Rationalizing the Value of RISP Issues

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+.

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen has a 135 wRC+ in high leverage situations. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

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.

Nate Barnes

Author: Nate Barnes

Nate covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects, and is an English Writing major at the University of Pittsburgh and is the Sports Editor of The Pitt News. Nate has covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report, and covered Pitt Men's Basketball, Duquesne Men's Basketball, and Pitt Baseball beats prior to this summer. You can find Nate on Twitter @NateBarnes_TPN where he'll keep you updated on each and every time Clint Barmes breaks up a no-hit bid with one-out in the third inning of ballgames.

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  • Cato the Elder

    “Much has been made lately of the Pirates’ issues in the area of batting with runners in scoring position. We’ve talked about it…you’ve talked about it…”

    Here’s an idea: How ’bout we stop talking about it. [Fullstop]

  • leadoff

    The Pirates are not a specialty type organization, they don’t have specialists, they are a general team sort of good at most situations and not great at a lot of situations, something like most teams. They don’t have a left hander just to come in and get one left handed hitter out, don’t have a special bench pinch hit player to call on with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 9th and I don’t think that specialist player will ever happen with current management, this is a philosophy thing I think with them, every player on the roster has to be able to do more than one thing or pitch more than one inning, like I said what we have is a team full of general practitioners.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

    a bit off topic, maybe, but David DeJesus has apparently been claimed off waivers. According to MLBTR, the claiming team is NOT Atlanta. Call me crazy, but among NL playoff teams, who else but the Pirates would be the mystery claimant?

    • IC Bob

      I bet he shows up in SF. Would be a upgrade for sure. It would be interesting to see how he performs in a pennant race since he has never been in one.

      • IC Bob

        Wow Dejesus is good enough to play for the Rays but not the Bucs. If I didn’t know any better I would think we are trying to lose. I will however try to believe we are on the verge of picking up someone substantially better the Dejesus.

  • johndw28

    I am reading it’s the Rays who signed Dejusus.

  • MattInMD

    Am I the only one who interprets “Leverage Index”, “high leverage situation” and the like and as “Bill Jamesian way of discussing ‘clutch’, but since that crowd argues there is no such thing (as clutch) they can’t call it that”?

    • Andrew

      I would say generally your interpretation is correct, but it’s not the clutch doesn’t exist (Fangraphs tracks it) it is that “clutch has no predictive value no matter how you define it. Good hitters generally hit well in all situations, the idea that a hitter will hit consistently 40-50 points above/below their overall average in particular situations is not found in the data.

      • MattInMD

        “…the idea that a hitter will hit consistently 40-50 points above/below their overall average in particular situations is not found in the data.”

        They’re not looking at this year’s Pirates are they?

        • Andrew

          100 ABs is not enough data to reliability assess a player, that is around a month of ABs. Batting average does not stabilized until 900 ABs.

          • MattInMD

            I did refer to the team, which has over 1000 AB’s and over 1200 PA’s w/ RISP this season.

            And BA doesn’t stabilize until 900 AB’s? That far exceeds the record for most AB’s in a season, let alone what most players get. Why bother with any seasonal statistics then? :-p

  • https://www.facebook.com/roger.huffmanii Roger Huffman II

    There are so many parts of this article that I want to crush but I am just beyond flabbergasted by the absurdity of the entire thing. I am now dumber for reading this article. This maybe the most laughable, silliest, short-sided opinion ever published on this site. Wow is all I can say.

  • Gabriel Jones

    “The numbers are not good, that can’t be argued.”

    You should have stopped your article there because the rest of this is beyond anything intelligent. You guys need to seriously stop trying to explaining this with stats or, as my twitter friend Tim Williams calls it, luck.

    There is an aspect of baseball that is more than stats. Is more than sabermetrics garbage. There is a HUGE aspect of baseball that is MENTAL.

    Lebron James is the best player in the NBA. So how do you explain how he played in the NBA finals (until recently). Was he just unlucky? Was there some odd sabermetric stat that we just hadn’t uncovered?? No! It was a mental thing!!!!!

    Ban me. Go ahead.