Situational hitting

DMZ · March 21, 2008 at 10:58 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

If stressing the value of situational hitting and scoring the runner from third throughout spring training didn’t do any good, doesn’t that mean
– the manager doing the stressing and training was ineffective
– the players are all too inept to pick it up
– situational hitting isn’t a skill?


29 Responses to “Situational hitting”

  1. thefin190 on March 21st, 2008 11:05 pm

    – situational hitting isn’t a skill?

    I’ll go with that one.

  2. Typical Idiot Fan on March 21st, 2008 11:15 pm

    spring training

    Option D.

  3. JI on March 21st, 2008 11:27 pm

    I’m all for whatever makes panic and get another bat. It’s not like they’re going to think logically about this anytime soon.

  4. thefin190 on March 21st, 2008 11:37 pm

    I’m all for whatever makes panic and get another bat. It’s not like they’re going to think logically about this anytime soon.

    I admit I was thinking today, with all the obsession with getting the starting pitching this past off season, I came to the conclusion that there is no power on the Mariners, and the “power bats” are righties, which their power is eaten away by Safeco Field(Beltre, Sexson, etc.). I am just wondering how long it will be before all the casual fans start bitching about there being no power in the lineup and Bavasi pulling the trigger in trading for a left-handed bat.

    What I would recommend instead is get someone with a high OBP and has average speed (this eliminates Vidro) to lead off instead of Ichiro and have Ichiro bat second, so that Ichiro’s talents wouldn’t be wasted as a leadoff hitter, rather than trading the farm for a power bat. I don’t think that would make sense to a casual fan though.

  5. HamNasty on March 21st, 2008 11:55 pm

    You mean a lefty like Ben Broussard? We didn’t pay him enough to get him playing time apparently. Being in the starting lineup requires a bloated contract.

  6. Steve Nelson on March 22nd, 2008 12:25 am

    I’m not sure I would dismiss the notion of “situational hitting skill” – or more precisely lack thereof – that quickly.

    Last year the Mariners ranked 3rd in the AL in AVG (.287) and 7th in OBP (.337). With runners on 3rd base, the Mariners were 11th in AVG (.273) and 12 in OBP (.348) – IOW they performed considerably worse than other teams with a runner on third, both in gross ranking and in their overall ranking from overall stats. With 163 PA total in 2007 with runners on third, small sample size theater caveats apply of course.

    But consider a lineup overloaded with notorious hackers who will gladly swing at anything they can reach. Now assume a runner on third and send those hitters to the plate with a mandate to get the runner home. Seems to me that’s going to increase the motivation to flail, flail away. I find it quite plausible that plate performance would decline in that situation, and the decline would be (lack of) skill related.

    With some topics, such as situational hitting, a lot of time is spent looking for positive demonstrations of the skill set, but not nearly as much effort is devoted to finding negative correlations. I’m not ready to dismiss the notion that the Mariners lineup has a number of hitters whose skillsets leads them to be less effective with a runner on third.

  7. DMZ on March 22nd, 2008 12:49 am

    Okay, but now you’re arguing that the hitters are being given instructions that result in a poor approach at the plate.

    That’s a lot different than “they suck at hitting with runners in third.”

  8. shortbus on March 22nd, 2008 1:04 am

    Isn’t “situational hitting” kind of the loser’s bracket of baseball skillsets? I mean, if a player hits for a high OBP and SLG, he’s by definition going to do well in the “situations” in question. So the real interesting distinctions between players occur with reference to poor hitters. It’s guys who get out in ways that still help the team in “situations” that might be interesting in this context. Since you don’t want those guys on your team anyway…who cares if they’re good with a guy on third and no outs?

  9. Steve Nelson on March 22nd, 2008 1:51 am

    Derek – it’s not that they are being given poor instruction. I think it’s more a product of mindset. If a guy is prone to hacking and is up at the plate in a situation in which he’s expected to produce, he naturally is going to respond by doing what he’s most comfortable doing. And if he’s most comfortable hacking in general, then he’s going to be even more prone to hacking when there’s a runner at third and he knows he is expected to bring that runner home.

    That type of behavior is almost universal – people in all types of circumstances will do whatever they are most comfortable doing when they perceive added pressure to perform. People experiment with different approaches mostly in low stress situations; apply pressure to perform and almost every one of us becomes even more habitual. I don’t see why we shouldn’t assume that MLB hitters respond that way.

    Now if other teams scout out those tendencies, those teams will naturally try to exploit that. And the more successful they are in exploiting that tendency, the more than tendency is going to register. Just like when a salesman knows what his competitors favorite sales approach is, the sales person tailors a presentation specifically to rebut the opponents arguments. Or when a politician knows his/her opponent … nope. Won’t go there. Wouldn’t be prudent.


