MLB Regression Report: Timely hitting comes with outliers

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

June 11, 2022 08:02 PM
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There’s an old baseball adage that says “two-out hits will get you into heaven.” If there’s something greater than heaven, that must be where you go if you get two-out hits with runners in scoring position.

Baseball is about timing in more ways than one. Well-timed hits can not only win a game, but they also can make an offense look better than it is. Similarly, a lack of timing can make a good offense look like one that is struggling. 

Over the last few seasons, hits have been harder to get than ever because of an increase in shifts, strikeouts and velocity, among other factors. Those magic hits that plate runs with two outs are what teams crave.

Some teams have been a lot better at it than others and require additional examination to see if their good fortune can continue or if a drop in production is on the horizon. That is the topic of this week’s Regression Report.

Top Teams in OPS with 2 Outs and RISP

Guardians: .908

Giants: .866

Reds: .833

Cardinals: .810

Brewers: .800

For frame of reference, the league average OPS in this split is .715, so we’re talking about three rather big outliers at the top and a couple of other teams that are squarely above league average.

It’s interesting to see three NL Central teams in the top five, plus the Cubs are actually eighth in this split. It seems like games within that division have probably been a little higher scoring than they should be.

The Guardians are the obvious team in the spotlight here, as their .908 OPS is 42 points higher than any other team. This is an offense that does not swing and miss much, so they put a lot of balls in play and defenses around the league in general are not very good these days. The Guardians are also an outlier with four triples in this split, which helps the slugging percentage. The Guardians aren’t that good of an offense, in my opinion, but they’ve gotten their hits at high-leverage times. If they do regress to the mean, as they should, I’d expect we see their record take a bit of a hit.

The Giants have hit 14 home runs in this split, which is why they rank so high. Only three other teams (Brewers, Yankees, Red Sox) have hit at least 10. They’ve still had good plate appearances and rank in the top 10 in batting average, but the long ball has been the big separator.

The Reds have been about a .500 team since getting off to that horrific 3-21 start, largely because of this batted-ball luck. Their .336 BABIP in this split ranks second, so they’ve had good fortune on balls in play. I wouldn’t expect this to continue in Cincinnati.

Bottom Teams in OPS with 2 Outs and RISP

Diamondbacks: .547

Rays: .578

Pirates: .599

Twins: .630

Rangers/Astros: .631

Three of these teams won’t surprise anybody, as the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Rangers haven’t done much offensively most of the season. The Rangers had a .215 BABIP in this split. Only the Yankees are lower at .183, so they should be in line for some positive regression here. Extreme outliers are the likeliest to positively regress toward the mean, and the Rangers qualify given a league average BABIP of .278.

The Rays are interesting. They’ve had very little batted-ball luck with a .227 BABIP. Tropicana Field also suppresses offense, which is a major part of the equation here. The Rays, along with the Diamondbacks and Pirates, only have 11 extra-base hits in this split, which hurts a team’s SLG and OPS in a big way.

Perhaps the most interesting teams on the list are the Twins and Astros. The Twins actually rank seventh in plate appearances that fit this criteria. Given the season they’re having, we could reasonably assume the Twins could be doing even better with a few timelier hits. Their .307 SLG is the fourth lowest in this split, as they’ve only hit four homers and nine doubles.

The Astros’ offense is littered with impressive hitters with track records, but the team has struggled in this key area. The team has hit just three homers, ahead of only the Tigers and Royals. Minute Maid Park has also been very stingy this season with fewer than seven runs per game, which is another part of the equation. Still, I’d expect the Astros — and all of the teams on this list — to have some better fortune in an area that helps teams win close games.

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