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Hitting With RISP in the NL West

With RISP, the Diamondbacks had the highest percentage balls-in-play and the lowest BABIP.

Locastro adds 2 RBIs.
Locastro adds 2 RBIs.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

My curiosity started with this 2015 FanGraph article. It covered a lot of ground. The unexpected idea was that individual hitters do not improve by more than a tiny amount when on a team with high on-base percentages.

A high on-base percentage causes baserunners. Logically, runners in scoring position (RISP) results in scoring runs. What was the impact of RISP on the Diamondbacks? Let’s look at what happened with RISP in the NL West.

Hits & RBIs with RISP

team wins hits/PA RBIs/PA
team wins hits/PA RBIs/PA
Dodgers 43 .242 .369
Padres 37 .260 .404
Giants 29 .228 .343
Rockies 26 .213 .329
D-backs 25 .221 .329
2020 Season. Data from Baseball Reference/Stathead

Clearly, the top two teams did better than the bottom two teams in hits and RBIs. The two teams with the most wins (Dodgers and Padres) had highest percentages while the two teams with the least wins (Diamondbacks and Rockies) had the lowest percentages.

Homers, Walks, and Strikeouts with RISP

team wins homers/PA walks/PA Strikeouts/PA
team wins homers/PA walks/PA Strikeouts/PA
Dodgers 43 .046 .123 .145
Padres 37 .053 .104 .197
Giants 29 .035 .094 .194
Rockies 26 .024 .091 .240
D-backs 25 .024 .093 .189
2020 Season. Data from Baseball Reference/Stathead

Let’s look at results that are not impacted by good defense - homers, walks, and strikeouts. For homers and walks, the top two teams outperformed the bottom two teams (as expected).

However, strikeouts told a slightly different story. The Dodgers were best (.145 SO per PA with RISP), and the Diamondbacks were second best (.189 SO per PA with RISP). When it counted, the Diamondbacks did not strikeout!

Often, batting average on balls in play (BABIP) provides great insight on whether hitting performance is due to good luck or bad luck. Let’s look at balls-in-play and BABIP.

Balls in Play & BABIP with RISP

team balls in play/PA BABIP
team balls in play/PA BABIP
Dodgers .665 .363
Padres .634 .411
Giants .667 .342
Rockies .634 .335
D-backs .683 .324
2020 Season. Data from baseball Reference/Stathead

With RISP, the Diamondbacks had the highest percentage balls in play (.683). That percentage was higher than the first place Dodgers (.665) and second place Padres (.634). So why didn’t the Diamondbacks’ offense perform better?

With RISP, the Diamondback hitters were unlucky to have the lowest BABIP (.324) in the NL West, while the Padres had the highest BABIP (.411). The average BABIP of the 5 teams was .355.

Having the lowest BABIP, combined with the highest balls in play, is promising news for the Diamondbacks! Next season, I anticipate their BABIP will improve by 10% or more. Because they will put so many balls in play with RISP, an increased BABIP will greatly increase the number of runs they score.

How do BABIPs of individual players compare?

BABIP: With RISP vs All PAs

player BABIP with RISP BABIP for all PAs
player BABIP with RISP BABIP for all PAs
Peralta .440 .361
C. Kelly .450 .250
Locastro .375 .340
Walker .296 .317
Ahmed .342 .324
Lamb .182 .192
S. Marte .321 .353
K. Marte .357 .311
Calhoun .280 .211
Vogt .267 .204
Escobar .224 .244
Rojas .100 .234
Young .000 .267
Mathisen .250 .308
P. Smith .111 .300
VanMeter .250 .222
Varsho .200 .246
Jay .063 .175
Vargas .000 .200
Cron .000 .000
2020 Season. Data from Stathead. Splits from FanGraphs.

This table shows that the Diamondback leaders were David Peralta (.440) and Carson Kelly (.450). David Peralta continues to be a fan favorite. Christian Walker (.296) is one of my favorite players because he mastered the mental approach to pinch hitting before he earned a starter role. And it was exciting to see Tim Locastro (.375) emerge as a big contributor to the Diamondbacks beyond his hit-by-pitch skill.

Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, and Josh Rojas showed promise for next season because their BABIP with RISP was lower than their BABIP for all plate appearances for the Diamondbacks. Chances are good that their BABIP with RISP will increase. Although Starling Marte was traded away, I predict the Diamondbacks will see improved hitting by Eduardo Escobar, and Josh Rojas.

Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, Andy Young, and Wyatt Mathison made their debut in the Majors this season. Their BABIP will likely improve as they adjust to the higher level of pitching in the Majors.