Cards' RISP numbers are so good, they're ridiculous

BY foxsports • July 26, 2013

ST. LOUIS -- The numbers the Cardinals are putting up with runners in scoring position have become ridiculous. Ridiculously good, that is.

Like this good (going into the weekend series vs. the Braves):

* At .340, the Cardinals' batting average with RISP leads the majors by 52 points. It's 80 points better than any other NL team. Their .411 on-base percentage is the majors' best by 46 points.

* If the Cardinals keep that average through the regular season, they would finish with the majors' best RISP average over the past 40 seasons by 31 points.

* Allen Craig leads the way with a .485 average that would be the majors' best since George Brett's .469 in 1974, the first year the split can be found on STATS PASS.

* Matt Carpenter is at .403, Yadier Molina .396 and Carlos Beltran .384. Only one regular, David Freese, is hitting lower with RISP (.220) than overall (.275).

* The Cardinals have been almost as good with two outs and RISP, with a .323 average and .415 OBP. No other team is close to .300 in average or .400 in OBP.

This far into the season, the numbers hardly can be considered that small a sample size. The Cardinals have 288 hits in 847 at-bats with RISP, well more than a season's worth of at-bats for any player.

The All-Star break did not slow their success, either. In their just-completed 5-1 homestand, they went 24 for 64 (.375) with RISP.

These off-the-charts numbers have become such a hot topic that Mike Matheny isn't sure what to say anymore.

"I hate talking about it," Matheny said Thursday before the Cardinals beat the Phillies 3-1, a victory spurred by their 2-for-6 showing with runners in scoring position.

"I just want it to just keep going. The way to do it is to keep distractions away. Some of the distractions are the attention put to it, even though it's positive."

There could be another reason Matheny would rather not explain his team's clutch-hitting prowess. There really isn't a logical explanation.

"I really can't explain it," Craig says. "It's nothing that I try to explain. I have my approach, my routine, and I go about my business. Just let it happen."

The opposing managers on the clubs that just visited Busch Stadium, the Padres' Bud Black and the Phillies' Charlie Manuel, both offered up their take.

"They put the ball in play," Black said. "And they're good hitters."

"Look at their best hitters, Craig and Molina," Manuel said. "They don't try to do too much; they use the whole field and they take a good approach up there."

While both managers make some sense, their theories could as easily be used to describe the approach Cardinals hitters always take, no matter how many runners are on base.

Not changing their approach, in fact, might be the most rational explanation behind their superb situational production.

Looking at it another way, if the Cardinals were to say they focus better when there's a chance for an RBI, they would be implying they aren't bearing down enough in other situations.

"Yeah, in some strange way that could be looked at negatively, which I don't get," Craig says.

What the Cardinals have gotten are the lessons being delivered by first-year hitting coach John Mabry and his assistant, Bengie Molina. That is, stay steady, keep in the moment and don't stray from your plan.

"John and Bengie have a consistent message, which is have an at-bat," Matheny says. "It doesn't matter if we're up 15-1 or down 15-1. It doesn't matter if the bases are loaded and there are two outs or there's nobody on and there are two outs. It should be the same approach.

"You find guys fall into traps when they try to do too much or take something for granted. But the guys that are able to make it look like the same at-bat regardless of the situation -- that's complete mental toughness."

Still, the Cardinals' average with RISP must confound a stat community that operates under the belief that the numbers even out, that one's numbers with RISP sooner or later will wind up the same as one's overall numbers. So far the disparity in the Cardinals' splits, however, is massive.

They are hitting 62 points higher with RISP than they are overall (.278). Such a difference would be unprecedented over the past 40 years. Of the 14 teams to hit .300 or better with RISP since 1974, 10 of them finished with less than a 10-point difference in their overall and RISP averages. Only two finished with a disparity of as many as 30 points.

Matheny realizes the odds defy his team continuing to hit like this with RISP but he is not about to tell that to his players. They might start doubting.

"How's that going to be translated to these guys who are out there doing it?" Matheny says. "To me, what they're doing is finding a consistent approach and staying with it.

"It's training yourself to go about an at-bat the right way. It seems to work out more often than not if you just stay with that simple approach regardless of what the situation is."

Ridiculously often, in the case of the Cardinals this season.

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