The nice thing about having runners on first, second and third is that - other than it's kinda like a party out there - you can also get as many as four runs on just one play. A grand slam, they call it. In tennis, it takes no less than a year to achieve. In baseball, you can get it if you really try: on one swing.
Of course, we don't expect a grand slam to happen every time the bases are loaded. Far from it. But we do expect, generally speaking, a team to hit not too much better or worse than normal in these situations. After all, bases loaded situations can happen with anyone at the plate, any score on the board and at any stage in the season. It's not an inherently "important" moment in a baseball game. It's also a little less likely to happen with your 7, 8 and 9 hitters at the plate especially if the upper part of your lineup is getting on base more consistently, but it shouldn't fall too heavily on one guy in the middle of the order who can't, for whatever reason, hit when he sees three ducks on the pond.
When considering the Reds' bases-loaded struggles, I'm inclined to think it's strictly the season-to-season statistical noise that generally happens with "clutch" stats. Clutch is an effect that some baseball analysts have detected in players across seasons, but the effect is small and should probably come out in the wash at the team level, suggesting poor performance with the bases loaded by the Reds is overwhelmingly bad luck.
Comparing bases loaded numbers across recent Reds' seasons, we see that the Reds are preforming worse than recent Reds' teams that in '08 and '09 were worse at scoring runs in general and in 2010 were very similar in personnel:
The 2009-2011 squads have all hit below their cumulative slash lines, while 2008 greatly outperformed theirs. This year's team is on the lowest end, both in absolute terms and compared to their overall offense, while getting the lowest number of runs per plate appearance with the bases loaded (.611).
The Cardinals and Rockies, who are both scoring the same number of runs as the Reds per game (4.7 and 4.6 respectively), vastly out-perform the Reds too. The Cardinals have a hearty .352/.421/.505 line in 107 PAs and the Rockies com in at .246/.308/.385 in 147 PAs - not great, but not historically bad.
The first thing you might notice is that the Reds have the most PAs with the bases loaded of all three teams (152). This both speaks to the team's ability to get on base and also the fact that 152 is not really all that many plate appearances. Certainly well shy of the season's-worth on which we normally start judging player performance. Two more hits with the bases juiced per month this season and the team average would be .250. Add just another walk a month on top of that and the OBP is up to .333.
So if this is bad luck, possibly compounded by self-perpetuating pressing, where is it coming from? Thanks to Baseball Reference, here's the breakdown of every Reds hitter with the bases loaded this season:
Jay, Ramon, Drew, Scott and Paul have gotten the 5 most PAs with the bases loaded and they've all been terrible. Those 5 have been coming up almost half the time in (47.2%) with runners at every base, which says to me a few things:
- Scott Rolen's down year hurt the Reds, but it hurt them a little bit more since he usually hit 4 or 5 in the order
- This isn't a surprising result from Paul Janish and I'm not sure it would have made much difference if he'd strictly been batting 8th
- Drew Stubbs is not an ideal 6th hole hitter
Other than that, we have to look at something like Ramon's slash line in 13 PAs as pure statistical noise.
If the Reds had hit close to their 2011 totals with the bases loaded, they might have scored 10-15 more runs and won 2-5 more games. Not good enough to make the playoffs out of the Central, but let's hope that balance gets settled next season.