Sports Magazine

Battling Bucs : Fun With SSS

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
Fun With Small Sample Sizes
The Pirates have poor numbers with RISP and a lot of people have been talking like there is actually some significance to it. You all know I don't believe that to be the case but let’s just pretend for a minute that the sample sizes of approximately 24 to 128 AB (the number of at bats the Pirates top 13 position players have with RISP) we are working with actually do mean something. Using that as our logic what can we conclude about the individual players on the Pirates and the team as a whole.
Russell Martin
When the margin in a game is more than 4 runs this year Martin is terrible batting .125 with a .514 OPS. When the game is tied Martin is a beast batting .320 with an .834 OPS. When there are RISP Martin is batting a pedestrian .230 but when there are runners on 1st and 2nd Martin is batting a robust .296. Also when there is runner on 3B with 2 outs Martin has an .883 OPS. Looking at his stats deeper we see that when there are exactly 2 runners on Martin hits fairly well but when there is 1 runner or the bases are loaded he doesn't hit well. Also Martin doesn't hit well with a runner at 3B unless there are 2 outs. Since we are playing a game that doesn't allow us to dismiss this to random chance we must conclude that Martin is having some sort of mental block out when there are 1 or 3 runners on base but not 2 and that he apparently stops trying when the margin of the game gets to 5 or more. We also can conclude that this mental problem also is hindering him from knocking guys in from 3B with 0 or 1 outs but not with 2. I'm not exactly sure what could be causing this but it by far isn't our weirdest find.
Garrett Jones
Jones is batting a terrible .207 with RISP but when there is a runner on 3B with less than 2 outs he is batting an amazing .467 with a 1.267 OPS. Overall he is hitting fairly well when there is a runner on 3B but terrible when there is a runner on 2B. When there happens to be runners on both bases it appears the presence of a man on 1B is the decider. With bases load Jones is hitting .333 but he is hitting .000 when runners are on 2nd and 3rd only. Jones has a terrible .182 batting average when the game is tied but if the Pirates are ahead he is batting .263 and when they are behind he ramps it up another notch and bats .297. Jones is also awful in the 3rd inning batting only .179 but in 5th inning he hits a robust .351 he cools off from there with batting averages of .273 and .171 in the 6th and 7th respectively but heats back up in the 8th inning hitting .345. So what we can conclude from Jones is that the presence of a man on 2nd messes with his mind unless the other two bases are occupied so I'm guessing it must be a symmetry thing. He also must start playing the game a little groggy only to take some protein shakes or something before the 4th and 8th innings respectively. The first protein shake has a bit more long lasting effect than the second.
Neil Walker
Walker is batting a low .222 with RISP but he is great when there are two RISP batting .400 in those situations. Looking when there is a runner at 3B he is terrible when there is a runner at 3B and other guys on with 2 outs but if the runner is by himself at 3B with 2 outs or there are less than 2 outs with a runner at 3B Walker mashes the ball. Walker seems to excel in tie games batting .295 but only .190 when the margin is more than 4 runs. For comparison all hitters in the NL are hitting .253 in tie games and .251 when the margin is more than four runs. He also excels in high leverage situations batting .351 but is awful when the pressure is off in low leverage situations batting a measly .232. In addition Walker starts off hot batting .321 in innings 1-3 but then cools way down batting .216 in innings 4-6 and .233 in innings 7-9. He does heat back up if a game goes to extras as he is hitting .333 in those situations. So we can conclude Walker comes out of the gate pumped but loses interest as the game goes along. If it an important moment he shows up but otherwise it looks like beyond the 3rd inning he is just going through the motions. He also apparently gets spooked when there are multiple runners on base with two outs but not when there is 0 or 1 outs. When there is a singular runner on base with two outs Walker is excellent. He is even pretty good when the two runners are on 1st and 2nd so it must have something to do with a runner being on 3rd. I guess the most logical explanation since random chance isn't valid in this exercise is that the weight distribution of the runners must ever so slightly tilt the field in a manner that impedes Walker and this problem is intensified when Walker is pushing with 2 outs.
Pedro Alvarez
Alvarez is probably our biggest offender of this strange tie game thing which I will attempt to explain later. In tie games he has an OPS of 1.003 but when trailing his OPS is only .685 and its .606 when the Pirates are ahead. He also has some weird inning things as in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and extra innings he bats below .200 but in the 2nd, 5th, 8th and 9th his lowest batting average in .289 in the 8th and all the other innings are above .300. Pedro is actually batting .248 with RISP which is better than his .236 overall batting average. Pedro like a few other Pirates is pretty bad with runners on 2B and 3B though as his OPS in those situations is only .539 and its .606 with the bases loaded. Alvarez also struggles when there is just a runner on 1B or runner on 1B and 3B. He seems to excel when there is one out and a runner on 2B but struggles when there are 0 or 2 outs and a runner at 2B unless there are 0 outs and runners on 1B and 2B. The best explanation here appears to be the Pedro Alvarez is some sort of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and his baseball playing skills shift between the two depending on the inning which is going on.
