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Death to Runners in Scoring Position Batting Averages

Jul 22, 2013, 3:51 PM EDT

Joey Votto AP

Matt Snyder of CBS Sports.com addresses one of my biggest annoyances: announcers who spend tons of time talking about how the team they’re covering hits with runners in scoring position. Hit even harder: batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position. The target of his ire was Reds announcer Thom Brennaman, who mentioned this stat with respect to Joey Votto a lot. Read the column for some good stuff about how there’s a subtle — or sometimes not-so-subtle — criticism of player character and clutch-a-bility and all of that when it comes to RISP stats.

I get annoyed when hear this from announcers too. It’s right up there with their fetish for hitters which go the other way. You never hear about hitters who pull the ball with extreme effectiveness. You rarely hear about guys simply being great hitters, full stop.  That opposite-field hitting an RISP stuff is basically an announcer say “listen as I analyze the hell out of this game for you.”

Not that it’s entirely useless. It’s just misused. RISP numbers are things that actually happen in the world. And when used as an explanation for what happens in the past tense, fine, it does tell us that a team or player missed out on some opportunities. But it doesn’t have predictive value. It doesn’t speak to ability at all, actually. Just chance and stuff happening.  If the broadcaster can walk that fine line, great. But it’s so rare that they can.

  1. scouter2012 - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    You know what really grinds my gears…?!

    • paperlions - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      I live in eastern CT, have a good friend that uses “that really grinds my/his/her/their gears” all the time, and he has never before watched Family Guy. Seeing locals in their native habitat is fantastic when they rise to the occasion.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:36 PM

        I once knew a Russian couple named Boris and Natasha. That never, ever got old for me.

      • paperlions - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:38 PM

        Man, you are so lucky. That is fantastic.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:53 PM

        My brother’s in-laws have the same names as my parents!

      • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:14 PM

        Your friend is the lucky one, having never seen Family Guy.

  2. heyblueyoustink - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    “Matt Snyder of CBS Sports.com addresses one of my biggest annoyances:”

    I thought this was going to be an article on Dungeon and Dragons cheaters, or male pattern baldness, or anything Upton not named Kate.

  3. louhudson23 - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    When one begins to throw up from being too full of yourself,does that make you bulimic?….in any case, might want to invest in some ASBs.

  4. koufaxmitzvah - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    That maybe well and dandy, Craig, but still no reason to advocate Sharia law. Unless you’re talking Chinese law, where it’s death for making tainted dog food (and rightly so). I think you’ve got a point in that regard.

  5. spudchukar - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    Allen Craig: Outlier.

    • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:32 PM

      I’d be thrilled if I never heard “outlier” or “tipping point” ever again. Damn you, Malcolm Gladwell.

  6. Eric Chase. - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:25 PM

    Two things stood out: seems like his issue with Votto is more a gripe about tiny sample sizes being parlayed into an actual screaming concern.

    Next, the Reds are only hitting .250 as a team. How’s Matt so sure their RISP w/2 outs will be water finding its level…

  7. bolweevils2 - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    Snyder says in his article “That points to little more than bad fortune and over the course of 162 games it has a tendency to even out.”

    No, they don’t have a tendency to even out, at least not the way he is implying. He seems to be saying bad luck in the past is a predictor of good luck in the future to even things out, but it doesn’t work that way. If you are flipping a coin 10 times, you’d expect it to come out about even. But if after 5 flips, by chance 4 of them were tails, that doesn’t increase the chance of getting heads the next 5 flips to “even out”. The remaining 5 flips are still a 50/50 proposition regardless of how the first 5 came out.

  8. spudchukar - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    Yeah Craig, that “analysis” thing is so boring… Much rather see more mascot air time. Plus, where are the visuals of the ground crew? Let’s have commercials during the inning, so we can witness them dragging the field etc.

    And why so few shots of the “babes” in the stands? Almost no conversations with the ballboys and ballgirls. And when is the last time you got a human interest story of an usher?

    Spending time exploring the “why” of baseball reeks of academic discourse. Much rather have the blithering comedic repartee between announcer and color commentator.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:41 PM

      Except the point is when you use RISP as a predictive — which it is not — it is the opposite of analysis. It is misinformation.

