Situational Writing

Jeff · March 8, 2005 at 3:16 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

So, apparently Jim Street is doing “situational hitting” stories once a month now. More often than that, actually, since he wrote a two-story package on the same topic precisely 34 days ago.

With so many old fallback chestnuts available for stories — clubhouse chemistry, veteran leadership, the team’s best bunters, guys that “keep other guys loose,” mental toughness — we’ve got to read about hitting behind the runner again?

Okay, I guess he got that last one. Check it off the list, and move on down to “the injured player out to prove he’s healthy.”


32 Responses to “Situational Writing”

  1. Dave on March 8th, 2005 7:50 pm

    Preface: Street’s column is just a cliche filled waste of time and adds no real knowledge to the reader.

    Having said that, his main point is correct. The M’s were terrible in situational hitting last year. They were worst in the league by a huge margin.

    Every American League team in 2004 hit better with runners on base or runners in scoring position than they did with nobody on with one exception; the Mariners. Throughout history, players have always hit better with men on base. Pitchers are less effective from the stretch, the first baseman gives up ground holding a runner on, defenses have to come align differently, and various other factors provide for a more conducive offensive environment. Most teams hit significantly better with men on or RISP than they do with no one on. A few examples,

    Team-OPS with bases empty-OPS with runners on-OPS with RISP

    Boston: .815/.851/.873
    Chicago: .769/.819/.859
    Tampa Bay: .704/.752/.770

    It’s not just good hitting teams that do better in those situations. Everyone does. Good hitters. Crappy hitters. Mediocre hitters. Its just easier to hit with runners on. Unless you’re a Mariner in 2004:

    Seattle: .738/.714/.712

    They were the only team in the American League to hit worse with runners on than they did with the bases empty. The average improvement with men on was 27 points of OPS, 31 points with RISP. Based on the league average, the M’s expected OPS with runners on would have been .765, and .769 with runners in scoring position.

    In other words, the 2004 M’s theoretically should have scored 40 more runs than they did, had they performed at league average in “situational hitting” situations. 40 runs is huge.

    Now, thankfully, there’s no evidence that situational, or “clutch” hitting is any kind of skill that carries over from year to year. The fact that the M’s sucked at it last year does not mean they’re any more likely to suck at it this year, so we should expect the offense to improve just by random chance.

    But, as tired as the cliche may be, this time, Jim Street is right; the M’s need to improve at situational hitting, because last year, they were abominable.

  2. DMZ on March 8th, 2005 8:15 pm

    (moving my post to a comment here)

    It’s a standard spring training story. If anyone can find me a story where a team’s hitting coach stressed that situational hitting was “not that big of a deal” and they decided not to worry about it as much as the year before, I’ll give them a dollar. It’s particularly not surprising that Baylor would be tooting this bugle.

    Still, the M’s weren’t as good as you’d expect in those situations:

    AL totals last year, all situations: .270 AVG, .337 OBP, 433 SLG
    AL totals last year, none on: .265/.328/.429
    AL totals last year, “runners on”: .276/.348/.436

    Margin of difference, empty/runners: .011/.020/.007

    Mariners, none on: .274/.332/.406
    Mariners, runners: .263/.330/.385

    Margin of difference, empty/runners: -.011/.-.002/-.021

    That’s not a huge swing, but it is there. Now the problem becomes whether you believe that this kind of thing might help, or whether focusing on a different approach could be counter-productive. Personally, having seen this story every year for many different teams, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case where a team decides to focus on “moving the runner over” and then enjoys sustained success doing so, whether it’s under a new hitting coach or not.

  3. AK1984 on March 8th, 2005 8:25 pm

    Well, let’s just take solace in the fact that Don Baylor is the hitting coach, instead of the field manager. Also, Felix Hernandez ought to be kept very far away from Baylor…or else he may go the way of Roger Salkeld, Tim Davis, Ken Cloude, Ryan Anderson, etc.

  4. Dennis Lott on March 8th, 2005 9:28 pm

    Long-time reader, rare poster (I’m just not knowledgeable/intelligent enough to add to most posts)…and off-topic…but, I notice that Dave, Jason and Derek seem to have some good sources, so…does anyone know if any Mariner minor-leaguers are involved in the latest visa scandal? I just read about it on the ESPN site (no, I don’t often go there, but I wanted to check the Sonics score) and the story said that 30 minor-leaguers from the Dominican are permanently inelegible for visas because of visa fraud. I’m hoping no Mariner prospects are involved.

  5. Jim Thomsen on March 8th, 2005 11:02 pm

    I can’t wait until he gets into the old chestnut about how a batter will see different pitches depending on who bats in front of or behind him … you know, the old “He’ll never see a strike again because XXX bats in front of him (or behind him) … People have been trying to stab that canard with their steely knives for quite some time but they just can’t kill the beast.

  6. Adam S on March 8th, 2005 11:49 pm

    I haven’t totally thought through this argument, which I realize might make it a bad idea to post, but could this be almost entirely an Ichiro affect? I.e., as opposed to the idea that the Mariners didn’t hit well with runners on base, the Mariners simply didn’t have their best hitters up when there were men on base.

    Ichiro was significantly better than the rest of the Mariners and he represented 15% (476 of 3143) of the Mariners AB with the bases empty, notably the 1st inning, and only 9% of the AB (228 of 2579) with runners on.

    Obviously there’s some impact, but I haven’t thought through the logic or crunched the numbers to see if it’s .001 or .01 .

  7. JMB on March 8th, 2005 11:59 pm

    In case you wondered, Jim, I got your reference.

    Oh, and I don’t know if any M’s are in the latest visa scandal.


  8. John D. on March 9th, 2005 12:04 am

    Re (# 1) [“situational hitting” situations]? Aw, c’mon now.

  9. firova on March 9th, 2005 1:25 am

    Can we just eradicate the word “clutch” from the language? Not just from sports, but from the language itself?

    Another reason why hitters do better with runners on base in addition to those listed by Dave is that the pitcher often is struggling. That’s why the runners are on in the first place.

    #6= here is where we could talk about the abysmal 3-4 hitting of 2004. I hate to say it, but Edgar just didn’t get it done last year (note his wildly out of character walk to strikeout ratio, among other indicators- walks would have at least kept the inning going), and Boone wasn’t much better, though he showed more power.

    Enter Beltre and Sexson.

  10. edgarfan on March 9th, 2005 4:11 am

    #9: Yes, Mr. Mechanic, I need to get that part of my transmission fixed that hits really well with men on third and less than two out….

  11. Marty Lighthizer on March 9th, 2005 5:20 am

    #10: While we’re dropping words from the language…

    With the game on the line, and a runner on third,
    Melvin really wasn’t asking for much.
    Just a sac fly or a ‘situational’ hit–
    In Wee Willie would he place his trust.
    After all, a limping Kirk Gibson homered to win
    And didn’t even need a crutch.
    But, alas, poor Willie B. fanned that day
    Because he couldn’t hit… really well with runners in scoring position late in a close game with two outs.

  12. firova on March 9th, 2005 7:04 am

    #10, I love Edgar too, from the days he played third base for Jim Lefebvre, but my comment was about his overall year hitting in the middle of the order, not about his “situational hitting.”

    Career: .312/.418/.515

  13. firova on March 9th, 2005 7:08 am

    Sorry. The Edgar numbers:

    Career: .312/.418/.515 (wow)
    2004: .263/.342/.385

    Career bb/k: 1.06/1 (wow, again–from a power hitter)
    2004 bb/k: 0.54/1

    I won’t bother doing Boone. We all know what happened last year. But that’s why Ichiro didn’t score enough.

  14. Tim on March 9th, 2005 8:11 am

    Off Topic, but Baseball America Online has an interesting article on Madritsch. Subscription necessary though…

  15. Ralph Malph on March 9th, 2005 9:47 am

    I’m thinking the main reason — or a main reason anyway — batters hit better with men on base is the hole on the right side from holding the runner on at first.

    The M’s were last year — and still are — very right-handed, which would tend to reduce that benefit.

    I’m not saying this explains all of this, but it might explain some of it.

    I’d like to see a comparison of numbers for men on base with or without a man on 1st. And I’d like to see a breakdown of these numbers for right-handed and left-handed batters.

  16. troy on March 9th, 2005 10:04 am

    Off-topic, the AP reports that Rick Ankiel is giving up pitching to become an outfielder. I thought he should have done this two years ago, but I’m glad to see it’s finally happening. Dave, Derekt, et all, is there any real chance this will work? His major league numbers are uninspiring, but he seems to have good “tools,” and may jut need to find his groove against High A or Double A pitching. What do you guys think?

