The past seven games would indicate the Astros are not a particularly good team when it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). A 12-for-68 stretch is quite the funk. But it acts inversely to what the club’s hitters have managed to do on the season as a whole.
The Astros have baseball’s best offense for the third time in five years, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), and their methods have not changed. They’re striking out the least amount of times and are getting on base the most. This has culminated in a .333 Expected wOBA (xwOBA), tops in the major leagues.
Even after George Springer’s departure before the season and Alex Bregman’s two-month stay on the injured list during it, the Astros’ wRC+ of 117 is unparalleled, as only one other team is above 110 — the Blue Jays, at 111.
The one aspect of hitting that the lineup has routinely excelled at over the past several years — hitting with RISP — is again a strength in 2021. No other team has a higher batting average with RISP this year, nor do any have a higher Expected Batting Average (xBA).
The RISP discourse has a long, drab history. Some people believe it’s a distinct skill hitters possess, others view it as a byproduct of simply making contact consistently. While the former is subjective, the latter can be quantified.
The Astros have the lowest strikeout rate with RISP, and the quality of contact they’re making is solid — their average exit velocity in these situations is the fifth-best in the bigs. Additionally, when it comes to plate discipline, Houston hitters have the fifth-lowest Chase percentage.
Ostensibly, there’s a case to be made that some hitters perform at their highest level when attempting to drive runners in. It’s obviously a critical part of the game, thus potentially generating a degree of concentration that optimizes a player’s plate discipline and swing path.
This theory appears to ring true for the Astros. When there aren’t any runners on base, the lineup’s collective slash line is .260/.324/.427, with a 7.7 percent walk rate and a 20.9 percent strikeout rate. When there are RISP, the slash line is .269/.342/.449, with a 10.4 percent walk rate and an 18.5 percent K rate.
There are variations, even among playoff-contending teams, though there is one underlying constant that should be apparent. For example, the Dodgers, like the Astros, have produced better numbers with RISP, whereas the Yankees are better at the plate when the bases are empty. Guess which team struggles with making contact.
In regard to how specific Astros hitters fare with RISP, there are certainly some interesting factoids:
Yuli Gurriel — .291 batting average | 14 BB% | 6.3 K% (team low)
Kyle Tucker — .504 SLG | .395 xwOBA (team high)
José Altuve — .402 wOBA (team high) | 14.8 BB% | 13.9 K%
Aledmys Díaz — .347 batting average (team high)
Chas McCormick — .583 SLG (team high)
With the Astros again having a juggernaut of an offense — one that has usually elevated its play in key moments — the franchise is well-primed for what lies ahead in the near future.
The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant