The Great Debate – Runners In Scoring Position

Rangers
It never fails. After every Rangers loss, fans, bloggers, and media members alike are on their soapbox attributing the Rangers loss directly to their failure to hit with men in scoring position. If the Rangers win, we hear nothing about it, even if they put up an 0-fer with guys in scoring position. For some reason, too many people like to correlate success in baseball with how good a team hits with runners in scoring position.

I find it maddening.

Don’t get me wrong, there is something to be said about teams that waste those opportunities. You never want to waste those chances, especially those that consist of a runner on 2nd and no outs or a runner on 3rd and no outs. However, as a friend of mine once told me, hitting with runners in scoring position is not repeatable, predictable, nor is it sustainable.

Basically, the stat should not be used to determine how well or how poorly a team plays on a day to day basis. There are so many factors that go into it other than the obvious big hit.

First of all, you have to be able to get on base, whether that is via the walk, hit by pitch, error or base hit. Then you have to be able to get into scoring position. Again, either by an extra base hit, error, balk, passed ball, wild pitch, fielder’s choice, sacrifice bunt or a sacrifice fly.

For the purpose of this article, we are going to attempt to keep it simple and not dwell on how the runners got themselves into scoring position. Instead, we are going to look at how teams performed in this situation and whether or not that translated into season success.

Don’t worry, if you aren’t savvy in advanced stats, I will do my best to break down as simple as I possibly can so that the fans that haven’t had a chance to learn advanced stats yet, can understand the situation just as well as those who are well versed in advanced stats.

The Problem

How do the Rangers leave so many men on base to begin with? They hit the ball, (maybe not so much this year) it’s really that simple. The more hits you have, the more chances you have to leave men on base. It’s a very simple argument really. It’s the same type of argument I use when people tell me that Derek Jeter is a better shortstop than Elvis Andrus. Elvis has way more range than Jeter ever dreamed of and because of that he gets to more balls, thus giving him more chances to throw runners out and more chances to make errors.

The Rangers averaged about 1.06 hits per inning and 4.96 runs per game in 2012. That means on average that the Rangers got a hit in every inning and scored in about half of those on a per game basis. Remember, that’s just how it all averages out, if they get four hits in one inning and score three runs in that inning but then get one hit in four separate innings but score no runs, then it’s still the same thing.

If Adrian Beltre hits a double with one out in the inning, the team has met their average quota for hits in an inning. The averages say that Beltre will be stranded at second base. Then Beltre could hit a double with two outs in the inning and the Rangers will erupt for four runs. It happens, that’s how baseball works. That’s the effect that the law of averages has on the game.

It is my belief that I could end the article after those two paragraphs. That, to me, debunks the argument in a nutshell. It’s all about the law of averages in baseball, it’s about trends, and it’s about who’s hot at the right time. However, for the sake of argument, and this article, let’s keep going.

Let’s take a quick look at how the Rangers as a team have performed over the last few years with runners in scoring position and see if we can come to a conclusion.

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Looking at 2010-2012 it’s pretty obvious that the Texas offense was a juggernaut. The hit the ball, they got on base, and they capitalized on their RISP situations. However, as you can tell, they did just as well, if not better in 2012 as they did in 2010 but the results was drastically different. We all know they made the World Series in 2012 and got beat in the Wild Card Play-In Game in 2012, despite being virtually the same on the offensive side.

We won’t talk about 2011, a year in which I believe they were far and away the best team in baseball.

So now what about 2013 you ask? They finished five games behind Oakland (if you don’t count Game 163) but what you probably don’t realize is that Oakland, despite having a RISP batting average .019 points higher than Texas, only scored four more runs on 13 more hits in that same situation. Four more runs MIGHT get you one more win on the season. That would still put Texas four games back despite scoring just as many runs with RISP.

Remember you can get a hit with a RISP and not score. You can go 2-2 in an inning with RISP and score zero runs. There are many contributing factors to this statistic which is why it should be used with extreme caution, if it’s used at all.

Look a little further though, the Rangers led the league in hits each of the two years they went to the World Series. In 2010, the Giants blew the Rangers away and were nearly 30 points worse than Texas with RISP. In 2011, Texas again, for all intents and purposes, led the league in hits and again they lost the World Series. In 2012 they were third in the league in hits and still only made the postseason as the Wild Card team and was one and done.

In 2013, four of the top ten hitting teams with runners in scoring position did not make the playoffs- those teams being Colorado, Kansas City, Baltimore and the LA Angels.

Cincinnati, LA Dodgers, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh all made the playoffs but finished 15th, 17th, 18th, and 27th in the league respectively.

In 2012, six of the top ten hitting teams with runners in scoring position did not make the playoffs- those teams being Colorado, LA Angels, Milwaukee, Boston, Minnesota and Arizona.

San Francisco, Washington, Baltimore, New York Yankees, Cincinnati, and Atlanta, who all made the playoffs, finished 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 21st and 29th respectively. Atlanta made the playoffs while finishing 29th in the league?!

In 2011, four of the top ten did not make the playoffs – those teams being Boston, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Oakland.

Milwaukee, Arizona, and Tampa Bay finished 14th, 15th and 16th respectively.

In 2010, six of the top ten did not make the playoffs – those teams being White Sox, Boston, St. Louis, Colorado, Kansas City and Arizona.

Atlanta, Philadelphia, and San Francisco finished 12th, 14th, and 24th respectively. Oh wait, the Giants finished 24th this year with a .248 average? Didn’t they win the World Series? The Yankees for what it’s worth finished 16th.

It’s safe to say that we cannot directly associate hitting with runners in scoring position to how a team performs. Some teams can win by being poor in that situation, and some teams cannot even sniff October even though they statistically were the best in the league at maximizing their opportunities. I understand that there are several contributing factors to a team making or missing the playoffs including pitching and defense. That would be another article for another day.

I am not saying with 100% certainty that if your team fails to hit with runners in scoring position that they are doomed to miss the playoffs, and I also cannot say that if your team performs extremely well with runners in scoring position that they will make the playoffs. What I am saying is that the stat alone is a crapshoot way to measure to a team’s success. The two are not directly correlated and should not be used when evaluating a team’s overall success.

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Billy Casey
Billy is a baseball fanatic and has been around the game since he was four years old. The first ever game he attended was in September of '89 and Pete Incaviglia denied him an autograph after he had a bad batting practice session. Billy has held a grudge since. Billy is also a baseball coach who is known to dance around the dugout like Ron Washington during big plays in the game.

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