Much has been made lately of the Pirates’ issues in the area of batting with runners in scoring position. We’ve talked about it, and you’ve talked about it as if it’s really the end-all, be-all when related to anything from a “Collapsening” to if the Pirates can win the World Series.
The numbers are not good, that can’t be argued. But really, in all honesty, the fact remains that those numbers really don’t matter too much.
First and foremost, it just comes down to the Pirates being an overall good team which we belabored in the recent Pirates Prospects Podcast. On any given night, Clint Hurdle churns out a lineup card containing seven players with on-base plus slugging percentages over the league average (via the OPS+).
Which again makes it so odd that the Pirates continue to struggle with runners on, but as Tim Williams writes, there’s no way to fix it easily. Players basically just have to regress (which could be a good thing for the Pirates in this instance) to their career numbers as time passes.
But the Pirates have still won 74 games, and scored eight runs last night against a San Diego team that has not only had Pittsburgh’s number the past few seasons, but also its home address and social security number. Plus, the Pirates also lead the National League’s toughest division by two games.
As a team, Pittsburgh is hitting .222 with a .638 OPS with runners on second and/or third. What is most concerning is the team’s RC+ of 74 which means the Pirates are well below the league average when it comes to creating runs with Bucs on the pond.
So far this season, the Pirates’ best hitters have been the players hitting best. Makes sense, right?
- Pedro Alvarez: 156 Plate Appearances, .244 Average/.327 OBP/.764 OPS, 105 RC+
- Andrew McCutchen: 154 PA, .283/.383/.761, 100 RC+
Beyond the Pirates’ third and fourth hitters though, it gets a little rough after Jordy Mercer’s numbers.
- Mercer: 69 PA, .273/.397/.743, 100 RC+
- Jose Tabata: 57 PA, .240/.296/.676, 91 RC+
- Starling Marte: 88 PA, .234/.310/.661, 83 RC+
- Gaby Sanchez: 92 PA, .211/.337/.661, 87 RC+
- Travis Snider: 62 PA, .222/.323/.656, 75 RC+
- Neil Walker: 108 PA, .207.333/.632, 77 RC+
- Russell Martin: 111 PA, .217/.351/.634, 85 RC+
- Garrett Jones: 98 PA, .198/.255/.546, 50 RC+
There are some decently encouraging signs out of these areas. Players like Jordy Mercer, Gaby Sanchez, and Neil Walker have good to great on-base numbers but most of those do derive from a heavy amount of walks drawn, as evidence by Sanchez’s .211 average and Walker’s .207 clip.
What is more encouraging, though, is how the Pirates are performing when the game is on the line as evidenced by the Leverage Index.
In the podcast, we once again ensure it’s clear the existence of a “clutch” player does not in fact exist. It’s a matter of perception.
For example: do you think more people know Michael McKenry for hitting a home run late in a game against Cincinnati earlier this season, or for his .217 batting average? Better yet, look no further than Russell Martin’s four walk-off hits, which overshadow his .248 average on the season.
Instead of looking at if a player is ‘clutch’ or not, look at what he does in the game’s most important situations.
Essentially, Leverage Index is a way to show what situations in games are more important than others. Hitting with a runner on second and two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game has more meaning associated with it in determining a game’s outcome compared to hitting in the same situation in the second inning of a scoreless game.
In these ‘suspenseful’ situations, the Pirates have been faring pretty well especially in ‘high leverage’ situations. As a team, the Pirates hit .255 with an .OPS of .717. with a 96 RC+.
Five players own RC+ ratings well over the league average.
- Marte: 53 PA, .381/.458/1.125, 212 RC+
- Travis Snider: 34 PA, .355/.412/1.089, 196 RC+
- Martin: 62 PA, .300/.426/.906, 157 RC+
- McCutchen: 78 PA, .328/.462/.910, 135 RC+
- Walker: 56 PA, .365/.382/.786, 117 RC+
Of course, the Pirates still have some players dragging down their numbers in the department.
- Alvarez: 77 PA, .214/.273/.658, 79 RC+
- Jones: 40 PA, .216/.225/.549, 44 RC+
- G. Sanchez: 48 PA, .147/.375/.522, 70 RC+
- Tabata: 26 PA, .182/.250/.432, 26 RC+
- Mercer: 33 PA, .154/.258/.412, 24 RC+
So some of those numbers are pretty atrocious, especially those RC+ numbers in the 20’s compiled by Tabata and Mercer. At the same time, it’s fair to chalk some of these numbers up to late-game match-ups when Alvarez and Jones face left-handers and Sanchez and Mercer face right-handers. Interesting enough, Alvarez’s .658 OPS more closely resembles his overall .588 mark against left-handed pitching versus the .835 clip he’s posted against righties.
Yes, the sample sizes are small. No Pirate has more plate appearances in high leverage situations than McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, who have batted 78 and 77 times respectively in those instances. But these numbers are worlds better than the team’s average numbers with runners in scoring position.
But overall, these numbers are a huge improvement in an area that correlates to more success after nine innings over the whole runners in scoring position phenomenon. And, the Pirates are hitting better in high leverage situations than any others as their overall line sits at .255/.337/.717 and a 96 RC+ that ranks 12th in the majors.