Straight 108’s Guide to Clutch Hitting

With the exception of a 9th inning Christian Arroyo bases clearing double that was aided by two Mets walks and an error, the Giants have now scored 3 runs or less in 7 of their last 8 games. There isn’t a singular area to blame for the Giants offensive struggles in 2017, rather it is a philosophical and systematic breakdown that had lead to their subpar performance. In failing to establish an offensive identity (discussed here), the Giants continue to score sporadically and sparsely, putting immense pressure on a pitching staff that is relying on several unproven pieces to keep the Giants competitive.

Through 36 games, batters starting an inning for the Giants are hitting .215 with a .256 on base percentage, both marks the worst in the National League. Additionally, their leadoff batters (slotted in the #1 slot in the batting order) are batting .220 on the season with a .265 on base percentage, also worst in the NL.

When they finally do get runners on base, the Giants are hitting .233 (2nd worst in the NL) with a .292 on base percentage (last in the NL and 49 points lower than the NL average). They have 7 sacrifices on the season, (2nd fewest in the NL) and 11 stolen bases (3rd fewest in the NL), suggesting that even when they do get runners on base, the Giants are amongst the worst teams in the National League at continuing to move runners and manufacture run-scoring opportunities.

In the rare instance the Giants get a runner in scoring position, they again struggle mightily. With runners in scoring position, the Giants are hitting .236 (4th worst in the NL) with a .307 on base percentage (2nd worst in the NL), and have scored 90 runs – 26 fewer than the National League average. With runners in scoring position and 2 outs, one of the most critical situations in determining scoring and game outcomes, the Giants are even worse, hitting .216 (2nd worst in NL) with a .309 on base percentage.

The impact of the brutal performance in these areas would have been somewhat minimized had the Giants benefited from the homerun ball or immense success in another run-scoring situation such as hitting with the bases loaded. Through 36 games, the Giants have hit 27 homeruns – the fewest in all of Major League Baseball and 15 fewer than the National League average. With the bases loaded, the Giants are hitting .238 (4th worst in the NL) with a .240 on base percentage (3rd worst in the NL).

What does all this information suggest? The Giants are amongst the worst teams at getting men on base to build rallies. When they do get men on base, they can’t get them into scoring position. And on the rare occasion they do get a man into scoring position, they’re amongst the worst in all of baseball at driving them in. They also don’t perform well in important momentum-shifting situations, and they don’t hit homeruns. All-in-all, not a good recipe for scoring runs.

Realistically, this is not a new issue for the Giants. In 2016, the Giants were a completely average (at best) offensive club in its ability to manufacture and score runs. They finished 4th in the NL (of 15 teams) in batting average, 4th in on base percentage, 9th in runs scored, 10th in total bases, 11th in slugging percentage, and 13th in homeruns. While most associated 2016 as a “down” season for the Giants offensively, it was consistent with the production levels from their Championship seasons of 2012 & 2014. It is, however, important to note that the overall offensive production in baseball has climbed over the last 4 years, as evidenced by the Giants National League ranks in parenthesis.

When looking at the numbers, one might notice a big discrepancy between runs scored (715 or 4.4/game) in 2016, batting average, and on base percentage. How can a team score so few runs when they’re amongst the league leaders in getting on base and hits? The answer lies again in their ability (or lack thereof) to perform when it matters most: with runners in scoring position (RISP), and runners in scoring position with 2 outs.

As a hitter, there are several contributing factors that play a role in why hitting with runners in scoring position is amongst the most difficult challenges in the game. For one, the simple change in situation is a factor. When runners are in scoring position, hitters have to be able to adapt to not only the body’s natural adrenaline reaction, but also the mental hyper-focus of wanting to drive runners in. Often times, a hitters’ desire to make something happen at the plate leads to impatience – a pitcher’s best friend. Combine that with the pitchers’ mission to execute their best pitch to avoid a big inning and the result typically favors the pitcher.  As I’ve stated before, baseball players are creatures of habit and what makes the elite hitters and run producer’s elite, is their ability to execute their best swing over and over again regardless of the situation. They fully understand that if they remain patient enough to get a good pitch to hit and put their best swing on the ball when that pitch comes, the result will be a positive one.

Over the course of a game, very few in baseball have the momentum-shift of a hit with runners in scoring position and in particular, a hit with runners in scoring position and 2 outs. Executing as a hitter in these situations can be completely deflating for a pitcher and the ability to perform well in these situations is without a doubt, a significant factor in determining wins and losses. Similar to this season, the Giants inability to hit with RISP and RISP & 2 outs in 2016 was a direct reflection of their subpar offensive performance overall.

When looking at the ranks relative to the rest of the National League, the Giants performed poorly. Add in that the Giants had the 3rd MOST opportunities (1462) with RISP and the result is magnified. With RISP and 2 outs, the results were even worse.

As you can see, the Giants’ poor performance in this game-changing situation in 2016, combined with the MOST RISP & 2-out opportunities (703) in the National League (111 more chances than the Dodgers), and it becomes evident why the Giants struggled so much to score runs.

Through 36 games in 2017, the Giants lack of situational hitting has continued and even become worse.  For those who have read Straight 108 analysis’ in the past, you know that I’m a big believer in not just exposing an area of weakness, but providing a solution based on experience as both a coach and a player. As it pertains to the Giants, it’s no secret that they’ve struggled to score runs, and it’s no secret as to why. But what other media outlets neglect to answer is a concrete solution to the problem at hand. Being able to address not only what the problem is but also how to fix it and why is an essential component to providing fans a true understanding of why the result is the way it is. Despite how it appears at the surface, nothing about baseball is coincidence. Each and every at-bat plays an impactful role in determining how runs are either manufactured or abandoned.

In hopes of shedding some light on the “why” and “how” to situational hitting, I put together a blueprint or playbook that addresses the specific spots in a game that impact scoring. Each team has (or at least should have) a different method to scoring runs, and that method then dictates how hitters approach these situations. The foundation of my hitting approach was based on college kids playing in a big park, therefore utilizing our players’ ability to control the bat to move runners and manufacture run scoring opportunities with frequency. In providing this playbook, my hope is to expose the goals for the hitter and pitcher in each impactful scoring situation, and therefore how each should approach the given situation in order to be successful.

The Giants’ ongoing struggles with situational hitting suggests their inability to successfully account for the pitchers’ approach, and therefore allowing the pitcher to dictate the at-bat. If the Giants aren’t going to hit for power, they need to be better in the situations that impact scoring. Hopefully in providing this analysis, you now have a better understanding of precisely how they can go about doing this and why their ability (or inability) to adjust to the situation is a direct reflection to their poor start to 2017.

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