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Those new to baseball will undoubtedly run across a number of acronyms unique to the game ~ and almost impossible to guess their meaning. Among them is RISP, so of course, we get asked often enough, “What is RISP in baseball?” Let’s dig into it.
The acronym RISP in baseball stands for runners in scoring position, which means a situation where during an at-bat, there is at least a runner on 2nd base. Having runners on both 2nd and 3rd base simultaneously qualifies, too.
With a runner on at least 2nd base, with the thought that a single base hit would bring him in to score a run and help his team win. Hence, the runners on the lead bases are in a position to score most expectedly on a base hit by the batter.
The RISP statistic was invented as a way to measure clutch hitting, that is, how well batters hit when the pressure is on, e.g. runners are waiting to score runs and help win games.
It’s not really who “uses” the RISP statistic, but what they do with it. Managers, coaches, and team officials will consider RISP averages for both players and the entire team in trying to determine just how well (or not well) the squad’s offense is performing.
Quite often, when an offense in baseball is struggling to score runs, stat-watchers will notice a failure to knock in runs when the chance was set up. This would mean a low RISP batting average, or, how batters hit when there is a runner at least on 2nd base ready to score.
Some batters are just much better at dealing with the pressure of batting when there are “ducks on the pond” (bases full of runners) ready to be knocked in. Ever see a pond full of ducks and toss a rock into the middle of them or nearby? They scatter and clear the pond ~ just like runners who are the “ducks on the pond” clear the bases on key hits.
Strategic teams and managers want to know just how often their team has runners in scoring position, and who is knocking them in (or almost more importantly, who is not).
With this information, they can make decisions, like bunting or stealing more runners to get them off 1st base, or playing only hitters with high RISP batting averages, with hope of scoring more runs.
In baseball, the goal is to score more runs than the other team. That simple fact nudged baseball experts to devise statistics like RISP.
Because any base hit could most easily, or expectedly, bring them home to score a run. Bringing in a runner from 1st base is not easy: it requires a home run, triple, or strategically placed double; plus, a runner who can sprint decently to make the difficult jaunt.
When a runner reaches second base, you might hear someone say “Now they’re in business,” or something to that effect. It’s like, “All right, now we have a situation where we can take care of business and score a run.”
Every player from the pitcher to defenders to the batter, becomes more aware when a runner can score on the next hit. It creates pressure situations.
Be around baseball long enough, and you’re bound to hear someone say “move the runner into scoring position,” or “move the runners along.” That means with a runner on 1st base, getting him to 2nd or 3rd base with less than 2 outs. Or even with 2 outs, which means the team is banking on a safe hit for the score.
Moving runners into scoring position is a lost art, especially in recent years as the sabermetrics/”Moneyball” trend has resulted in less base running and more focus on on-base percentage (OBP) and hitting for power.
Bunting runners over was very popular during the Dead Ball era, generally prior to 1920, so named because the ball itself was not lively and therefore did not carry far ~ so teams did not rely on home runs or hitting power. The ball was too “dead” to hit hard or far, so teams had to scrape and scramble for runs any way they could.
Prior to 1920, teams in Major League Baseball played for a single run at a time, in what is known as “small ball.” It involves bunting and running and in general moving runners slowly from base to base. It even involved much more stealing of home!
With the emergence of Babe Ruth to the batter’s box, plus new rules like entering more new baseballs into games (like when they get fouled off into the stands, or get otherwise darkened by grass or dirt), and banning spitballs, the home run took over the game and the running element was minimized.
Until the early 1960s when Maury Wills stole 102 bases and made the SB statistic a sensation, leading to super-speedsters like Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, and Tim Raines.
Major League Baseball managers stopped bunting sometime during the first decade of the 21st Century.
Getting a runner into scoring position does not always involve bunts. Sometimes teams just steal their way to the situation.
Among the most famous recent examples is the Boston Red Sox during Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Down to their last at-bat trailing by a run and facing a sweep and elimination to the New York Yankees, leadoff batter Kevin Millar walked off famed closer Mariano Rivera.
What occurred next is classic RISP. The Sox sent in speedy Dave Roberts to pinch-run for the slow Millar. On the very first pitch (after several pickoff attempts by Rivera), Roberts stole second base (barely under the tag of Derek Jeter) to get into scoring position.
On the very next pitch, Bill Mueller singled up the middle to score Roberts, tie the game, and extend Boston’s season. They went on to win that game, and the next 7 after that to an eventual World Series Championship.
A run of success that all began with getting a single runner into scoring position.
Well, we know what happened to it after the 1919 season: more lively baseballs and other rules made teams favor going for extra-base hits more. Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920, to obliterate the previous season record of 29 that he set, and the era of the home run was on.
But what happened to small ball in recent years?
The answer is the rise of something known commonly as sabermetrics, or new ways to consider a myriad of statistics related to baseball games that, when studied and applied wisely, result in more runs scored and therefore more wins.
At the root of the sabermetrics era is elevation of on-base percentage (OBP) in importance, and the decline of bunting and stealing bases as key strategic moves in baseball contests. Basically, stat-heads figured out that avoiding making outs carried much more value than sacrificing outs just to move runners to the next base.
The major premise of moneyball is for batters not to make outs ~ at all costs, especially with bases on balls. Sabermetrics resulted in a much larger emphasis on walks, and home runs.
Question: Who had the highest RISP average in MLB history?
Answer: George Brett during his magical season of 1980, with the Kansas City Royals, when he batted .469 (!) when runners were in scoring position. Brett got a hit almost every other at bat that season when runners were in position to score. Nos. 2 and 3 on the list occurred more recently: Tony Gwynn had a .459 RISP batting average for the San Diego Padres in 1997; and Allen Craig of the St. Louis Cardinals was not far behind when he hit .454 in 2013 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Q.: Before Babe Ruth hit 29 home runs to set the single-season home run record, what was the most homers hit in a season?
A.: Ned Williamson of the Chicago White Stockings hit 27 home runs in 1884. That record lasted 35 years! For perspective, batter Frank Baker was given the nickname “Home Run Baker.” What were the most home runs he hit in a season? Baker hit 12 in 1913, and 96 home runs total over a 13-season career.