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Rob Neyer and fact-checking Robothal

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From Rob Neyer's chat session today:

Jeff (Boston, MA): I heard Ken Rosenthal last night say that the Minnesota Twins are an exception to the all the statistics on a year in year out basis and that their high batting average with RISP is skill and NOT a fluke. I call shenanigans although I do think Ken is a very good writer.

SportsNation Rob Neyer: This is an empirical question, right? I'm not going to call out Robothal without checking ... But if someone wants to look it up, I'll be happy to present the information and let you be the judges.

Thanks to B-R, this is easy enough to check out...

Year Minn Avg. Overall Minn. Avg. RISP AL Avg. Overall A.L. Avg. RISP
2008 .279 .313 .267 .272
2007 .264 .276 .270 .275
2006 .287 .296 .275 .276
2005 .259 .271 .268 .273
2004 .266 .277 .270 .272
2003 .277 .268 .267 .273
2002 .272 .269 .264 .271
2001 .272 .252 .267 .268 for the A.L. as a whole, average with RISP over this period is generally 2-5 points higher than overall average.

And from 2001-03, the Twins consistently hit well worse with RISP than overall.

But starting in 2004, the Twins have consistently hit better with RISP than overall -- anywhere from 9-12 points better before this season, when they are hitting 34 points better with RISP. 

I'm not sure that's really statistically significant.  However, if one wanted to hit for a higher average, one could conceivably achieve that by swinging at more first pitches...this year, the league as a whole is hitting .338 when putting first pitches into play.  The downside of that, of course, is that you also have a .338 OBP, and if you swing and miss or foul the pitch off, you are in an 0-1 hole, and your spread between average and OBP would go down.

Year Minn spread Overall Minn. spread RISP AL spread Overall A.L. spread RISP
2008 59 76 68 85
2007 66 71 67 81
2006 60 77 64 81
2005 64 83 62 75
2004 66 79 68 83
2003 64 73 66 81
2002 60 66 67 81
2001 65 88 67 83

So...the spreads, overall, during this span are from 13-17 points.  The Twins' spreads are, for the most part, in that range, except in 2002, 2003, and 2007, when the spread drops into the single digits.  Which doesn't help, because in 2002 and 2003, when the spreads were smaller (and one would, by the "swing early" theory, expect higher averages with RISP, the Twins had a lower average with RISP).

So I don't have a good explanation for what is happening with Minnesota with RISP this year, or over the past few years.  I'm inclined to chalk it up as a statistical fluke, though.