Runners in scoring position stats useful but not complete
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media September 23, 2013 9:38PM
Cubs outfielder Ryan Sweeny chats with Sox first baseman Paul Konerko during batting pratcice before the Chicago Cubs 7-0 win over the Chicago White Sox Monday, Memorial Day, May 27, 2013 at US Cellular Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: October 25, 2013 6:16AM
Games can turn on how
batters perform with
runners in scoring position, but RISP as a measure of clutch performance is incomplete at best.
A batter who draws a bases-empty walk to put the tying or winning run on base in the bottom of the ninth inning has made a clutch play, but it doesn’t show up in any RISP statistics. And to go to the extreme, a batter who slugs a walk-off home run with no one on base or a runner only on first wins the game but gets no credit on his RISP stats.
Analyst Tom Tango, who with Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin wrote The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, charted his Leverage Index, comparing how big an impact each situation has on team win expectancy. You can find the chart at http://www.insidethebook.com/li.shtml.
The highest-leverage situations are highlighted in red, and the earliest situation in the red zone comes with the bases
loaded, two outs and a batter’s team ahead by one run in the top of the second. That rates at 3.0 on the LI, a scale that maxes out at 10.9 with the bases loaded, two outs and the home team trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth.
How hitters perform in LI situations is among the splits listed for each hitter at Baseball-Reference.com.
There’s a section labeled ‘‘Leverage,’’ which breaks down each player’s performance by high-, medium- and low-leverage situations.
Take Paul Konerko. The longtime White Sox favorite has had a tough season, with a .248 batting average, .318 on-base percentage and .357 slugging percentage for a .675 OPS. In the high-leverage situations that mean the most to win expectancy, he has been a bit better (.264/.352/.340/.692).
A wily veteran who raises his game in the situations that matter most? No, more a matter of small sample size with a dash of chance. Konerko has only 125 high-leverage plate appearances this season. With samples that small, a few extra hits or a few extra outs lead to big changes in the averages.
In the five years starting in 2008, Konerko put up OPSes of .783, .842, .977, .906 and .857. In high-leverage situations, his OPSes were .815, .827, .970, .809 and .847. His 2008 OPS was 32 points better in the most important situation and his 2011 OPS 97 points lower. The others are all close calls of 15 percentage points or fewer.
That’s normal. Hitters who consistently perform far above or far below their norms when the game is on the line are exceedingly rare. RISP and high-leverage statistics are useful in evaluating what has happened, but they aren’t good indicators of what is likely to come. For purposes of roster-building, overall numbers are much better indicators of future clutch performance than the clutch numbers themselves.