Much has been made of the Braves’ futility with runners in scoring position. As I wrote this, looking at the statistics before Wednesday’s action, the Braves had the second-worst batting average in the National League and the fourth-worst slugging percentage in the National League with runners in scoring position (though they are in the middle of the pack in on-base percentage, at 8th).
Of course the narrative is that the strikeouts are leading to a lot of stranded runners and less production with runners in scoring position. With a runner on third with less than two outs, a strikeout means no possibility to advance a runner from thirdbase. So a high-strikeout, low batting-average team should struggle to drive in runners in scoring position.
In actuality this is not true. Yes, they do have one of the lowest batting averages with runners in scoring position. But they aren’t bad at driving in runners in that situation. The Braves are 10th in RBI in RISP situations with 183. But the 8th ranked team has 185 RBI in that situation. If we break it down by plate appearance minus walks per RBI (since walks are less likely to lead to RBI but a team shouldn’t be penalized for being pitched around), the Braves rank 8th. If we just look at at-bats per RBI (of course that removes walks, sacrifices and hit-by-pitch), the Braves rank 7th in the National League.
Now none of these numbers are outstanding. Of course every fan wants the team to have the most RBI with RISP, no matter how we break it down. The Braves are pretty average at driving in runs with runners in scoring position. No fan wants to hear that their team is average at anything. But considering the narrative is that the Braves have struggled and don’t hit with runners in scoring position, as evidenced by their low batting average, it’s a breath of fresh air to know that they really aren’t bad. They aren’t good either but they certainly aren’t bad.
Then you consider the Braves lead the National League in homeruns, so Braves’ baserunners on firstbase and Braves in the batters box are actually in scoring position quite often. The Braves are 3rd in the league in Weighted On-Base Average and 5th in the league in Weighted Runs Created Plus, both of which are measures of the run value of hits, walks and outs the Braves have accrued this season. The Braves are doing fine at the things that actually create runs, when we account for every situation, whether runners are in scoring position or not.
Another thing to consider is the specific examples of what players have done with runners in scoring position. Freddie Freeman has come to the plate more times than any Brave with RISP, has the highest average and has picked up the most RBI. Justin Upton is second in plate appearances with RISP but has been walked 21.9 percent of the time. The major league leader in walk rate, Joey Votto, has walked in 16.3 percent of his plate appearances. Of the Braves with the five most plate appearances with RISP–Freeman, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Andrelton Simmons and Dan Uggla–three of them rank in the top 15 in the National League in walk rate in that situation. Freeman and Simmons are the two that don’t rank in the top 15 in walk rate with RISP.
Of all players in the National League with at least 30 plate appearances with RISP, five Braves players rank in the top 30 in walk rate in that situation: the Uptons, McCann, Uggla and Jason Heyward. The Braves most talented hitters are being pitched tough with runners in scoring position and they are laying off those pitches enough to draw walks quite often. And if hitters walk with runners already in scoring position, that just puts even more pressure on the pitcher. Even if the Braves don’t post an impressive batting average with RISP, they are creating opportunities with runners on base, and that’s the best way to score runs. You’d rather a basketball team take 100 shots and make 50 than take 30 shots and make 20. The idea is to score runs, not necessarily to be efficient.