    If you’re not ready to dismiss the Mariners 2007 record with runners on third as merely a fluke, then your third option doesn’t stand. And I’m not ready to dismiss the Mariners record as simply a random artifact of small sample size. I think there may be reason to believe that the Mariners lineup overall, is less skillful than other lineups in hitting with runners on third base. IOW – there is a skill component in play, albeit a negative component.

    Maybe the evidence for a positive situational hitting skill, at least as far it can presently be parsed, disappears in the statistical noise. But it doesn’t follow that the obverse must also be true.

  10. studes on March 22nd, 2008 5:55 am

    I guess by “skill,” you mean something that can be inherently taught? As opposed to “talent,” which a player has or doesn’t have? (Example: bunting vs. throwing a ball hard).

    Cause it could be that situational hitting is more of a talent than a skill. Hard to teach, but some players are “naturally” better at it than others.

  11. terry on March 22nd, 2008 7:45 am

    I vote for all three….

  12. DMZ on March 22nd, 2008 8:26 am

    And if he’s most comfortable hacking in general, then he’s going to be even more prone to hacking when there’s a runner at third and he knows he is expected to bring that runner home.

    See, but now you’re again arguing that the batter’s picking a sub-optimal approach by shifting from whatever they’re comfortable with to something else.

    If that was true, shouldn’t the coaches spot that and tell them to relax and not press so much?

    There’s no more reason to believe that hitters become worse at driving in runners from third than it is that they become pumpkins if there’s a runner on second. There just isn’t support for that belief. We can argue that it’s lost in the noise but then it’s just clutch hitting or team chemistry with even smaller sample sizes.

  13. Mat on March 22nd, 2008 9:39 am

    What is situational hitting, exactly?

    Take two hitters with approximately equal overall hitting value, say Ichiro (.294 EQA) and Nick Swisher (.292 EQA.) Ichiro makes contact a lot more, gets on base a little more, but Swisher hits for more power.

    It seems reasonable to suspect that in certain situations, you would rather have Ichiro hitting than Swisher, even though they have roughly equal overall value–and vice versa. Since Ichiro would likely be the better option in the “small-ball” and “move the runners along” type of scenarios, Joe Morgan would probably have us believe that Ichiro is the better situational hitter. (You could also look at Vlad’s 2007 line compared to Jack Cust’s 2007 line.)

    In that sense, I would say that situational hitting exists–certain hitters are more well-suited to certain situations than others, even assuming roughly overall value. But even then, they have roughly even overall value, and I think it would be very difficult to argue that one skill set’s best situations are clearly more important than another skill set’s best situations.

    (And of course, if the effect was really all that large, offensive stats wouldn’t work as well as they do in the first place.)

  14. alexb on March 22nd, 2008 9:43 am

    it would be interesting to see how often a MLB player becomes a better situational hitter after already having a couple seasons underneath his belt.

    the real problem here, as many have pointed out before, is Bavasi and the entire organizations philosophy that they can draft/acquire slap hitters and teach them more patience at the plate. anyone who thinks Betancourt or Lopez is going to walk more then their typical 20 times a year is nuts. If they can’t do it with no one on and 2 outs, how on earth are they going to do it in the bottom of the 9th, runner on 3rd and 1 out???

    perhaps the Mariners should try to break the “situational hitting” skill set into sub-skill sets. Maybe there are aspects of situational hitting that are more teachable then others, especially to hitters that don’t walk and don’t see a lot of pitches.

  15. argh on March 22nd, 2008 10:16 am

    I’d guess situational hitting is a subset of clutch hitting: A guy on 3rd, nobody out, Mariners playing .500 ball in September, leading 10-0 in the 9th against Kansas City would merely be situational; same situation with the Mariner’s playing the Angels for the Division title in late September, tie game in the 9th: that would be a clutch situation. Since The Book pretty much puts the boots to clutch hitting I’d be interested in reading why situational ought to be different. I guess ‘the less pressure, the better performance’ argument might come into play — certainly works with my golf game.

  16. Kazinski on March 22nd, 2008 10:50 am

    I think there is a skill in situational hitting, there are players that excel at getting contact, take Richie for instance, as a negative example. On the other hand, take Raul, last three seasons with runner on 3rd < 2 outs, 93AB 102RBI, 21BB.

