108: It will be R-I-P if Blue Jays don’t figure out what’s going on with R-I-S-P.

Blue Jays' manager John Gibbons is still searching for answers to his team's offensive woes (photo: Patrick Semansky / The Associated Press)

Blue Jays' manager John Gibbons is still searching for answers to his team's offensive woes (photo: Patrick Semansky / The Associated Press)

May 26, 2016

By Tyler King

Canadian Baseball Network

Hallelujah, praise the Lord - the Toronto Blue Jays went 3-for-8 (.375) with runners in scoring position versus the New York Yankees on Wednesday!

So hug your children, call in sick to work, go ahead and party in the streets! Because considering how the Jays have hit with runners-on this season, that is definitely something worth celebrating.

Of course they also stranded eight runners in that game, but I’m sorry Jays fans, right now you are in no position to be offensively snooty. 

I mean, what do you think this is ... 2015?

Last season the Jays’ .269 team average was second in all of baseball, and as good as that number was their performance with RISP was even better. They hit .287 with RISP in 2015, tops in the league.

However, through their first 48 games this year Blue Jays hitters have gone a collective 75-for-347 with RISP. Their .216 average in that regard is good for 28th in the league, ahead of only the New York Mets and New York Yankees. (They were actually dead last prior to yesterday’s game.)

And yes, that means that even the 12-34 Minnesota Twins have been better clutch hitters than the Jays ... 

I’d say go ahead and figure that one out, but I’ve already tried. 

Trust me, it’s not possible.

 

***

The struggles that the Toronto Blue Jays have had in scoring situations this season have been well-documented, and surely they continue to baffle just about everyone.

After 48 games, I’ve yet to see a sufficient or even remotely plausible explanation. 

When confronted with the any question regarding situational hitting, it’s seemingly always answered with an all-too-typical baseball platitude, something like “guys are gripping the bat too tight.”

Which (I hope obviously) makes no intuitive sense.

Contrary to what might be popular belief, league averages actually go up when runners are in scoring position - and not insignificantly so. The current league-wide batting average is .251, but jumps to .254 with a runner on second or third.

Again, that seems to make Toronto’s 18-point drop from their standard team average (.236) to their average with RISP (.216) - the fifth largest drop in the majors - all the more confusing.

The league-wide trend of higher batting averages with runners on is not anomalous to this season either. According to Baseball Prospectus, over the past 18 years the league average with RISP has been four points higher than the standard league batting average (without RISP). 

The numbers are simply irrefutable, especially when you see how logical the arguments are in support of this trend.

(It should be noted that none of these arguments have anything to do with “grip tightness.”)

The main reason given for the increased averages was that there are many more at-bats with RISP against lesser pitchers, for the simple reason that the Jake Arrietas and Clayton Kershaws of the league rarely (or in Arrieta’s case, almost never) let batters reach base. So a hitter is much more likely to be facing a bad pitcher with runners on than a good one. 

Simple enough.

What is also clear is that the amount of singles, doubles, and triples with RISP all go up significantly higher when proportionally compared to their rates without men on base. But, perhaps somewhat oddly, home runs show an opposite trend and actually decrease with runners on. 

Again, there are some very rational, easily explained reasons as to why this is, such as power hitters are more likely to get walked or pitched around in dangerous situations. But that still tells us nothing of the Blue Jays struggles.

(If you’re curious, you can view the complete Baseball Prospectus analysis here).

Alright, put your hand down, I already know what you’re thinking: “Well that does explain it! The Blue Jays are a home run hitting team. Less home runs means less hits with runners in scoring position, meaning a lower average. I’m a genius!”

Come on, if the 2016 Blue Jays have taught us anything, it’s that nothing is that simple.

To be fair, that analysis does seem to make a lot of sense on the surface - and I’ll admit that was my first reaction too. Unfortunately however, the numbers just don’t seem to agree. 

The Blue Jays actually have a better home-run ratio (one every 24.7 at-bats) with RISP than they do without (one every 26.4 at-bats). But hold on, allow me to make this even more confusing.

They also have a better home-run ratio with RISP this year than they did during their prolific 2015 season (one every 26.1 at-bats). 

2015 ... the year they hit 232 home runs, 52 of which were with RISP ... My whole life is a lie.

In this way, it actually seems like the Jays are relying too heavily on the long ball, at the costly expense of valuable clutch singles.

Case in point: Of the 14 home runs the Jays have hit with RISP, Josh Donaldson has 4 of them (29%). Now that would be a very impressive statistic if it weren’t for the fact that HE ONLY HAS FIVE TOTAL HITS WITH RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION.

Seriously, Donaldson has gone just 5-for-31 (.161) with RISP, and four of those give hits have been home runs ...

That makes it very tempting to take the easy route and just say that he’s home run crazy, that he needs to shorten up, put the ball in play - and maybe he does. But none of that was a problem for the AL MVP last season, when he went 48-for-136 (.353) with RISP, hitting just seven home runs. 

And if it really is simply a case of a guy trying too hard or having home runs and RBIs on the brain, then Donaldson isn’t the only guilty party on the Jays roster. 

Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Goins, Kevin Pillar, and Edwin Encarnacion are all hitting under .200 with RISP. Although to be fair, those guys haven’t hit much of anything.

Currently - and I’m not making this up - the two best Blue Jays hitters with RISP are Ezequiel Carrera (.429) and Darwin Barney (.400). They’ve also received some of the fewest at-bats in those situations, often being pinch-hit for in late-inning situations. 

But when they’ve had opportunities they’ve been extremely effective, going a combined 9-for-22 with RISP.

Oh, and neither of them have a home run with men on base ...

And with that, fellow Jays fans, I give up.

***

Follow Tyler and #Section108 on Twitter: @TylerJoseph108