Trying to figure out how to count missed RBI
OK, what exactly is an RBI Opportunity?
We have an “RBI Analysis” for each player in the statistics section, and a few weeks ago a reader asked, “Why don’t you count RBI Opportunities?” That’s not exactly what he asked; exactly what he asked was “I'm curious about one missing statistic: RBI percentage = RBI / RBI Opportunities. It seems to me that (barring IBB) every time a batter steps to the plate, he has a chance of getting at least one RBI. If the bases are loaded, he has a chance of getting as many as 4 RBI. Why didn't this simple stat appear at the same time as RBI? And why isn't it used now? Actually, the answer to the second one is probably that there are other better ways of measuring that -- but what are they?”
I told Mr. Anonymous, who posed the question, that that sounded like a good idea and we would try to include it in the stat section. We put it on the to-do list, and in the fullness of time our programmer got to it. But then we had to face the question, “What is an RBI Opportunity?”
The method implied by the questioner is that RBI Opportunities are
1) All runners on base, plus
2) All plate appearances except maybe Intentional Walks.
We had actually counted RBI opportunities, by this definition, in a book we did years ago, The Baseball Scoreboard. But this definition, when you think about it, has a couple of really serious problems. The smaller problem, which is still serious, is that it will produce “RBI percentages” which will be, for the most part, absurdly low. Alex Rodriguez led the majors in RBI in 2007, but by this method his RBI percentage would have been. ..well, I don’t exactly, but something less than .150. He had 697 Plate Appearances, not counting Intentional Walks, and he came to the plate 382 times with men on base. Even if it was only one runner on base each time, that’s at least 1079 “RBI Opportunities”, meaning that his RBI percentage would be less than .145. It doesn’t seem like a player who drives in 100 runs should have to go into arbitration and hear that he failed to drive in 91% of his RBI Opportunities.
I could live with that, I guess, but there is a more serious problem. In 1962 Tommy Davis, batting behind Maury Wills when Wills was stealing 104 bases, drove in 153 runs with only 27 doubles and 27 homers, although he did hit a lot of singles. In 1985 Terrible Tommy Herr, batting behind Vince Coleman when Coleman stole 110 bases, drove in 110 runs with only 8 home runs. Obviously these players benefited from having many runners in scoring position when they came to the plate.
But if you simply count every man on base as an RBI opportunity, then these players would have had more RBI opportunities if Wills or Coleman had never attempted to steal a base, since, by this logic, every caught stealing reduces the RBI opportunities for the next hitter, while a successful steal does nothing at all. That doesn’t make any sense.
I guess I could live with that, too, if I thought we could get by with it. We wouldn’t. The flaw in the statistic would become obvious, and we’d get hammered for propogating an obviously illogical system for counting RBI opportunities.
OK, so how do we count RBI opportunities? I’ve turned several other things over in my mind that don’t quite work, and I have one thing in mind that might work, but I’d like to know what you all think about it. My first idea was that a player might be credited with a “full” RBI opportunity if he batted with a runner on third base, two-thirds of an opportunity if he batted with a runner on second, and one-third if he batted with a runner on first. But this would mean that there would be players, measured in short cycles, who would have RBI production rates greater than one. Run this one through your head: Conor Jackson was named the National League player of the week last week, when he drove in 14 runs with only 9 RBI opportunities. Huh?
My next thought was that we might charge a player with 0.50 RBI opportunities for a runner on first, 1.00 for a runner on second, and 1.50 for a runner on third. But (a) this implicitly says that, even when a hitter drives in a runner from third base, he has only accomplished two-thirds of his job (1.00 RBI divided by 1.50 RBI opportunities), and (b) it also leaves open the possibility, although unlikely, that a player’s RBI could exceed his RBI opportunities.
OK, well how about this. This is my proposal. We count a player’s “RBI opportunities” as the sum of two things:
1) Actual RBI, and
2) Missed RBI opportunities.
Missed RBI opportunities are counted as
1.00 for a runner left on third base with less than two out,
0.70 for a runner left on second base, or on third base with two out,
0.40 for a runner left on first base.
However, no missed opportunities are charged if the batter does not make an out. Runner on first, batter singles, he hasn’t missed the opportunity; the oppotunity still exists. He hasn’t missed the opportunity; he’s improved it, and handed it on to the next hitter.
Do you think that would work? It would seem to me that it would. You would have a number, RBI percentage, that
a) would never exceed 1.000,
b) would never be less than zero,
c) would increase whenever a batter drove in a run,
d) would decrease whenever he made an out with a man on base without driving in a run, and
e) would be most heavily effected when he failed to come through with runners in scoring position.
It seems to me that those are the things we are trying to accomplish, and also that this method could not reasonably fail to correlate strongly with actual RBI, while at the same time delivering a much higher percentage for a player who drove in 100 runs while batting 125 times with runners in scoring position than for a player who drove in 100 runs while batting 200 times with runners in scoring position.
I’d like to hear your opinions (below), and also we’ll post a poll question on it, and gather some opinions that way. Thanks. Appreciate your interest.