September 14, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Braves Squeak By Nats, Clutch Hitting Woes Continue

Kris Medlen is doing everything he can to make sure the Braves win at least one out of every five games.  His 13 Ks were the most a Braves starters has had against a first-place team since John Smoltz struck out 13 Padres on April 14, 1996.  As mentioned repeatedly on the telecast, his eight called strike threes were the most of any pitcher this year.  Unfortunately, a Bryce Harper homer forced Medlen to leave the game tied at one after seven.

The Braves scored their first run on an Andrelton Simmons sacrifice fly, which brought in Freddie Freeman after his leadoff double.  This was after the Braves squandered two RISP opportunities with multiple chances against Ross Detwiler.  The offense was quite until the ninth, when Simmons got an infield single, followed by a Michael Bourn bloop hit.  Tyler Pastornicky pinch-hit and tapped a ball to Ian Desmond, who missed horribly on the throw home to allow Simmons to score the winning run.

Clutch Hitting

The Braves have managed to make this look like a skill, not recording an RBI hit with a runner on base since Sunday.  Coming into tonight’s game, their RISP wRC+ was 86, below the league average figure of 95.  High-leverage situations have been more kind, coming in just a point below average.  In the RISP category, only Bourn, Chipper Jones, and Dan Uggla have managed above-average production on the year.  As you can see, there really isn’t any common denominator in those three approaches, so I don’t think a certain type of hitter will have a better chance to be clutch.

One thing that could be hurting the cause is the intensified focus to not strike out.  While not putting the ball in play with RISP is usually a cardinal sin of hitting, breaking down your swing to do so defeats the purpose.  Most of the Braves hitters have a lower K rate in these situations, but they have the second-worst team BABIP (.268) in the majors.  Of the regulars, only Bourn and Uggla have a higher RISP BABIP than total BABIP.  The team power is also down in those situations, only posting a 8.6% HR/FB% compared to their full-season 11.2% figure.  Balls like Pastornicky’s tonight do not get the job done 99% of the time, so the Braves hitters need to keep their normal approach even when “the book” says to make contact at all costs.  If that different approach worked better, a hitter would use it all the time.

It is really hard to believe that the Braves have won 19 more games than they’ve lost with such poor clutch capabilities.  The cynicism running through my brain when they get two on with no outs is startling, always expecting the worst possible outcome.  Thankfully, clutch hitting has generally been a very fickle stat, showing little to no sustainability over time, meaning the Braves could suddenly become Francisco Cabrera the rest of the season.

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  • Carlos Collazo

    MLB.TV screwed me out of this one. Wish I could have seen it.

    • fireboss

      It was a good game except for Faux announcers. Oddly the Gnat fans thought they were pro brave while Brave fans thought they were anti brave and I just thought they were bland and boring

      • Carlos Collazo

        Was it some kind of National Weekend game rule or something?

        • fireboss

          I dunno really. just rumors so far

  • fireboss

    Sorry, don’t agree with your assertions about what hitters are and should be doing with RISP. Here’s why.

    1. “One thing that could be hurting the cause is the intensified focus to
    not strike out. While not putting the ball in play with RISP is usually
    a cardinal sin of hitting, breaking down your swing to do so defeats
    the purpose.”

    That’s just plain wrong. Empirically there’s no evidence that anyone other than Prado approaches at bats with RISP differently than any other at bat. I’ve watched all but a handful of games and can’t remember anyone do anything obviously or significantly different with RISP. Subjectively the numbers do not back up the idea that they are putting balls in play at a higher rate either IF you also you consider situational pitching -pitchers working carefully with RISP – as a factor.
    I know of no one who believes pitchers use the same approach to hitters with RISP as they do with the bases empty. Pitch selection.,location and willingness to just issue a walk instead of giving in, are affected by game situation.
    Most of our hitters’ K rates do drop but their BB rate increases.and statistically close enough to the drop in k rate to indicate less hittable pitches being offered up to them.
    McCann K’s .045 less but walks .049 more net OBP +.004
    Uggla Ks .017 less but walks .068 more net OBP +.051
    Heyward Ks .028 less but walks .046 more net OBP +.018
    Prado Ks .032 less but walks .056 more net OBP +.024
    Bourn Ks .018 less but walks .026 more net OBP +.008
    Freeman Ks .030 less but walks .041 more net OBP +.011
    Only Chipper is significantly different from the norm and his numbers don’t support your position either. I believe Chipper is so frustrated with the lineup’s failure to produce with RISP that he’s decided it’s all on him. Therefore he expands his zone trying to make something happen because that may be enough to score a run and perhaps subconsciously doesn’t trust anyone else to do it My amateur psychoanalysis aside, the data show that Chipper K’s .029 more and walks .063 more; net OBP – .091.