  17. hans on March 9th, 2005 10:06 am

    We should all find solace in a significant quote from Hargrove at the bottom of the article, that I’ll paraphrase…

    I’ll have a coronary if I find Beltre, Sexson, or Boone trying to hit a grounder to the right side with a runner on second and no outs.

    I think we can all agree that a hit in that situation is preferable to a ground-out to the right side.

  18. Milorad V on March 9th, 2005 10:08 am

    On Language:
    Please drop–or fine Ron Fairley every time he says:
    “He’s the kind of hitter who likes the ball out over the plate…”

  19. Milorad V on March 9th, 2005 11:19 am

    On topic:
    Baseball writing in the conventional media is largely fluff, and on the rare instance it is not, one still must cull truly interesting or salient points from it as if panning for gold. So, we read, we roll our eyes, and shake the pan looking for a flecks of useful information. Situational hitting, yes. Homer runs, sure. ‘The Littler Things’, excellent. Battling back, naturally. Loves his mother, why not.
    Shake Shake Shake.
    Then, we come here.

  20. Steve Thornton on March 9th, 2005 11:28 am

    The question I always want to ask the Jim Streets of this world is, so, what do you think situational hitting IS?

    When Street says it, he means hitting behind the runner, yadda yadda. But in reality one of the reasons the Mariners sucked in men-on-base situations is BECAUSE they think that’s what situational hitting is.

    Real situational hitting is banging a lot of bases-clearing doubles and stuff, and not sacrificing up your precious outs for stupid stuff like moving a runner one base. Street wants the M’s to waste more outs moving guys over, which is DUMB. The M’s don’t need to “manufacture runs”, they need to manufacture more OUTS — as in, turning more of them into something valuable, namely not-outs. Avoiding making an out is the most important thing a batter can do (i.e., on-base percentage).

    If they do that, the runs will come, unless everybody stacks up on top of third base.

  21. DMZ on March 9th, 2005 11:45 am

    On Ankiel: we’re chewing this over off-site, we may post later on it.

  22. Colm on March 9th, 2005 11:45 am

    Am I the only one who has grown to find comfort in Ron Fairly’s truisms?

    Bases loaded, three-oh count. Fairly: “He needs to throw a strike here; he needs to put the ball over the plate”. It’s reassuring to me to have someone tell me something that is already blatantly obvious.

  23. JMB on March 9th, 2005 11:55 am

    You have to remember, Colm — WHO’S IN TROUBLE HERE?!


  24. Milorad V on March 9th, 2005 12:19 pm

    The only possible reason to allow RF to say anything on the radio during a Major League baseball game is…uh…wait! to educate children…uh, girlfirends…no, forget it.

  25. David J Corcoran on March 9th, 2005 12:50 pm

    Looks like Felix got rocked in his first inning.. 4 runs.

  26. drjeff on March 9th, 2005 12:54 pm

    #22 — That’s why I semi-affectionately call him Ron Fairly Obvious.

    #5 — That’s because their minds are Tiffany-twisted!!

  27. mike on March 9th, 2005 1:10 pm

    Fairly just said that the pitcher “got Choo to bite on a curveball.”

    Pure genius, or idiot savant?

  28. troy on March 9th, 2005 2:09 pm

    In one way, I’m glad to hear Felix got rocked. I think the best thing for everyone is for him to start the year in Tacoma, and this should help the chances of that.

  29. Ralph Malph on March 9th, 2005 2:32 pm

    Fairly…”got Choo to bite on a curveball”


  30. 51 Rules! on March 9th, 2005 6:31 pm

    #16 That’s interesting. I think the Yankees once had a guy who converted from a pitcher to a position player, and the general consenus was that he worked out pretty well. Not that Ankiel can become like that guy.

  31. John D. on March 9th, 2005 7:34 pm

    This business of preserving those three outs: (See # 20) – I read the other day that Jeremy Reed’s stolen base record (29/40) was an asset to the team.
    That’s less than a 75% success rate. (80% is usually considered the minimum success rate acceptable.)
    As long as we praise mediocrity…

  32. DMZ on March 9th, 2005 7:54 pm

    I think it’s about 66% for a break-even on stolen bases in general. 75%’s good.