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Is "runner in scoring position" batting average a meaningful statistic?

I am simply a casual fan, but here is my logic. Either one of these universes is reality:

1) when there are runners in scoring position, a batter changes his approach to ensure that he will get a base hit. Perhaps he just tries to make contact, forgets about swinging for the fences, etc. Therefore, "runner in scoring position" batting average is actually an important measure of a batter's ability to drive in runs. It is a better predictor of a batter getting a base hit in a situation where there are runners in scoring position than batting average. (If that is the case, why not always use this approach to increase the chance of getting on base??)

OR

2) a batter is ALWAYS trying to maximize their chance to get on base. "Runner in scoring position" batting average is simply a smaller sample of at bats measure of a batter's batting average. It is not a better predictor of a batter getting a base hit in a situation where there are runners in scoring position than batting average.

Can someone help me understand?

6

Is it a meaningful statistic? Sure. It indicates the proportion of times a batter reaches base safely not due to an error when a baserunner occupies second or third base (or both) when he is at bat. That tends to mean that batter has been responsible for batting in a lot of runs (as a proportion of opportunities). Personally, I would group it in with Runs Scored, Pitcher Wins, RBIs, and other statistics that are very helpful for indicating how well a player did, but not necessarily indication of likely future performance (except insomuch as they may be proxies for what kind of team he's on).

Is it meaningful for projecting future performance? I doubt it; according to Beyond the Box Score, there is a .21 correlation year-over-year in team BARISP. They misuse the word 'significant' there, but it's forgivable as it's probably not meant as a statistics term. It is, certainly, a weak correlation; but it's not a zero one, so perhaps it has some small predictive value.

Thinking about it from a 'how' sense, you could attribute it to 'playing better under pressure', which is mostly nonsense but not entirely. You could attribute it to a particular batting style that favors contact and line drives over fly balls - I doubt Adam Dunn's BARISP is particularly good, for example (it's 20 points lower for his career than his batting average, in fact), but Tony Gwynn does have a higher BARISP than his career batting average, by 14 points. Maybe some players change their swing in ways that happen to yield a better average - with a guy on second you swing for a single, but with the bases empty you just go for the home run (again, see Dunn, Adam for a great example).

Thus, it seems to me that it's not a 100% pure junk statistic; but with a low correlation coefficient, it mostly is, and particularly as it's used for a "clutch" indicator (which most statisticians laugh at). More likely it explains for certain players intentional changes in their game geared towards scoring runs, and for most players just signifies the noise that is random number generators, aka baseball at-bats. (My next pseudo-random number generator will be based on an initial seed, and the outcome of each at-bat in a major league season. Why not?)

Finally, I'd warn of the risk of circular reasoning. We often see 'good' batters singled out for having a good BARISP, and it being used as evidence for why they're good. Well, sure, a player who was luckier than most of his teammates in that when he happened to get his 130 hits for the season, 80 of those times a guy was on second and/or third, will be a 'good' player versus a player who only had a guy in scoring position 30 times. Thus, taking as evidence that BARISP is a good statistic the fact that 'good' players have a good BARISP is circular.

This is further discussed all over the internet; see this article by David Pinto, for another good take on the subject.

  • 1
    great differentiation between meaningful statistic and meaningful for projecting future performance! Thanks – jayraynet Sep 7 '14 at 11:56
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A few reasons why batting average with runners in scoring position would be different than with no one on:

  1. With a runner on third and less than two outs, defenses will often play the infield in. In theory, this reduces the chance of the runner scoring although it makes it more likely for the batter to get a hit.

  2. With a runner on second, teams often will not shift on lefty pull hitters that they normally would shift on, since the shift makes it harder to cover third in a steal situation.

  3. With a runner in scoring position, a pitcher is less likely to pitch to contact.

I can't think of any reasons why a hitter would substantially change his approach based on a runner being in scoring position, except perhaps trying to hit a sac fly with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs. I haven't looked in detail at the data, but based on that it seems like it shouldn't be that predictive of future RISP situations.

  • The point about the shift and the pitching to contact are great ones - those do point to the possibility of some (limited) predictive value, to me, as they're things that a player might be a better performer under those circumstances compared to others who do not gain as much advantage from those changes. – Joe Sep 9 '14 at 18:44
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PRO: (meaningful stat) Personally I would say that some batters with two strikes and a runner in scoring position would actually try and make some contact and avoid being struck out. It was a lost art in the steroid era but is starting to make a comeback.

CON: (meaningful stat) On the other side of the coin. During one season the amount of AB's with runners in scoring position is too small a sample size and I think that yes it is completely irrelevant until there are at least 500 plate appearances with RISP.

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Yeah, good answers. Some people discount the stat RISP until they get to Tony Gwynn, then they have to shut up or put the Tony Gwynn exception in, as in except for Tony Gwynn. I spent the last hour reading on his stats, he was simply astounding in the clutch even discounting RISP. His late inning average, his 444 average with the bases loaded. Its like some of the exceptions when it comes to Ruth or Aaron, especially Ruth with some of the seasons he had. Everyone talks of his 60 HR season but his 59 HR season was better. No one does this, Average 378, Hits 204, 44 doubles, 16 triples, 59 home runs and 171 RBI's. 204 hits, more than half for extra bases.

Ruth and Aaron to a great extent, played in bigger parks than players from the last 30 or 40 years. Ruth played in places that could have been actual parks. In some ways that makes it astounding he did what he did and in others ways slightly easier, hit a ball to the gap and it goes all the way to a wall 420 feet away and more guys are going to score but he hit 59 home runs too.

When ESPN did the greatest of the 20th century Ruth finished 2nd to Jordan but like Dan Patrick said when he said Ruth was second "everyone is measured against him", only Jordan was found to be better by the experts or whoever chose this. You can't have a greater career than everyone being measured against you.

  • Why is Tony Gwynn an exception? .444 average over how mant at-bats? – Rolazaro Azeveires Apr 28 '18 at 10:56
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    Note that if you take stats from thousands of players you will have someone whose stats which are "exceptional", say... one in a thousand? – Rolazaro Azeveires Apr 28 '18 at 10:59

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