Monday, September 24, 2012

On RISP Fail And Expectations

(Has Curtis really been a RISP Failure this year?  Courtesy of the AP)

Despite being 2nd in the American League in runs scored, this has generally been considered a down year for the Yankee offense, and in some respects it has been.  For the better part of this season they've been a mostly one-dimensional team that seems to alternate between stretches of big-time production and big-time lack of production at the drop of a hat.  One of the biggest talking points when discussing this down offensive year has been the team's struggles to hit with runners in scoring position.  The Yankees' on again-off again relationship with RISP Fail was out in the open again this past weekend against Oakland, when they went a combined 6-28 in the 3 games, winning 2 close ones and losing another while being a few hits with RISP away from much more comfortable victories in each.

The RISP Fail theme has been around for so long this season that the perception is almost starting to become that the Yankees "can't" get big hits with runners in scoring position, which is not entirely true.  A look at the high-level team numbers will show that, but a look at the individual statistics is what adds fuel to this fire and, in my opinion, continues to drive this RISP Fail storyline.

After this 6-28 weekend, the Yankees sport a .251/.350/.422 team batting line with RISP.  That .772 OPS is 10th best in MLB and 6th in the AL, not exactly in agreement with the "the Yankees aren't clutch.  They can't hit with runners in scoring position" argument that has pervaded most of the recent talk relating to the offense.  In the 21st-most AB with RISP, the Yankees have hit the 2nd-most HR (48, including 10 grand slams), scored the 11th-most runs (494), and have the 11th-most RBI (468).  The batting average and SLG are a bit lower than you'd like to see from a typical Yankee offense, but they make up for it by getting on base a lot (6th best in MLB) and making pitchers work more in those situations, both trademarks of any Yankee lineup.

While this top-level look at the production with RISP paints a picture that is better than what the general commentary would have us believe, a look at what each individual player has done is where a case can be made that this team has underachieved.  The only Yankee regular that is truly "getting it done" with RISP this season is Nick Swisher, with a .280/.387/.568 line in 132 AB.  The rest of the big hitters in the lineup have been somewhat productive but not outstanding.  You wouldn't look at the lines with RISP of Curtis Granderson (.827 OPS in 129 AB), Mark Teixeira (.792 in 119), Robinson Cano (.752 in 141), or Alex Rodriguez (.702 in 106) this season and say any of them have done a great job.  Even Derek Jeter, with a .784 OPS in 125 AB, hasn't raked with RISP, although with him hitting leadoff and being the most consistent presence in the lineup this season it's easier to accept.

Those 4 non-Swish and non-Jeter gentlemen are on the books for $77.125 million this season, not exactly chump change.  For that kind of money and to hit in the 2-6 spots in the lineup with a red hot Derek Jeter setting the table all year, fans can and do expect better production than what these guys have provided in the big-money situations.  There's certainly nothing "bad" about how C-Grand, Teix, Cano, and A-Rod have performed with RISP this season; it's not like any of them are sitting in the sub-.300 wOBA range.  But to just be "good" in those situations is not good enough, not when you are penciled into a run-producing spot in the lineup every day and not when there are so many instances of inning-ending double play balls, strikeouts to strand runners, and pop ups that don't advance the runners mixed in with the productive ABs.

Now the numbers on their own don't factor in things like age-related decline or injuries, both things that have impacted that group of hitters this season.  But as fans, we don't want to hear those excuses when it's game time.  We expect to see the Robinsons Cano and Marks Teixeira of the world come up and deliver a big run-scoring single, double, or if we're lucky enough, home run.  We don't expect to see the theoretical best hitters on the team striking out on 4 pitches with runners on the corners or swinging at the first pitch and making an out (looking at you, Robbie).  When those things are happening off the bats of these middle-of-the-order hitters, it feeds the RISP Fail talk and expands on the overall theme of the Yankees not coming through in those situations.

The entire concept of producing with runners in scoring position is complicated, like almost any baseball statistic.  There are tons of things that could happen that could lead to a player's numbers in that situation looking very good or very bad, and to just chalk it up to guys not being "clutch" is short-sighted.  Everybody has their own ideas on what the Yankees' biggest problems have been with RISP this season, but the fact of the matter is that they haven't really been bad, just not as good as we expect them to be and not as good as we want them to be from the members of the lineup most expected to come through.  It's been frustrating for sure, and it's something that could and likely will come back to haunt the Yankees if it continues in the postseason.  But it's also something that only takes a few swings here and there to completely change the narrative.

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