There are several things that good baseball teams do. One is getting good starting pitching…check. Another is playing good defense…check. And still another is scoring runs late in games. It is that aspect that I decided to take a look at today with regards to the White Sox offensive production.
Scoring runs late can be a very valuable offensive trait for a ballclub. While all runs certainly count the same, late runs can have a variety of effects for a team and their opponents.
Besides the obvious key of scoring runs late in a tie ball game, scoring late runs in any close game late can have a huge effect. When a team makes a habit of coming from behind late in games it gives them a “never say die” mentality, and often those can last throughout the season. The White Sox certainly seem to be developing that.
But adding runs on late when leading in a close game can be just as important. It deflates the other team, provides breathing room for your own club, and gives the manager more options for who to send to the mound in lower leverage spots versus leaning on his top relievers in a tight situation. This helps give some of the high leverage relievers a break on days where it looked like they were likely to be pressed into duty.
All runs do count the same, but late ones seem to have a higher mental ripple effect than ones scored earlier on. So let’s look at the Sox and their scoring and see how good they really are at plating runs in the late stages of games.
The White Sox have scored 139 runs this year, fourth most in the American League. Of those 139 runs, 66 of them (47.5%) have been scored in the seventh inning or later, including extra innings. Almost half of the White Sox runs have come after the seventh inning. That is a lot of late production.
Breaking that down further we see that the seventh inning is the Sox favorite inning this year. The Sox have scored 32 runs in the seventh inning alone, only three fewer than they have scored in innings 1-3 combined. The seventh inning accounts for almost a quarter (23%) of the White Sox total run production by itself.
As you might expect, the other numbers are much better in innings 7-9 as well. The Sox are hitting .304 with a .369 on-base percentage and slugging .466 in the final three innings. Compare that with .189/.277/.330 in the first three innings and you might want to just wait to turn on the game until the fourth, you probably won’t miss much.
Late runs are especially important in close games, regardless of what side of the lead you are on, and the White Sox have played a lot of close games. According to baseball-reference.com, 22 of the 33 games the Sox have played have produced stats in their clutch category of “late and close,” which is defined as “plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck.” So two out of every three games, the Sox are in a tight battle in the later innings. In those “late and close” situations White Sox hitters are slashing .341/.421/.579 with an OPS of an even 1.000. That certainly falls into the category of “clutch hitting.”
What stands out about that slash line when looking deeper, is a BABIP of .409 in those “late and close” situations. That probably falls into the “unsustainable” column when trying to project it over the course of an entire season. But for right now, the Sox will certainly take it.
Going back and looking at some of these numbers from the last few seasons show us how big a difference there is with this year’s team.
- 2015: 211 total runs after seventh inning accounting for 33.9% of total runs. .245/.300/.364 slash line
- 2014: 210 total runs after seventh inning accounting for 31.8% of total runs. .239/.301/.373 slash line
- 2016: The White Sox are currently on pace to score 324 post-seventh inning runs this year.
Late and Close Stats:
- 2015: .233/.299/.342 in 1103 plate appearances with 116 runs scored in 105 games.
- 2014: .240/.301/.367 in 1015 plate appearances with 122 runs scored in 105 games.
- 2016: The Sox are on pace to score 196 runs in 108 “late and close” games.
Again, this pace is probably not sustainable, and we are still just a little over one-fifth of the way through the season, but it is still an impressive stretch of clutch hitting. Even if this drops off a little, if the Sox can continue to find ways to score runs late in games, they are going to be tough to beat with their pitching.