Buster Olney doesn’t make a lot of sense

61 Comments

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.

Eric Thames exits game with right knee soreness

Eric Thames
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brewers outfielder Eric Thames made an early exit from Friday’s game against the Cardinals after colliding with Lorenzo Cain on an outfield catch in the first inning. According to an official report, he has been diagnosed with right knee soreness and is presumably day-to-day for the time being.

It was a brutal collision knocked both outfielders flat on their backs, but they were able to resume their positions and stick it out for the rest of the inning. Thames was up in the second, too, and struck out on five pitches from St. Louis right-hander Jack Flaherty before making an eventual exit in the top of the third. He was replaced on the field and in the lineup by Hernan Perez.

Entering Friday’s contest, the 31-year-old Thames carried a .230/.308/.516 batting line, 16 home runs and an .824 OPS in his second full season with the Brewers. He hasn’t replicated the career-high .247-average, 31-homer, 2.1-fWAR totals of his breakout performance in 2017, though that’s likely due to a combination of decreased playing time and lengthy recovery periods mandated by several significant injuries, including a torn UCL in his left thumb and a right hamstring strain. There’s no word yet on when he might return to the lineup this season.