A topic which seemingly never fades from our collective conscience is the Yankees hitting with runners in scoring position. It’s an aspect of the game which seemed to plague the team throughout 2008, and we’ve seen them falter in those situations in 2009. How bad is it really, though?
Answer: not as bad as some make it out to be. The explanation for this is simple: certain memories stick in our heads, and if not checked with an objective account of what happened can define the situation for us. When we see the Yankees fail with runners in scoring position, we tend to harp on their constant failure, because those failures are the mind’s most prominent memories. That doesn’t mean that it is so.
The Yankees have put themselves in position to score plenty of runs. Not only do they lead the league in long balls, but they have the seventh most plate appearances with runners in scoring position. For the most part they’ve succeeded, as they have scored the second most runs in baseball, 12 ahead of third place Boston, but 22 behind first place Tampa.
(Yikes! 1-2-3 are all in the AL East. Toronto is 5th.)
In terms of converting on those chances with runners in scoring position, though, the Yankees rank 15th, or right in the middle of the league, with a .262 batting average. So while the Yankees aren’t horrible with runners in scoring position, they could certainly stand to improve a bit.
Last night, in a discussion of Nick Swisher with runners in scoring position, I chimed in with a simple model for the level of desired outcomes when hitting with RISP. I doubt there will be much arguing with the following:
Hit > Walk > Out
In terms of outs the Yankees are 7th in the league, with a .366 OBP. It would appear, then, that the Yankees are good at not making outs with RISP, which is a good thing. It would be better if they could raise that average, since hits drive in the ducks, not walks. But in terms of not making outs, the worst of all outcomes, the Yankees are better than three quarters of the league.
Where the Yankees are also proficient with RISP is RBI. They rank seventh in the league in RBI with RISP. In some ways, though, that’s not fair. The Yanks come to the plate with runners in scoring position more often than three quarters of the league, so it’s expected that they should drive in more runs, in pure counting terms. In terms of RBI per plate appearance, the Yankees rank 13th in the league.
So have the Yankees driven in runs with men in scoring position primarily because they’ve given themselves more opportunities than most of the league? In part, yes. Another part is that when they do get hits with RISP, they’re hard hits. While the Yanks are 15th in batting average, they’re sixth in slugging percentage. This is notable because slugging percentage includes singles. Iso-P, which removes singles from the equation, puts the Yanks third in the league.
The power angle is a bit interesting. The Yankees rank sixth in MLB with a .271 team batting average — which I suppose makes the number with RISP a bit more frustrating — but rank 11th with a .427 SLG. That puts them at 14th in the league in Iso-P. So most of their power comes with runners in scoring position, it would seem.
It’s easy to conclude, based on the numbers, that the Yanks need to start dropping some more singles with RISP. While that would be nice, it’s not exactly necessary. The Tampa Bay Rays, during their 97-win 2008 campaign, finished 28th in the league in average with RISP, last in the American League. Hitting with RISP counts, and counts for a lot. But in the end, it comes down to pitching, pitching, pitching. Funny how an article about numbers with RISP concludes that way, huh?