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A certain segment of baseball people (fans, media, etc.) love talking about batting average with runners in scoring position -- and the same stat but limited to two outs -- to the point that I've previously called it an obsession. Fans hammer us on Twitter, some beat reporters tweet out RISP numbers and some broadcasters hammer it home throughout entire games.
The problem is that while looking at RISP numbers can tell us a story of how we got to the present, they tell us absolutely nothing about the future. There is no predictive value in looking at those numbers and they don't reveal a certain skill set in the hitters. That is to say, if someone has been great with runners in scoring position, it doesn't mean he has some superior "clutch" skill. Often, it's just because the guy is a good hitter all the time -- Miguel Cabrera, for example, is great with runners in scoring position because he's pretty great in every situation. Other times it's just been a coincidental fluke.
Look no further than the 2013-14 St. Louis Cardinals as a pretty good illustration of this.
The 2013 Cardinals were ridiculous with runners in scoring position. They hit .330/.402/.463 with runners in scoring position as a team. It was an MLB-record batting average in this situation for a team. When pared down to hitting with RISP and two outs, the Cardinals were still pretty awesome at .305/.397/.424. Basically, if there was a runner on second, third or both, the entire team hit like All-Stars.
So the narrative for some would go that the Cardinals were very skillful in these situations and they just had the proper approach. They had some formula that other teams didn't. Right?
"There is not a magic formula that gets it done."
Wait, what? Um, yeah, that's Matt Holliday of the Cardinals, speaking to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. And he's actually talking about the Cardinals' woes in this same situation in 2014. Here's the rest of the quote (stltoday.com):
"It's the same hitters with the same approach. It just hasn't worked out. It's not for lack of effort or ability. Right now it's not happening."
Entering Sunday, the Cardinals are hitting .229/.300/.339 with runners in scoring position. The two-out version of the stat? .205/.290/.351. So the group of collective All-Stars has transformed into a group of pretty terrible hitters in this cherry-picked stat.
The loss of Carlos Beltran hurts. Otherwise it's essentially the same personnel. Take a look at three individual examples of drastic dips in production with RISP:
Allen Craig, 2013: .454/.500/.638
Allen Craig, 2014: .214/.258/.357
Yadier Molina, 2013: .373/.434/.516
Yadier Molina, 2014: .268/.295/.390
Matt Adams, 2013: .329/.374/.553
Matt Adams, 2014: .118/.143/.206
So what happened? Did these three guys all of a sudden lose their formula in the situation? Of course not. Ebbs, flows and all that. They could very well bounce back and start hitting in these (again, cherry-picked) situations again. Or they might not. We can't possibly know because hitting with runners in scoring position isn't a skill and the stat doesn't have predictive value.
Looking at the stat does have some value, again, in telling us how certain teams and players got to this point in the season. Goold in particular did a great job of doing so in his game story Saturday night about the struggling Cardinals.
That's where it needs to stop in all situations, though. We can talk about the past and the present with this stat, but definitely not the future. Season-long flukes can happen with teams or individuals. The only thing we know for sure is that there's no way to predict moving forward how any team or individual will hit with runners in scoring position -- outside of the educated guesswork that says the better hitters will tend to be better in any situation.
But, hey, don't listen to me. Holliday himself said there's no magic formula and he has authored a .421/.500/.553 line with runners in scoring position this season. Go tell him he's wrong if so inclined.