    2. “Balls like Pastornicky’s tonight do not get the job done 99% of the
    time, so the Braves hitters need to keep their normal approach even when
    “the book” says to make contact at all costs. If that different
    approach worked better, a hitter would use it all the time.”
    The book may not be right about many things. Putting the ball in play however is the right thing to do.
    The numbers say you’re way off with that 99% guesstimate.
    MLB wide there were 42117 PA with RISP with 9028 hits, 1100 sac flies and 4630 walks resulting in 12,849 RBI. What I would call expected options that score runs.
    8034 Folks struck out resulting in 6 go ahead runs and 1 tied a game
    557 times batter reached on an error with RISP, 124 times a run scored, 82 times it was a lead run and 42 times it tied the game. Assuming those strike out runs were errors, 551 times batter reached on a fielding error resulting in 76 go ahead runs and a tied game 41 times. So plays like Rev’s (putting the ball in play) are successful 21.

    Hitters don’t change their swing for every at bat for the same reason you don’t use the same technique to drill a hole in concrete as you do in sheet rock. These are craftsmen doing their job to fit the situation. Most of the time you want then to try to get on base. Sometimes however you don’t care if he gets on base as long as the man already there moves up one. That’s where bat handlers are at their best, hitting the ball where it needs to go based on game situation instead of thinking only of themselves. There’s no stat for hitting behind a runner or staying in a rundown so another runner can advance but like adjusting your approach at the plate to the game situation you help the team win. Too many players today haven’t learned that skill.

    • Lee Trocinski

      The league averages overall are a 8.4% BB rate and 19.1% Ks, .300 BABIP, and a 11.8% HR/FB%. With RISP, those averages go to 11.5% BB and 18.7% Ks, .296 BABIP, and a 11% HR/FB%. There is not nearly as much of a dropoff of any of those stats as the Braves have.

      I’m not saying that strikeouts aren’t bad, but if you’re not afraid to strike out, you swing harder, making more solid contact than when you swing to avoid the strikeout. The drop in BABIP, K’s, and HR’s give my theory some legs, though I would need speed-off-bat numbers to really prove that.

      As far as Rev’s weak groundball, I will say that 99% is way too high. I would say the ball gets booted or thrown away about 5% of the time, while it gets through the infield about 10%. Sacrifice flies are the tricky part of this analysis, but attempting to hit deep fly balls should not affect the other stats, especially the K’s, that much.

      • fireboss

        The league averages have nothing to do with the Braves player’s actual performance history. They are simply an arithmetic median for 375 or so players. It’s more accurate to look at what the players themselves do in each situation which I did to the third decimal point. That the drop in K coincides with an increase in BB by virtually the same amount isn’t a coincidence.
        The 21% number for success on errors wasn’t a guess either. The numbers I quoted in the comment are MLB wide this year. Of the 557 errors committed 21% resulted in a run.
        Numbers aside, one of the reasons we have such a bad RISP is that aside from Simmons and Prado the Braves don’t give themselves up to get a run. Chipper is particularly bad this year I suspect his expansion of the zone and increased K rate while others went down is because he’s seen so many hitters fail with RISP he’s subconsciously decided he has to do
        Without spray charts for RISP situations vs spray charts for the rest of the time it’s not possible to be absolutely definitive but a player trying to go the other way uses an inside out swing. Aside from the 2 mentioned I haven’t seen that. Freeman and Heyward take outside pitches the other way but they do that regardless of who’s on.
        Just my POV of course. Onward and upward