    Contrast that with Beltre, 95AB 74RBI, 12BB, or Ichiro 70AB, 54RBI, 21BB. Of course I’d guess at least 2/3 of those walks Ichiro took were IBB. I had expected Vidro would be better than most, but 65AB, 52RBI, 11bb. And yes I do think RBI’s are significant stat in that situation.

  17. argh on March 22nd, 2008 11:12 am

    People interested in this subject might want to go look/participate at Tango Tiger’s The Great Clutch Project which is ongoing as we speak.

  18. firova2 on March 22nd, 2008 11:30 am

    The variables “is the pitcher getting hit hard and putting runners on” and “a reliever was just brought in to stop the bleeding/gain a split advantage” make this pretty complicated.

  19. Graham on March 22nd, 2008 11:51 am

    Sample size, #16

  20. Badbadger on March 22nd, 2008 12:33 pm

    I think that if you define situational hitting as getting a hit when runners are in scoring position, it doesn’t seem like this is a skill. Players try to get a hit every time they’re at the plate, they shouldn’t be “saving it” for RISP ABs.

    If it means hitting a flyball or slow grounder to the right side to get a sacrifice, that’s probably a skill.

  21. Kazinski on March 22nd, 2008 12:55 pm

    #19, right that’s why I used three year averages. When the sample is 100 then the margin of error is about 10%, which is admittedly still rough, but significant enough that conclusions can be drawn. When you compare Raul’s 102RBI +/- 10% to Beltre’s 74RBI +/- 10% in 95-95AB, then you have a statistically significant result.

  22. Eastside Crank on March 22nd, 2008 1:39 pm

    We are forgetting about who is on third and how fast they can run. How well does the ball need to be hit to score a runner from third with less than two out? If it is Ichiro, most anything on the ground to the right side will do. If it is anyone from the heart of the order forget it – the ball has to be hit deep to the outfield. In summary, another way to improve situational hitting would be to put runners on third that can run.

  23. Graham on March 22nd, 2008 2:24 pm

    No you don’t. ~100 plate appearances isn’t a statistically significant anything.

  24. Mat on March 22nd, 2008 2:55 pm

    Another factor in the discussion is that we know without doubt that situational defensive schemes exist. In a close game with a runner on third and one out, a team might decide to pull the infield in. Some hitters–mainly groundball hitters who make contact a lot–are going to be able to take advantage of that defense more than others. In some sense that would make them good situational hitters.

    I guess if I was going to define what it meant to be a good situational hitter, it would be the ability to successfully adjust your approach based on the situation at hand. That would seemingly require a hitter to have a number of skills–can hit long fly balls with high probability, can hit hard ground ball with high probability, can make contact where necessary, can stay out of the DP where necessary–and anyone who is that skilled is generally referred to as a great hitter and not a good situational hitter.

  25. galaxieboi on March 22nd, 2008 5:02 pm

    Graham- While I agree about the sample-size arguement you’re making, how much would be enough? How many PAs do we need to make good?

    Situational hitting falls somewhere near clutch hitting for me. Are some guys over their careers “good” at it? Yes. Was it a skill? Eh. Most of what I’ve read the last few years indicate some guys historically hit better in pressure situations than others. Bill James wrote about really good hitters hitting better and lesser hitters hitting worse. He, like myself, isn’t willing to say Johnny Baseball is less of a man because he hits 50 points below his career average in clutch situations.

  26. Graham on March 22nd, 2008 6:39 pm


    You’d really have to make a study of everyone’s numbers over their careers to figure out what sort of sample size would be appropriate (because then you could get all those nifty correlation coefficients out), which is something I don’t really have the time or the inclination to do. Instead, I’m just assuming that ‘situational hitting’ is somewhere behind OBP/SLG in terms of year to year correlation (since these are measurable skills which we -know- a batter has, this seems reasonable). So if something is a small sample for OBP/SLG, it’s almost certainly going to be too small for situational hitting. Essentially, they give us a lower bound on what would be an acceptable sample size.

    No idea what the upper bound would be, though.

  27. Matthew Carruth on March 22nd, 2008 8:33 pm

    The needed sample size for “clutch” to be determined was on the order of 10+ seasons, and that was for *all* clutch situations.

  28. terry on March 23rd, 2008 7:10 am

    Johnny Baseball was always a little too much of an Aqua Velva man for me to be a big fan of his game…

  29. Eastside Crank on March 23rd, 2008 10:38 am

    There is one other point. The Mariners will not be hitting against the Mariner defense on the right side of the infield. Remember when Olerud was manning first and could field tricky grounders and fire the ball home to prevent the run from scoring? Now we are happy if the ball is just stopped. Opponents do not have to guide the ball through the holes – they just need to get it on the ground.

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