Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 20, 2010
BASEBALL: Moving Baserunners
It's an article of faith among traditional sportswriters and others of that mindset that winning teams are the ones who move baserunners and hit in the clutch. Lots and lots of empirical data says otherwise: the teams that win may do those things, but the better indicator of winning offensive teams is getting men on base in the first place, followed by hitting for power.
The Tampa Bay Rays are pressing the limits of that observation. The team is 29-11 despite several gaping holes in their lineup (Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, BJ Upton, Jason Bartlett and Pat Burrell are hitting a combined .213/.300/.337 in 671 plate appearances). Overall, the Rays are 6th in the AL in slugging and 7th in batting and OBP - yet they're second in runs scored, thanks to a team batting line of .304/.380/.484 with runners in scoring position (compared to .280/.343/.435 with a man on first and a pathetic .225/.306/.356 with the bases empty), plus excellent team speed that has them tied for the league lead in steals and next to last in GIDP. Pena is batting .250/.396/.525 with RISP, Bartlett .400/.447/.629, Evan Longoria .346/.393/.558.
The speed will continue to help them, as will their excellent pitching (2d in AL in K/BB ratio) and team defense (AL-best 71.7% of balls in play turned into outs) but that level of teamwide clutch overachievement is unsustainable. The 2001 Mariners, one of the best clutch teams in recent memory, batted .295/.385/.454 with RISP compared to .274/.340/.424 with the bases empty (as well as a ludicrous .320/.377/.494 with men on first), an impressive showing but nothing on the order of what Tampa is doing. I'd love to see a historical analysis of the widest spilts in teamwide lines between RISP and all other situations or bases empty, but I guarantee it would show no splits of this magnitude sustained over a full season.