year, Hoerner was off and running to start 2023 with the new rules, swiping 12 bags through May 6. He then suffered a hamstring and landed on the IL but Ross has definitely seen Hoerner’s baserunning and basestealing instincts take another step this season.
“His approach and game awareness and what he’s trying to do — the little details in his game have definitely improved,” Ross said. “He’s a learned and he soaks it all in.”
When Hoerner made his debut in 2019, Ross was working as a special assistant in the Cubs front office. He took over as manager that fall but he wishes he would have been able to share the dugout with Hoerner in a different capacity.
“I wish I would’ve gotten to play with him,” Ross said. “Seeing him play a little bit but not really knowing as much as I know now and how good he is at just the baseball IQ side of things and his instincts to want to be in those [clutch] moments or want to learn.
“He’ll come in and sometimes just talk baseball with me in the middle of the game. It’s so great. I wish I just had more time to devote to that sometimes with him. It’s fun. I wish I was next to him on the bench more.”