      • spudchukar - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        I got the point, and Allen Craig, and the St. Louis Cardinals are making mincemeat of the contention. And the small sample size caveat is withering with each passing day.

      • philsphilsphils - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:27 PM

        Well than BA is not predictive either. Let’s wipe the stats clean each day. Forget trends. Forget history. Everyone has a .000 BA on the first pitch.

    • cohnjusack - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      Umm…so you think having runners in scoring position makes Allen Craig the best hitter in baseball history?

      Here’s some perspective:

      -Allen Craig is hitting .481 with RISP in 106 PA
      -Joe McEwing was hitting .407 in his first 97 PAs in 1999

      Allen Craig is a .481 hitting with RISP just as much as Joe McEwing is a .400 hitter.

      Obviously, Craig is a fantastic hitter. But it is positively batty to assume that a .481 average with RISP isn’t largely driven by extraordinarily good luck.

      Also
      -The Cardinals last season his .264 with RISP. Did everyone just figure out how to do it this year?

      • spudchukar - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:51 PM

        Comparing apples and oranges. Lots of players have hit .400 in 100 or so PAs. Few have done what Craig has done, and this is the second consecutive year that he has blown away the competition.

        As someone who watches every inning of every Cardinal game I guarantee you if you witnessed what I do on a daily basis you wouldn’t be as cock sure of your opinion.

        As to the comparison of 2012 vs. 2013 Cards many factors should be considered. They are also hitting far fewer homers in 2013, and yet are scoring at an increased pace. And much of their success is due to a diligence to hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, and concentrating on squaring up the ball and hitting it where it is pitched. They have new elements to their line-up, have dramatically increased their OBP, and have a couple of players who are blossoming in 2013.

        Please tell me where I have ever contended that Allen Craig is even a great hitter, much less the BHBH. Get your head out of the sand. The point that should be examined is there a correlation between the styles St. Louis and Craig, as their point man, employs that contributes to their success.

      • mtr75 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:22 PM

        Aside from the fact that Allen Craig IS a .481 hitter with RISP, the part that is getting completely overlooked is that there is a clear reason why you can have an elevated batting average with RISP. What chucklehead Craig is trying to say is that there is no such thing as situational hitting. It can’t be done. He’s saying it’s not a learnable, practicable, or executable skill. His argument is that you can’t learn or practice hitting it to the right side; that you can’t learn to or practice hitting fly balls on purpose. Which is patently absurd.

        The thing he (and a lot of people) are missing is this: with runners in scoring position you can make purposeful outs that don’t count against your batting average, namely, the sacrifice. Think about this: you can go 1-for-3 with RISP and be batting .1000 with RISP. You can NOT go 1-for-3 with nobody on and be batting .1000. This is the point chucklehead Chris is missing. To say that you cannot learn and practice making sacrifices to get runners home is ridiculous.

      • mtr75 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:26 PM

        Actually I misspoke. To better explain it you can make 2 outs in 3 at-bats with RISP and be batting .1000 with RISP, something you cannot do with nobody on. If you have 3 AB’s with RISP and hit a sac fly to get one home and hit into a groundout to get another run home, and the 3rd time up with RISP you get an RBI single, you will have made 2 outs in 3 trips to the plate with RISP, and statistically be batting .1000 with RISP. It is a learnable skill, it is a practicable skill, and Craig is a chucklehead.

      • Bob Loblaw - Jul 22, 2013 at 7:38 PM

        mtr, I agree with your basic idea, but I believe your last example would mean the batter is hitting .500 with RISP. If you groundout and knock in a run, it’s still an official at bat and not a sacrifice. Right?

    • foreverchipper10 - Jul 24, 2013 at 9:00 AM

      Excuse me Bob, but where can I read your law blog?

  9. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    Nobody talks about the way these guys can can’t seem to get a rally STARTED. Sure, it’s all fine and good if someone else gets the ball rolling, but why can’t the Votto’s and Craigs ever start a rally on their own?? Just look at their terrible numbers with less than 2 outs and nobody on!

