Runs Batted In — Player Analysis
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Stat of the Week
by Peter Liubicich
Runs Batted In — Player Analysis
This post was written by Peter Liubicich on June 14, 2012
Posted Under: Stat of the Week

Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg showed again why the Washington Nationals are not to be taken lightly while facing teams from arguably the best division in MLB, the AL East.  The Nationals swept the Red Sox at Fenway and Harper and Strasburg put on another show for the good people of Toronto as Harper hit another mammoth home run on Tuesday and Strasburg put on another dominant start yesterday afternoon (aside from this moonshot from frequently mentioned Jose Bautista) and the Nationals completed a sweep of the Blue Jays.   The game even produced a postgame interview sound bite with Bryce Harper which went viral.  Strasburg had to leave the game unfortunately due to a cut finger, but during his 8 Strikeouts in 6 innings, he became the first pitcher in 2012 to reach 100 Strikeouts.  Next up for the Nationals who set a franchise record for most wins through 61 games in a season (38-23) are the Yankees who have just completed sweeps of the Mets and Braves.

We ended Monday’s column on Runs Batted In (RBI) questioning its usefulness in evaluating batters as if a player bats behind players that get on base often, they will have more opportunities to produce RBI which is not indicative of a player’s individual ability.  Scott Barzilla in The State of Baseball Management wrote about runs and RBI as evaluative statistics and concluded that “Runs and RBI are team-based statistics.  For example, Tino Martinez averaged more than 100 RBIs a season for the Yankees, but the Yankees were the best offense in the American League…So he didn’t do the same for the Cardinals.  Therefore, we will have to see which statistics are the best predictors for runs score and allowed.”  Spoiler Alert: Barzilla finds that On-Base Percentage (OBP) and On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) are the best predictors of runs scored which, as we have seen, is due to the greater amount of opportunities a player has to drive in runs, which leads to more runs over the course of a season which means more wins if you have an average pitching rotation.

That’s why when comparing a player with over 100 RBI hitting in a lineup full of players with high OBPs versus a player that produces 75-80 RBI in a lineup with players that have subpar OBPs, it is more useful to use statistics such as Team Runs or Runs Created.  These statistics will be evaluated in a separate article but they basically estimate the number of runs a player contributes to his team over the course of a season.

In 1937, Hank Greenberg put up the 3rd most RBI in a season in MLB history (remember the season was only 154 games long back then, MLB expanded the number of games in its schedule to 162 in 1961 for the American League and in 1962 for the National League)  when he drove in 183 runs.  This is a most impressive feat but when you look at the other players in his lineup, the argument that RBI is a team based statistic certainly holds up.  Here is a profile of the 1937 Tigers team and while there are no other household names in the starting lineup for that team, no everyday player had an OBP lower than .354.

C Rudy York, .375 OBP

1B Hank Greenberg, .436 OBP

2B Charlie Gehringer, .458 OBP

SS Billy Rogell, .376 OBP

3B Marv Owen, .358 OBP

OF Gee Walker, .380 OBP

OF Jo-Jo White, .354 OBP

OF Pete Fox, .372 OBP

In no way does the high on-base rate of the rest of his team take away from Greenberg’s historical feat as in order to drive in 183 RBI in a season, a player has to make the most of every opportunity they have.  This only serves to explain that when you surround a great hitter with other batters in the lineup that get on base often, they will be able to have higher RBI totals.  Some people say baseball is an individualistic game masquerading as a team sport and RBI appears to exemplify this better than most statistics, but let’s not label this great game with such a simplistic label as it takes one player to win an MVP Award, which is nice, but it takes a well-rounded lineup, bench, rotation and bullpen to win championships, which is why we watch and follow the game.

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