There’s no way around it: Gomes’ numbers this year indicate improved luck, more than improved skill, although we don’t want to discount the improvements he has made in his approach.
He is hitting right-handers much better than he had before he came to Cincinnati. Also, he’s striking out less this year (although he’s also walking less). We think he’s swinging out of the shoes much less than he used to do, but we don’t have anything to prove it, other than that his strikeouts are down 5 percent.
Typically, hitters are within 5-10 points of their career batting averages with runners in scoring position. (Good example: Mr. Clutch, Tony Perez, was a lifetime 284 hitter with RISP; his career average was .279).
We squirm a little bit every time we hear one of the Reds announcers cite “batting average with runners in scoring position” as though it’s the Rosetta Stone of determining a hitter’s true value.
It’s fun to point out how a player is doing with RISP but the thing to keep in mind is that outside of platoon (lefty-righty) splits, most players perform near their overall averages in almost all situations with a large enough sample of data.
And keep this in mind: A hitter can drive in runners from first base, too, especially with an aggressive base running team like the Reds. The most important thing of all is not making outs.
Two hundred or even 300 plate appearances is no time to be turning these RISP numbers into the true barometers of hitting prowess. Because by the time those plate appearances reach 600 or 700, the chances are the player is going to look pretty much like you’d expect him to look – the way he looks on the back of his bubblegum card.
Gomes’ career batting average is .246; his career average with RISP is .268.
We have no problem saying that Gomes’ approach at the plate improves when there are runners in scoring position – and that he is getting even better at it.
But here’s another reason we say Gomes has been lucky this year: The major league average on batted balls in play (BABIP), not including home runs, is .300; Gomes’ career BABIP is .297, that’s normal. But he’s at .327 this year – and with RISP, he’s even higher: .377.
Could he stay this lucky the rest of the year? Possibly, but the history with these numbers says it’s unlikely.
I think this is one reason that many of us would like to see more of Chris Heisey in LF and CF. I think a Gomes, Heisey, Stubbs sharing of PT could be very effective.