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MLB by the numbers: RISP not always equal to reward

Allen Craig

Allen Craig

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The St. Louis Cardinals, especially Allen Craig, have been uncanny with runners in scoring position. Through Sunday’s games, the National League has a .252 batting average overall, nearly matched by its .251 average with runners in scoring position.

For the Cardinals, it’s a .268 BA and .328 RISP. Craig has been phenomenal, with a .454 RISP that towers above his .315 BA. That’s even better than his 2012, with a .400 RISP vs. a .307 BA.

But RISP is a descriptive stat, telling us what has been. As a predictor of things to come, it’s not so strong.

Check out a five-year BA vs. RISP run starting in 2008. Starting with hitters who had at least 75 RISP appearances that year and who remained active in 2013, I defined a top 10 of RISP-minus-BA players. By that method, Mike Lamb (.355 RISP, .235 BA, MLB-leading plus-120 RISP over BA) was excluded because 2010 was his last season, meaning he had no 2011 and 2012 seasons to add to the sample.

David DeJesus, then with the Royals, had a .419 RISP and a .307 BA, a plus-112. Others in the group were Ian Kinsler (.413, .319), Michael Cuddyer (.342, .249), Juan Uribe (.338, .247). Ryan Doumit (.407, .318), Shin-Soo Choo (.386, .309), Alexei Ramirez (.380, .290). Victor Martinez (.343, .278), David Ortiz (.336, .264) and Kevin Youkilis (.374, .312).

Only after the list was defined were stats for the next four years checked. In 2009, four of them had lower BAs than RISPs, four had higher RISPs, and two matched BA and RISP — a half-and-half, coin-flip kind of result. Only Kinsler had a RISP at least 50 points higher than BA (.304, .253), but his next three seasons he was on the negative side.

Overall, 2008’s high RISP reward guys had 39 seasons in the next four years — Martinez sat out 2012 before returning this year. Only 15 of those seasons had higher RISPs than BAs, 22 were on the minus side, and two were even. None of the 10 had more than two years with higher RISP than BA from 2009-2012. Ortiz was closest, with two positives, one negative and one even.

I also whipped up a sample from the bottom of the 2008 RISP chart. The list consisted of Endy Chavez, Ty Wigginton, Ryan Zimmerman, Franklin Gutierrez, Justin Upton, Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Ben Francisco, Adrian Beltre and Jeff Francouer, ranging from Chavez’s -100 (.167, .267) to Francouer’s -47 (.192, .239). In the next four seasons, that group turned in 18 plus seasons and 21 minuses.

Both the plus group and the minus group moved toward the middle, with the 2008 minus group having slightly more plus RISPs over the next four seasons.

Unusually high or low RISPs tend to be like April batting averages, born of small sample sizes. RISP is important in describing what has happened in a season, but it doesn’t give any reliable indication of what a player is likely to do in subsequent years.

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