Are The A’s More Clutch Than The Rangers?
If you have been following me or have read any of my previous work from other sites, you would know how I feel about clutch and the importance of hitting with runners in scoring position. A quick summary is I do not really buy into the concept of clutch, and hitting with runners in scoring position is not predictable nor repeatable. Instead, I prefer to attribute success in high leverage situations to overall hitting ability, and a little pure dumb luck. Hitting with runners in scoring position is fairly comparable to the statistic BABIP.
There are however ways to be more successful in high leverage situations. The hitters who tend to walk more often, and strike out less will succeed more in high leverage. Makes sense right? The more you make contact and walk, the more balls find holes and less outs are created on the base paths. Some of the more successful clutch hitters according to Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus clutch ratings are Nellie Fox, Mark Grace, and Tony Gwynn, players who did not strike out much and made contact. Players perceived to often collect timely hits such as Mike Schmidt, Frank Robinson, and Jim Thome graded poorly because they struck out a lot.
One of the more common complaints about the Rangers from writers and fans alike is the fact they can never seem to hit well with runners in scoring position or collect a “clutch” hit when needed. The Rangers are currently 8th in MLB in runs scored, but do not worry about that right now. I often hear of how successful Oakland is in the clutch and the fact they are using some type of sorcery to win baseball games. So, I decided to look at both teams hitting in high leverage and with runners in scoring position and see if there is a discernible difference.
When comparing the team’s overall hitting, there is not much difference. As a team, Oakland does walk often at a 19.1% clip, but they strike out 9.2% of the time. Texas walks less at 17.1%, but does not strike out as often with a 7.5% strikeout rate. Oakland’s overall slash line is .252/.325/.413, while the Rangers have a slash of .263/.324/.415. Again, not much difference. Oakland has scored 682 runs, which is 25 more than Texas, but the A’s scored 26 runs in two games against a poor Minnesota team between the Rangers last out Wednesday and prior to last night.
I decided to look at both team’s hitting with RISP, and a few numbers caught my eye. The Rangers slash with RISP is .252/.325/.378, which is not far off from the big league average of .256/.337/.389. Texas is striking out 15.7% of the time, but only walking 9.2% of their plate appearances, with runners on base with only 84 extra base hits. Oakland’s slash with RISP is .265/.351/.411 with a 17.6% strikeout and 12% walk rate. They have a .300 BABIP compared to Texas .277. Not only is Oakland walking more, but they are hitting for more power as the 33 point advantage in slugging suggests.
Finally, I compared Oakland and Texas in high leverage situations, or some of you might prefer to this as a gear in a manual transmission automobile. Oakland walks slightly more at 8.9% to 8.4%, but strikes out more often at 20.6% to 17%. You will begin to see the most obvious advantage in the team’s slash lines. Texas wields a .249/.319/.380, while Oakland has generated a .259/.326/.434 slash. Yes, Oakland has a huge 54 point advantage in slugging in high leverage situations, and the A’s .434 slugging percentage is .44 points higher than league average. They have 90 extra base hits compared to Texas’s 71. Oakland’s BABIP is also 22 points higher than the Rangers (.299 to .277).
While Oakland is striking out more often than Texas in high leverage, they are walking more and seeing more pitches. The A’s are working counts into their advantage, and crushing the mistakes, which creates runs. What makes Oakland’s sizable slugging advantage even more impressive is the fact they play their the majority of their games in a pitcher’s park, while the Rangers play in a supposed hitter’s haven. This is why working counts and forcing the pitcher into a disadvantage in the count is very critical, something the Rangers do not do as often, especially when AJ Pierzynski is at the dish.
Texas seems to be doing a decent job of making contact, but their .277 BABIP in high leverage and with RISP suggests some of the failure is due to just bad luck. However, the Rangers weakness in slugging percentage in high leverage makes sense considering they have received very little in production from left field, first base, and designated hitter the majority of the season.
I do not want the reader to determine the Rangers offense is not productive based on what is 1/5 of the team’s overall plate appearances in 2013. Hitting with runners in scoring position and high leverage situations are often seen as being very important, but they are actually no more than a small sampling of events in your season. The Pittsburgh Pirates have actually hit a putrid .227 with RISP in 2013. The goal in baseball is to prevent runs, and score more runs than your opponent, which the Rangers do quite well.
What should be taken from this piece is Oakland has succeeded in high leverage because they have hitters who have the tendency to work advantages in pitch counts and walk, while the Rangers have had hitters do the opposite and not square up as many pitches. Based on the fact Texas has experienced some bad luck BABIP with RISP and in high leverage, this weakness could just as easily be a strength of the team next year.