In Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sportsnet New York broadcaster Gary Cohen (who, by the way, I have a great deal of respect for; I think he's one of the better play-by-play guys out there) made a foray into statistical analysis as he assessed the Mets' offense so far in 2008.
He started out fine, telling how the Mets are down in the charts in the runs scored category, which makes sense because they are also in the bottom third in batting average, home runs, and slugging percentage. Gary proceeded to fall flat on his face right before the finish line, talking of how the "most telling stat" is the Mets' low batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs.
If you don't really think too hard, this makes no sense. How could a stat that accounts for 134 at-bats be more telling than the stats that account for 1098 AB's?
The argument is, I know, that those 134 were the most important. First of all, not true. An AB with runners in scoring position is more or less important than another depending on how many runners are on, not how many outs there are.
Second of all, I don't care how important those AB's are—134 is way too small a sample size to draw any significant conclusions from; there are too many factors that go into whether someone gets a hit or not. Who's pitching? Who are the fielders? How many great plays have been made that robbed the Mets of runs? How many pitches were turned into scorching line drives that happened to go right to a fielder? Who keeps coming up in these situations?
Yes, the Mets are hitting .179 with RISP and two outs, but that's not an accurate description of the Mets lineup's performance.
So, how can we accurately describe the Mets' offense (or lack thereof)? Well, lets look at those stats that Gary gave us, even though he said they were the less important ones. The Mets are 13th in the NL in batting average, 13th in slugging percentage, 15th in home runs, and dead 16th in hits.
It's the slugging percentage that I call the "most telling stat." It encompasses our lack of hits and lack of power. The Mets are 11th in the NL in runs scored, which is still lackluster, but better than their ranking in the other stats I mentioned. They score runs because their team on-base percentage is high (sixth in the NL).
Here's my bottom line: a lot of baserunners + good slugging numbers = runs. The Mets have taken a lot of walks (third in NL), and get on base a good amount of the time, so it's the power numbers they need (Carlos Beltran, I am looking at you).
The RISP numbers aren't the important ones—usually they end up evening out, for players and for teams. There isn't some kind of magical hex that happens to hitters when runners are on that makes them hit terribly.
As a parting shot, when Gary was talking about the Mets' performance with RISP and 2 outs, I said aloud (though I was alone), "B.S. That's just bad luck, we'll turn it around." And, lo and behold, we scored 12 runs that day.
Ever studying statistical substantiation,