When the Pirates made the switch to focus on OBP over power, one debate I was not looking forward to having was the classic “The Pirates are bad with runners in scoring position” argument. And it only took until the second series of the year for that to really break through.
There was no talk about runners in scoring position (RISP) the first four games of the year, when the Pirates started 4-0 on the season. You only heard it after their weekend against the Reds, and especially on Sunday, when they left 14 guys on base and lost by one run.
The RISP argument always comes around in the same form, with the idea that it’s a skill. It’s not.
Different players are used each year to prove that RISP is a skill, and something where the Pirates can improve. Allen Craig was that guy in 2013, when he hit .454 with RISP. He was called “clutch”, because his numbers in that scenario were much better than his season average of .315. But there was no explanation as to why he suddenly wasn’t “clutch” in those situations the following two years.
Starling Marte was one of the Pirates who wasn’t “clutch” and couldn’t hit with RISP in 2013, with a .238 average in that scenario. That continued in 2014, with a .243 average. And yet, last year Marte had a .294 average with RISP. Marte has been pretty consistent in the .280-.290 range overall during those years. So did he suddenly become “clutch”?
The reality is that batting averages can fluctuate greatly from year to year. So when you’ve got a small sample size stat like RISP, you’re going to see massive fluctuations. You’re going to see huge seasons from some players, and it’s just a reflection of how they performed that season, rather than a representation of a skill. You want to attach a reason and a skill to the numbers, but then you get into the process of trying to guess what is going on in a player’s head. From my experience, that always leads to an over-exaggeration that makes the player seem like Brave Sir Robin.
If a team wants to be good at hitting with RISP, then they need good hitters. It’s as simple as that. We’re still only a week into the season, but right now the Pirates look like they will be a good hitting team. And that will translate to every situational stat, even RISP.
You’ll have those games when the team leaves a full lineup or more on base, and loses by a run. That’s baseball. The better hitting teams have fewer of them, but they still have them. One night after that performance, the Pirates went 6-for-15 with RISP. They currently lead the majors in average (.312) and OBP (.401).
While the Pirates might not be this good all year, there’s no reason to look at the players on this team and question whether they’re a good hitting group. The 2015 team wasn’t even bad at RISP, ranking 7th in the majors. That’s not a surprise, since they had the 9th best average overall in the majors. Over the off-season, they upgraded the offense to get much better hitters for average, and guys who would get on base more often. They’re a stronger hitting team this year, and that hitting will extend to situations with RISP more often than not.
The Reds series was frustrating. But the takeaway from that series, and that game on Sunday, was that it’s just the way baseball goes sometimes. It’s not a sign or anything predictive of how bad the Pirates are at RISP, but a sign that over 162 games, you’re going to have really bad nights. You’re also going to have some really good nights, and I think that’s what we’ll see more of this season from the Pirates’ offense.
**Prospect Watch: Mitch Keller Puts on an Impressive Show in West Virginia Debut. Great outing from Keller tonight, and John Dreker broke it down after watching it. It was amusing getting reactions from John all night after seeing Keller for the first time. He’s definitely a guy you can get excited about when thinking about his upside.
**Pirates Release John Holdzkom. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to bring him back, as the only reason they released him was due to the rule book.
**Trevor Williams Confirms No Structural Damage to His Shoulder. Good news for Williams, as Ryan Palencer reports there is no structural damage after he left Sunday’s game.
**Top Performers: Newman, Kramer, Hayes, McGuire, Polo, Glasnow, Waddell. Reports from week one in the farm system, with live reports from Altoona and Bradenton, and 18 prospect reports total.
**Morning Report: A Crowded Lineup in Bradenton. John Dreker breaks down how there are too many interesting prospects in Bradenton, leading to some guys not getting a lot of time so far.
**Pirates Are Challenging Their Speedy Outfielders With Shallow Positioning. A look at the new approach the Pirates are taking with their outfielders this year, playing them shallow, rather than the deep approach from previous years.
**Jon Niese Has a Home Run Problem. Wrote this on Saturday, and it held up today, as Niese gave up two more home runs in six innings of work.