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the cardinals have crazy stats with guys in scoring position; what does this mean?

the cardinals have a .355/.426/.494 slash line, a wOBA of .391, and a 154 wRC+ as a team with runners in scoring position, far ahead of any other team in the majors. they have a .373 BABIP with guys in scoring position. should we expect huge regression? well, yes and no. (all stats use the "no pitchers" feature.)


one of the underlying trends of the cardinals' winning ways is that we hit extraordinarily well with runners in scoring position. we have a 154 wRC+ with RISP (excluding pitchers), 32 points better than our next competition in the majors, and 34 points better than our overall team wRC+. that's like having david wright coming up to bat every time there's a man in scoring position.

some writers have pointed to this as a sign that the cardinals are doing something very right; that they have a special skill for getting hits with people on base. others have openly fretted that the success with runners in scoring position is unsustainable and a sign of a big regression to come. i think both positions are overblown.

i mean, you will see some regression, in the sense that we probably won't keep hitting for a .373 BABIP with RISP. but i'm not so sure you'll see large-scale regression in terms of how many runs we score.

how can that be? we all know that clutchiness tends to disappear in a larger sample size. shouldn't that leave us scoring fewer runs in those chances? yes, but the fluky RISP numbers - which should disappear - are companions to other fluky numbers likely to disappear as well.

the cardinals are hitting well overall. in fact, park-adjusted and removing pitchers from the calculus, we have the best offense around. with a 120 wRC+ as a team, we are really good at the plate.

those numbers are fueled by a high, but potentially sustainable, .325 BABIP. last season, we had a .316 BABIP for the season, so it's in the ballpark of what could happen. we have a team 22.7% line drive rate, tied with the tigers for best in the majors, so it makes sense that we should have an excellent talent for reaching base. that's better than last year's 21.1% line drive rate.

so, one conclusion to draw, from the outset, is that the .373 BABIP with RISP is not quite as fluky as it might have appeared. it's only 48 points off the team average. still not likely to continue, but less outrageous than it might appear.

the other important thing to see in our stats is that our great RISP numbers come in only 870 PAs with runners in scoring position. the tigers and red sox, who both have comparable offensive stats to us, have 1025 and 1121 PAs with RISP. eight other teams have more than 900 PAs with RISP.

what's fueling that shortage of opportunities with RISP is our conversely poor (and similarly unsustainable) performance with nobody on. the cardinals hit .252/.312/.385 with nobody on; that translates to a .308 wOBA and a 97 wRC+. that's not quite as stark a variance from our total wRC+ (120) as our RISP numbers (154). there's a 23 point difference in one direction and a 34 point difference in the other.

so, yes, we won't hit as well with RISP in the second half, but we should also have propotionately more chances with RISP than we did earlier this season.

with the bases empty, our team BABIP was only .288. with RISP, our team BABIP was .373. again, the disparity goes in both directions: 37 points in one direction, and 48 in the other.

while it is slightly easier to hit with runners in scoring position (owing mostly to the changed defensive positioning of infielders holding runners on), those differences do not begin to explain such a stark disparity. the league average BABIP with no one on is .293, while with RISP it is .300. with a team BABIP overall of .325, we should see those splits converge sharply.

despite having one of the best OBPs (.350) of any team in baseball, we are only getting men on base at a .312 clip with the bases empty. we walked or got a hit 563 times with the bases empty; with a .350 OBP, we should have gotten on base 652 times in the same number of PAs. not all of those 89 opportunities would've gotten us in scoring position, but clearly a lot of those extra runners would have scored, even if our success with RISP dropped.

i'm not denying that it's better to hit well with RISP. if you have a choice about how to distribute weird BABIP numbers. it's probably modestly better to have the cardinals' first-half distribution of batted balls among chances with no one on and chances with RISP. i just don't think that the likely outcome of regression is any sort of large decrease in run-scoring.

the point here is not to get wrapped around the axle about our hitting with RISP. it's not something that we have a special skill for, and it's not a matter where we need to lose a lot of sleep about regression. don't worry about weird splits; pay attention to the fact that we have the best wRC+ of any team in the majors, and much better than any of our competitors.

our 120 wRC+ as a team is lots better than our nearest NL competition: the braves at 110. trailing them are the giants at 106; the reds and dodgers at 103; and the pirates at 102. that's a pretty absurd lead in terms of total offense. as long as we're the best hitting club overall, we're going to score plenty of runs.

the 50-run gap between us and the braves in run-scoring (458 v. 408) is not particularly more dramatic than that of teams comparably worse statistically than the braves, like the pirates, phillies, and brewers, who all have wRC+'s 8-11 points worse than atlanta. the pirates have scored 350 runs; the phillies 360; and the brewers 361. we're scoring more runs than all the other NL teams mostly because we're a better offensive team, not because we have fluky luck with RISP.