We're going to hear a lot about situational hitting over the next few months. Here's all you need to know: getting men on is much more important than what you do when they are on.
Why? Because it turns out just about every team plates the same percentage of their baserunners. Nevertheless, every year, fans of every team think that their bunch is terrible at situational hitting. Actually, baseball is a game of failure at the offensive level, and we'd all be better to trust our perceptions a little less and check the facts a little more.
Defined most broadly, situational hitting is hitting with someone on-base. Supposedly, some teams are great at this, while others are horrible. In reality, everyone is almost exactly the same. Frighteningly so in fact. The best teams score around 15% of their baserunners, the worst, 13%.
Read that again.
Without getting political, this is like Joe Biden supporters bragging about how much better their campaign is working than Chris Dodd's, that 2% could easily be the baseball equivalent of the margin of error. Looking at the data from 2006, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to this, other than a team's general offensive strength. The Indians -- who very rarely steal or bunt -- were tops in 2006, driving in 15.63% of their baserunners. Finishing a tick behind them were the Tigers at 15.60%, then the Angels (yaaa!!!) at 15.51%. Rounding out the top five were the White Sox and Rangers. In 2006, the Royals actually finished 7th with an OBI% of 15.26%, only a quarter of a percentage point away from those situational Gods in the OC. The '06 Royals had 3893 baserunners, and brought 594 of them home. Do you know how much better they could have been had they been the Angels? Try nine runs, by any measure, a pitiable figure over 162 games. What becomes clear is that these ranks don't mean much, because the gap between the best and the worst is so small, just over 2.5% (the Pirates were dead last, with a OBI% of 13.03%).
OBP is life, life is OBP.
Leaving everything else still floating around -- park factors, competition, offensive style, power teams, speedy teams -- still in play, and look at the power of OBP to explain: Here's the 2007 AL leaders for Runs Scored:
- Red Sox
- Red Sox
Sure, maybe the "Angels way" brings you an extra 10-20 runs a year, I'll be generous. Remember, truly going all out with small ball might increase the percentage of baserunners driven in, but its also going to decrease the number of baserunners at the same time. That doesn't sound like something worth building a philosophy around or a solution to any kind of problem. An upgrade at any single position would work just as well, if not better.