CHICAGO, July 22, 2013 — The offense of a baseball team’s objective is to score as many runs as possible. The St Louis Cardinals this year have propelled themselves to the best record in baseball by scoring the second most runs in baseball so far. It is the manner in which they have scored those runs that will bear watching over the second half.
The Cardinals have hit an amazing .338 with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP). The statistic BA with RISP only goes back to 1999 on mlb.com, but the previous high was the 2007 Detroit Tigers who hit .311 in those situations.
This does not seem likely to sustain itself as hitting with runners in scoring position is not a skill distinguishable from hitting in any other situation. Players who cannot handle hitting in a given situation are weeded out by the Darwinistic promotion system of organized baseball. Those who fail to succeed in a given situation are not promoted to the next level, while those whose abilities allow them to succeed are promoted until they finally reach the apex of the system that is MLB.
Looking over past seasons at hitting with runners in scoring position a much more correlated statistic to runs scored with RISP is simply at bats. The team who has had the most at bats with RISP has led the league in runs 12 of the previous 14 years. The Red Sox have the most AB’s with RISP this year. Not coincidentally, Boston also lead the league in runs with runs scored in this situation with 403.
The only two times that a team leading the league in AB’s with RISP failed to lead the league in runs in those situations were the 2009 Yankees who finished second and the 2000 Twins who finished sixteenth. The Twins hit a paltry .246 with RISP in 2000, which was good enough to rank them 28th in the league.
Three everyday players, Allen Craig (.489), Carlos Beltran (.418) and Matt Carpenter (.403), have averages above .400 in these situations, while a fourth, Yadier Molina, is close at .395. These are all amazing numbers and it is even more amazing that they are all on the same team. They are largely a result, however, of small sample sizes, as none of these players has more than 100 AB’s.
A closer look at Craig’s stats gives an indication of what a small sample can yield as he currently has a .512 BABIP with RISP. This is unsustainable and is on full display in watching Yasiel Puig’s numbers after he had a similar BABIP over a similar number of at bats (just at bats, not at bats with RISP) in June and has seen his numbers start to regress in July.
Similar underlying stats can also be found for Beltran (.453 BABIP with RISP), Carpenter (.426 BABIP with RISP) and Molina (.402 BABIP with RISP). All of these players are likely to regress over the course of the second half. Although other players could pick up the slack, the Cardinals’ team BABIP with RISP is .386, it is more likely that the Cardinals overall BA with RISP will come back to more modest levels. This is good news for the rest of the National League as they head into the second half.
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