Buster Olney doesn’t make a lot of sense

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From Buster Olney’s ESPN Insider column today comes this little snide remark directed at stats people:

One of the oft-repeated lines about hitting with runners in scoring position is that it’s not really a repeatable skill. This is kind of silly because a lot of hitters work on situational hitting every single day in batting practice.

Olney is trying to make the point that maybe it’s not just luck that Allen Craig and the Cardinals as a whole are hitting so well in the “clutch.”  Craig is currently batting .489 in 90 AB with RISP, compared to .274 in 190 AB with none on. He had the same kind of split, if not quite as pronounced last year, hitting .400 with RISP and .289 with none on.

And the Cardinals as a whole have been outstanding with RISP, hitting .337 with an .876 OPS. No other NL team has better than a .744 OPS with RISP. On the other hand, the Cardinals are just 13th in the NL in OPS with none on, coming in at .673. Their .244 average ranks ninth.

For the Cardinals as a whole, though, it’s not something carried over from 2012. Last year, the Cardinals ranked third in the NL in OPS with the bases empty (.741) and with RISP (.775). The NL average OPS with RISP was 26 points better than with none on, so that’s just the kind of split one would expect.

But this isn’t really about the Cardinals. This is about Olney trying to come up with some sort of bizarre reason why a team would hit better with RISP without simply repeating “clutch” over and over. Which is good, in the abstract, but… situational hitting in batting practice? Really?

When you think of situational hitting with RISP, what do you think of?

1. Trying to hit the ball in the air in order to collect a sac fly
2. Trying to advance the runner from second to third with a grounder to the right side or a bunt
3. A squeeze or suicide squeeze bunt with a runner on third

That’s pretty much it, right? And if you pull off one of those three outcomes, you’ll get your high fives as you head back to the dugout. But what you won’t get is any help with your batting average.

Allen Craig doesn’t have great numbers with RISP because he’s hitting situationally. He has them because he’s ripping the ball all over the place. We shouldn’t expect those odd splits from the last year and a half to continue because, let’s face it, hitting with RISP isn’t really a repeatable skill. But we can probably expect Craig to keep hitting well with RISP because, in general, he’s a darn good hitter.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.