If you're looking at the standings, rest of season projections, or how each team behaved at the trade deadline, it's pretty clear that the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox are both unlikely to make a deep postseason run. The Indians will probably have to wait until next season and the Red Sox just have to look back to last season to feel good about themselves, but a couple of their players are chasing interesting honors.
Typically, when we conduct any sort of sabermetric analysis, we focus more on context-neutral statistics than context dependent ones. We're interested in whether a player doubles, not if he doubles with two men on or with the bases empty. It matters for the team if a player gets a hit with men on base, but that isn't usually considered a part of the player's skill.
And I agree with that notion. A batter shouldn't get more credit for the timing of his hits, but that doesn't mean the timing of hits isn't interesting and worth consideration. Enter RE24.
RE24 tells you how each event impacts the expected number of runs scored per inning based on the run expectancy of the base-out state. So if you come to the plate with a run expectancy of 0.831 runs (man on first, no outs) and you hit a single that sends the runner to second base, you've added 0.542 runs compared to average. That single would be worth only about 0.119 RE24 with the bases empty and no outs. The logic is pretty simple, but the full explanation of how it's calculated and operates is available here.
RE24 is less predictive of future performance than its context neutral counterparts, wRAA or Batting Runs, but it's useful to look at and compare. It also tells you something about timing. Let's use a simple example.
If a batter comes to the plate four times during a game and two of those plate appearances come with the bases empty and no outs and two come with the bases loaded and no outs, you would much rather get a hit in the latter two cases. If we assume the batter will get two singles, he'd prefer to get them with the bases loaded. Unfortunately, he can't control when he gets his hits and he can't control when runners will be on base ahead of him. His goal is always to reach base. This is true over the course of a season as well.
If you happen to get your hits when the bases are loaded, you're making the most of your hits, even if that isn't really a skill or predictive in any way.
Which brings us to David Murphy and Xander Bogaerts. Entering Sunday's action, Murphy had a .307 wOBA in 376 PA. Xander Bogaerts had a .301 wOBA in 417 PA. Murphy is performing slightly better, but both are below average hitters this season when it comes to their context neutral production. Murphy has a 96 wRC+ and Bogaerts has an 86 wRC+ when adjusting for park. They are having reasonably similar offensive seasons with similar walk rates and ISO.
They aren't identical players and they certainly haven't had perfectly identical seasons, but it's close enough for the comparison.
Now let's have a little fun. Murphy has an RE24 of 13.13 and Bogaerts has an RE24 of -21.66. Murphy is overperforming his context neutral numbers (Batting Runs + wSB) more than any qualified hitters in baseball and Bogaerts is underperforming those same numbers more than any other qualified hitter. This is true in a cumulative and per plate appearance sense.
Batting Runs are park adjusted hitting runs above average and wSB are included because RE24 includes hitting and baserunning actions like stolen bases and caught stealing, so we need to factor that in. It is not 100 percent apples to apples, but it's 96 percent or so.
Part of this is interesting because two very similar hitters are having extremely different seasons in a context dependent sense. You'd much rather see a guy with a higher RE24 than Batting + wSB, even if the batter has virtually no control over that variation, but that's just typical variation. I could have found two .350 wOBA guys who were timing their hits well and made the same point. What's more interesting to me is that timing your hits like this really impacts how people view you as a hitter.
David Murphy has 50 RBI and Bogaerts has 26. Not that we ever use RBI to analyze players in these pages, but if you show someone a .250/.315/.390 line with a lot of RBI, the average person thinks more highly of that player than if they didn't have a lot of RBI. It's almost as if you can get people to forgive your struggles if you're collecting these timely hits.
If you're Bogaerts, you're not winning any converts even though you're performing the same as Murphy and there's absolutely no reason to think your lack of timely hits will continue into the future once we control for your overall production.
This is basically Brandon Phillips from 2013 in a nutshell. Phillips had a .307 wOBA and 103 RBI in 2013 with a very solid 15.50 RE24. He didn't have a great year, but he made his hits count. Hey, maybe he's a clutch hitter?
No, he's not. In 2014 he has the exact same .307 wOBA, but this year he is on pace for 73 RBI while sporting a -1.94 RE24. Brandon Phillips was the poster-child for situational hitting last season and this year he's having the exact same season with none of the timeliness.
Fear not, Bogaerts, your timely hits will come.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, the Site Educator at FanGraphs, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow @NeilWeinberg44