Did you read Andy Martino’s Sunday Inquirer article about the Phillies recent “struggles” with runners in scoring position? He made a case – using a variety of stats – as to why we should not be concerned about this supposed failure to drive in runners. I was not convinced when I read it initially and I’ve finally crystallized some of the reasons why.
The main reason I think Phillies fans are right to be frustrated – though no more frustrated than at the closer situation – is that RISP involves situational hitting and absolute numbers (i.e. specific hits that could win games). This is something averages and percentages can not convey. Here is the first example:
Through the first five months of this season (all statistics in this column cover that period), the team batted .256 with RISP, 11th in the National League and 23d in the majors. (Last year, when it won the World Series, it was an almost identical .265.)
I think .009 percentage points for a team’s batting average represents more than a negligible number of hits. In fact, at the pace the Phillies are going, they should have 1,431 hits this year – 24 more than last year. Granted, that’s not a huge number but still not one that should be underestimated. Plus, since the article was written, the Phillies are now batting .251 with RISP.
Then Chase Utley was quoted as saying:
“It is better to have runners in scoring position and not score than to not have runners in scoring position at all. The hits will come.”
I’m not one to disagree with Chase Utley, but it should be known that the Phillies lead the National League in home runs…by 30. We’re talking about driving runners in, not getting on base – they’re different things, and are certainly not mutually exclusive.
Then the idea of productive outs is considered.
The average major-leaguer makes a productive out in 32 percent of his chances; the Phillies have six players overperforming that number.
Big deal. Like the batting average with RISP, this is a percentage. There are still plenty of real opportunities where the Phillies have a chance to score runners. This is more important than just advancing them; thus a more precise statistic should be used. For instance, when there are runners in scoring position and the Phillies manage a hit, an average of 1.58 runs are scored – tops in the league. This makes the clutch hit even more important.
Therefore if people think that Phillies fans are getting too emotional in their concern about driving in runners, they are mistaken. The fact that these at bats are so intense and memorable drives home the importance of situational hits over the average hit.