TORONTO – There are many head-scratching things about this Toronto Blue Jays season and few are as puzzling as Ryan Goins’ remarkable proficiency at hitting with runners in scoring position. Over and over the slick-fielding infielder better known for his glove than his bat has delivered key knocks, his latest being a two-run double in Sunday’s 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That pushed his average up to .348 (23-for-65) and gave him 40 RBI, tied with all-star Justin Smoak for the team lead, with men in scoring position, a level of production that is certainly well beyond expectations. Statistically, Smoak and Josh Donaldson are the only other Blue Jays to have delivered at a similar level with RISP. Go figure.
Still, where things really get weird is that Goins’ numbers vary so widely from his performance with no one on base, when he’s hitting a mere .171 (26-for-152), and with a runner at first, when he’s batting .203 (12-for-59). Debate whether such a thing as a clutch hitter exists all you like, but for whatever reason, Goins has been a vastly different hitter with men in scoring position.
“The more it happens, the more I’m like, I literally have no answers,” he said. “That’s kind of where I’m at.”
Could it simply be a statistical aberration? Possibly, and it’s worth noting that Goins’ RISP numbers are inflated by an inconceivable 9-for-12 run with the bases loaded. But across four-plus months and 66 at-bats, there’s a reasonable enough sample size to not dismiss it out of hand.
For context, Goins’ hitting with RISP also outperformed his hitting with no one aboard in 2015 by a wide margin, .276-.215, but were essentially the same last year at .200-.198.
The obvious question those numbers raise is why what Goins does with RISP doesn’t translate the rest of the time, something he’s really focused on resolving since the all-star break.
“I’ve honestly been trying to go up there thinking like there are guys on,” said Goins. “Most of the time I think about just getting one runner in, trying to execute a situation. Sometimes with nobody on or whatever, I might get a little big, but I’ve been staying within myself mostly and not trying to do too much.”
Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a trouble spot for the Blue Jays all season, with their .221 mark entering play Sunday ranking last in the American League.
There’s one school of thought which says the best hitters don’t seek to do more when trying to knock in a runner, but rather stay with the same approach regardless.
“I try to maintain the same thing,” said Smoak, who is batting .301 (28-for-93) with RISP. “Something that has helped me this year more than ever is don’t think about the situation, really, just think about my mindset, you want to be locked in on one thing, locked in on a heater or an off-speed pitch or whatever it is.
“I feel like if I keep my mindset on that, my at-bat is going to be better and if I get the run in, I get the run in. The only time you think about any of that is when there’s a guy on third base, less than two outs, that’s the time you want to hit a fly ball to the outfield, or if the infield is back, just put the ball in play. But first and second, guy on second base, just try to have a good at-bat.”
Without doubt some pitchers feel more pressure with men on and that can make them more prone to mistakes, but it defies explanation that they would be making them to Goins so often.
“Some guys bear down more, I don’t know, that could be it,” manager John Gibbons said in trying to explain the difference. “But he’s driven in a lot of runs, another thing that doesn’t matter in this day and age in baseball but it matters on the field. Maybe he expands a little more with no one on base, it looks like he’ll use the opposite field a little more with guys in scoring position. That may not be accurate, but that’s what I see.”
Goins’ double Sunday came off Chad Kuhl during a five-run first started by a Jose Bautista walk and Donaldson two-run shot that opened the scoring. After a Smoak double, Kendrys Morales strikeout and Ezequiel Carrera walk, Goins ripped an 0-1 changeup into the right-field corner. Two batters later, he and Kevin Pillar executed a delayed double steal, with Goins coming home to make it a 5-1 game.
That was plenty for J.A. Happ, who allowed a David Freese RBI single during a difficult first when he surrendered three of the hour hits against him, but then mostly cruised for the next five frames, striking out eight and walking three.
The luxury of a big lead no doubt helped Happ, who had plenty of margin for error with some help from the Blue Jays’ unlikely Mr. RISP, something that led to some good-natured kibitzing between Gibbons, bench coach DeMarlo Hale and Goins in the dugout.
“I was telling them I should hit like fourth, or something,” Goins said laughing. “That’s never going to happen.”