    Stop following, and LEAD!

    it cuts both ways…

    • proudlycanadian - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      Votto is in scoring position when he is at the plate. Some speedy runners are in scoring position when they are on first base. Certain players (especially catchers) are only in scoring position when they are on third base.

    • jrbdmb - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:47 PM

      And if Votto or Craig are so great with RISP, why don’t they just hit like that for every at bat? Or is there some type of magic “RISP pixie dust” that has to be saved for those special occasions when there is a runner on second or third?

      • cifey2 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:20 PM

        Swinging for the river?

      • rockymountainoysters - Jul 22, 2013 at 10:50 PM

        Is it not possible some hitters hit off pitchers in the stretch much better than the full windup?

  10. 18thstreet - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    Brennaman, Brennaman, Brennaman … well, I’m sure he earned the job on his merit on not family connections.

    • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:20 PM

      But… those pipes! And I’m sure he’d be happy to demonstrate for you.

  11. Glenn - Jul 22, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    Craig – is your title an homage to Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson?

  12. jonrox - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    The thing is, Joey Votto is actually really good with runners in scoring position. This year it’s approx .310/.470/.470 and for his career it’s even better (because he’s always a good batter). The bigger problem with Thom was he was saying Joey is bad with bases loaded because Joey is 1/6 in those situations this year. Talk about small sample sizes, and never mind that he hits .327/.383/.558 with bases loaded for his career.

    Then again, Thom is always the worst, so what do you expect. Cincinnati broadcasters are generally pretty awful when it comes to the correct use of statistics.

  13. babyfarkmcgeezax - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    All stats occur in the past, therefore it cannot be argued that one specific stat is not predictive of the future just because you are smug and want to feel superior to everyone else. Craig’s dumbassery strikes again.

    • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:41 PM

      Isn’t a lot of sabermetrics about, for example, looking at a guy’s stats in the past, and seeing which hold up in the following year? eg, if a guy’s in year 10, you look at years 1-8 and see what carried over to year 9. Do that with every past year of every player, and some patterns emerge.

  14. dacty4491 - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    Craig, being a Braves fan, must really grind his teeth, not his gears, when listening to the Braves broadcast then. Joe Simpson is always going on about hitting with runners in scoring and playing the game the right way, which means among other things, hitting the ball the other way.

  15. phillyphannn83 - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Wow, I’m amazed that so-called professional baseball writers don’t understand some of the simple nuances of the game. Your take on RISP is one that assumes no difference to the batter, aside from the fact there a RISP. This couldn’t be further from the truth. First of all, nobody on vs. RISP equals pitching from the stretch vs. pitching from the wind-up. There’s also pitch selection which changes due to the situation at hand. It also matters WHO is in scoring position, how many outs there are, what inning you’re in, are you on the road or at home, in a National League park or an American League park. There are so many factors that go into pitch selection which ultimately lends an incredible weight to the success or failure of a batter with RISP. This is why a good hitting coach and a good pitching coach are imperative to the success of your team. All in all, it just amazes me that “professionals” don’t understand these things and try to minimize the real aspects of the game that the laymen they write to don’t understand either. The thought that “either you hit the ball or don’t, is there really more to it?” is the kind of simplistic outlook on the game that belongs in the conversation being had between wives and girlfriends forced to watch a game they don’t understand, not perpetuated by supposed baseball aficionados.

    P.S. By no means was that last statement sexist. there are thousands upon thousands of women and girls out there who understand exactly what I just said and probably deserve Matt’s job more than he does if this is his take on a statistic that IS predictive, despite your support of his stance, Craig.

    • spudchukar - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      Good Luck getting traction with your opinion. You are in the unfriendly confines of sabermetricia. If it doesn’t fit the dogma, then you sir are a heretic. Rather than exploring the success of say, Allen Craig, and the St. Louis Cardinals and/or analyzing the style, philosophy, approach, and persistence that is blowing the cover off of the presumed orthodoxy.

