Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Minnesota Twins are clutch!

Yeah, yeah, I don't believe in clutch hitting, either. But still...the Twins are 9th in the AL (out of 14 teams) in OBP, 10th in SLG% and yet they're fourth in runs scored! Fourth! Yeah, they've stolen a lot of bases (42, 4th) at a good success rate (75%), but that's still less than one SB per game. And their batting average is third in the league, which is testament largely to their "hack first and slap it to the other field" mentality (12th in walks, 13th in HR) than anything else. So, what gives?

The answers can be found here and here.

The first link takes you to the batting splits for the AL this year. Do a search for "RISP" (that's Runners in Scoring Position, FYI, which means runners on second and/or third) to go down to the "Bases Occupied" portion of the link. You'll see that the AL, as a whole, posts the following numbers (Avg/OBP/SLG):

Bases empty: .250/.314/.385
Men on: .271/.347/.412
RISP: .266/.354/.407

That's to be expected. Teams hit better with runners on base, the argument being that pitchers are working out of the stretch instead of the windup. If they were better out of the stretch, they'd use it all the time (which brings me to the question of why pitchers work out of the windup in obvious non-steal situations, like bases loaded or a very slow runner on first).

Now, look at the second link. That takes you to the Twins' batting splits for 2008, where you find the following numbers:

Bases empty: .255/.302/.366
Men on: .282/.351/.399
RISP: .311/.387/.458

Like, whoah. The OPS of the league with runners in scoring position is .761, but the Twins are hitting a robust .845. This is one case where the Twins' "swing first" philosophy might actually be paying off. Walks and strikeouts don't typically score runners from second or third, but singles and high batting averages do, although the team does have 50 unintentional walks in 555 PA with RISP.

On the other side of the coin, you have the Atlanta Braves. A friend of mine, a Braves fan, has been at a loss to understand why the team, which has outscored its opponents 258 to 204, is only three games over .500. The Braves are 2nd in batting average in the NL (out of 16), 3rd in OBP, and 5th in SLG%, but only 8th in runs scored.

Here are the NL batting splits for 2008:

Bases empty: .256/.321/.408
Men on: .265/.347/.413
RISP: .260/.354/.398

And for the Braves:

Bases empty: .289/.351/.434 (good)
Men on: .267/.351/.409
RISP: .265/.352/.393

In truth, the Braves are about even with the rest of the league when it comes to averages with men on base overall and RISP. But look at those numbers with the bases empty! The league OPS with men on is 31 points higher than with the bases empty. The Braves, on the other hand, bat 25 points lower. If they could hit like that with men on base, they'd look like the '27 Yankees. (Random point: If the Yankees are good in 19 years, will we need to distinguish between the two "'27 Yankees" teams?)

In all likelihood, the Twins will come down from their lofty RISP numbers and the Braves will either improve theirs or their hitting with the bases empty will come down (Chipper Jones notwithstanding). Some might attribute this to "great (or poor) clutch hitting," but I have a hard time believing that an entire team can be this good (or this bad) over 50+ games. A few hitters, over a short period of time? Maybe. But not entire teams for a third of the season.

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