Starling Marte
Marte is hitting a pedestrian .230 with RISP but is hitting .285 with no one on base and .314 with just a runner on 1B. Marte is great with bases loaded as he is batting .600 in such situations and he does well with runners on 1B and 3B as he is batting .300 in those situations. He is also decent when there is just a runner on 2B. So Marte suffers from difficulty to hit with 2 runners on and one of those being at 2B. It’s an oddly specific problem but it has been Marte's Achilles heel this year along with the strike outs. Unlike most of the rest of the team Marte thrives when the margin is more than 4 runs as he is hitting .375 in such situations. He also shrinks when the Pirates are ahead batting only .237. Marte also possess a strange inning split as he struggles to hit in the 2nd, 4th and 5th but does perfectly fine in all other innings except extra innings. The obvious answer here is that the runner on 2B somehow distracts Marte. Maybe he watches the runner when is on instead of the ball. The 2B runner would be in his general line of vision so I'm thinking that very well may be the case. He also seems to put on the breaks when the Pirates are winning, ease off the gas if you will.
Andrew McCutchen
Andrew McCutchen is batting .285 with RISP which while not bad is below his .314 batting average overall. McCutchen's only real issue with RISP has been just when there was a runner on 2B and no other base. He has an OPS of .631 in those situations and in all other RISP situations excluding bases loaded his lowest OPS is .812. In bases loaded situations it is .200. McCutchen has been a tremendously balanced hitter but he does have issues with nobody out and a runner on 3B but is very good with 1 out and a runner on 3B. He also hasn't hit well with 2 outs and runners on unless the runners are at 2B and 3B or 1B and 3B. McCutchen also seems to have a problem with batting in the 5th inning as his .216 average there is by far his worse for any individual inning, .282 in the first is his second worse. So what we have is a very balanced hitter who is struggling in specific 2 outs and RISP situations. He isn't struggling in all of them as he hits very well with 2 outs and runners either on the corners or on 2nd and 3rd. Another very specific issue. So it looks like McCutchen tires down halfway through the game and then gets jump started for the second half before tiring out if the game goes to extra innings. He also seems to struggle when there is a runner on 2B with no other runners on and in some 2 out situations. It is tough to know exactly why this is occurring but the most logical solution appears to be ... you know what I'm even at a loss here.
The Pirates
Using sample sizes roughly equal to the RISP samples that are often quoted and used to prove a point I took a look at the Pirates usual top 6 hitters and have concluded the following.
The leadoff hitter, Marte, has trouble being consistent out of the gate before finally settling in. When a runner is in on 2B he is often distracted by his presence. He also appears to thrive in garbage time and ease up when his team has the lead.
The second hitter, Walker, comes out of the gate strong but doesn't have the focus to give full effort for the last two thirds of the game unless it is important. He also is intimidated when there are multiple runners on with two outs but does well if there is only one runner. So his two out approach is disrupted by the extra additional moving bodies.
The third hitter, McCutchen, runs out of steam in the 5th inning only to catch a second wind and finish strong. He also struggles when there is a runner at 2B and only 2B. My best guess here is that it makes him feel uncomfortable to be two bases away from a teammate. Multiple runners on base form a chain which eases him in by making him sense the distant between him and the teammate at 2B is smaller than what it actually is.
The cleanup hitter, Alvarez, is a bit of a DR. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde alternating hitting ability depending on the inning being players and also ramping it up when the game is tied but pulling it back when there is any difference in the score.
The fifth hitter, Martin, ramps his game up when the score is tied but in garbage time reels his game back in. He also feels bad when there is only one runner on base because he senses that person must feel lonely. In addition he struggles to hit with a runner on 3B and less than 2 outs but is rather good with a runner on 3B and 2 outs. Apparently his approach to hitting with 0 or 1 outs causes a runner at 3B to distract him. Maybe he looks down and thinks the runner is actually the 3B and changes where he tries to hit the ball to.
Finally the sixth hitter, Jones, starts the game out not ready to play but takes a protein shake in the 4th inning which wares off after the 6th but he takes a smaller one which gives him before the 8th which gives him a boost for just that one inning. He also likes having the runners on the bases in some sort of symmetrical pattern.
I poke a little fun at this sure but the truth is these numbers are based off very similar sample sizes to what everyone is basing the RISP numbers off of. My statements about these 6 hitters are just as valid as any which claim the Pirates are choking because of their inability to hit with RISP. If you believe the later you have to give credence to the former. While it’s true all my scenarios may be possible it is far more likely that these are the results of random variation within a tiny sampling of at bats and the same logic carries over to the RISP numbers. Bottom line here is that 150 PA or less is not nearly enough to make any logical assumption about a player's skill.

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