      Careful study might reveal that the pooh-poohing of their success, has a flaw. But the randomness and small sample size are recited like a mantra. I do not know if the trend Craig and the Cards are setting is some outlier that will diminish over time. But with each passing day the caveats, excuses and disdain for their success are called into question. I’m not sure where or when the mileposts are positioned to be reached but at some point the variables you cite, and many, many more should be talked about.

      However, at present, you are wasting your breath, or at least digital exercise.

      • cohnjusack - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:39 PM

        Hey Spud,

        If the Cardinals are so great at approach and philosophy, why didn’t the do it last year? That seems strange, doesn’t it?

      • spudchukar - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:55 PM

        Craig lead the league last year. See above for similar answer to your question.

    • cohnjusack - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:38 PM

      You know Philly, there are mounds and mounds of statisical evidence proving you 100% wrong…yet you still choose to simply cite disproven anecdotes. Veeeerry pussy.

    • Bob Loblaw - Jul 22, 2013 at 7:44 PM

      SABR people think that there is a field full of robots out there. They think the 7th inning is as stressful as the 9th. They think that a guy hitting the in the bottom of the 1st with the bases loaded and a 0-0 score is just as stressed as a guy hitting with the bases loaded in game 7 of the world series bottom of the 9th down 4-3.

      That’s the biggest problem I have with the stat guys. They sometimes forget that these guys are human. Some may have maggot’s drawers when they come up with RISP. Some may concentrate better when there is nobody on base. And some just might be, dare I say it…”clutch”. LOL.

  16. sadatanuwar - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Reblogged this on uganda2040.net and commented:
    such games we have now

  17. jwbiii - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    Does anybody know where to find an RISP leaderboard? Whether being particularly good or bad in one year means that this is a repeatable skill? Sounds like some that the Elias handbooks from c. 1990 would have.

  18. jrbdmb - Jul 22, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    Perhaps someday the sabermetricians will come up with a measure of clutchiness … and at the end of the year MLB will give the annual Derek Jeter Award to the clutchiest player of the year. Because win or lose, Jeter has always been clutch personified.

    [/sarcasm]

    • km9000 - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:29 PM

      Clutchiness is like poker players who complain that they never hit a draw or win a “coin flip,” and just conveniently gloss over the times that actually do get those.

  19. batinbelfry - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    It’s well known that hitters can approach hitting in ways that increase power at the expense of BA and vice versa.

    Why is it impossible that a player could approach hitting with RISP position differently than other situations? With RISP, contact is often king.

  20. gibbyfan - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Craig —I think we could all agree that one thing about sports –and baseball in particular—is that there are stats as nauseum on every level of trivia imaginable, so why pick on this one. Isnt there something to the possible argument that having an ability to come through in a clutch is at least noteworthy. I mean we have a seemingly meaningful for metric for LOB…so would nt this be the corollary. How many times have we heard in sports –he just finds a way to win…………I mean it just doesnt seem that outrageous when put in context……….It may not be predictive buththen again–what stat really is?

  21. therealtrenches - Jul 22, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    There’s no way to say definitively makes some guys come up stronger (or smaller) when runners are in scoring position.

    Opposite field hitting is useful if you’re a righty and there’s a guy on first. That’s it.

  22. leftywildcat - Jul 22, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    Isn’t RISP BA expected to be higher than BA because sometimes the infield is pulled in — in order to increase the chances of a play at the plate?

  23. melo5812 - Jul 22, 2013 at 11:06 PM

    I completely disagree with you I think it absolutely affects batters and their approach some batters get anxious and some friend for that that’s why”clutch” players are, well clutch, percentages are just that how probable someone is to do something not just something that just “happened” I find it hard to believe the guy that write this is a true fan of baseball a d hard to take serious

  24. macjacmccoy - Jul 23, 2013 at 12:09 AM

    Wow your so wrong here. If a guy has a history of stepping his game up with runners on base then it can be used to predict his chances of doing it again. These are human beings they arent machines who operate in a vacuum. Things can get to them. Mental pressure can have a legitimate effect on a HUMAN’s abilities. Some it can make perform better and some it can make perform worse. You cant deny that fact just because it doesnt fit into your statistical notion of how the world works.

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