RBI Men

February 6, 2017
 

RBI Men

2017-9

 

              Let me ask you a few questions about RBIs.. . .basic, pretty obvious questions, but questions to which I would speculate that you will not know the answers:

              1)  Could an average hitter drive in 100 runs in a season, if he had enough opportunities?

              2)  Do the best RBI men, over the course of a season, actually get the most chances to drive in runs?   If so, how many more chances to do they get?

              3)  Did Edwin Encarnacion have a big uptick in RBI last year because he had more RBI opportunities, or because he was more productive with the chances that he had?

              4)  Edwin Encarnacion drove in 127 runs last year and Caleb Joseph drove in none.   Obviously Encarnacion had more RBI opportunities than Joseph, but how many more?   Five times as many?  Ten times?  Three?   What is the real difference?

              Of the 127-RBI difference between them, how many do we attribute to Encarnacion’s performance, and how many to the difference between them in RBI Opportunities?

              5)  To what extent did Caleb Joseph make history last year (141 plate appearances without an RBI) because he just didn’t have a lot of RBI opportunities, and to what extent was it because he didn’t drive in runs when he had a chance? 

              6)  Or, to pick a more relevant comparison than Caleb Joseph, Jean Segura.  Segura had more at bats than Encarnacion did in 2016, more hits, and exactly the same number of total bases as Encarnacion (318 each)—but drove in only half as many runs.    To what extent did Encarnacion drive in more runs than Segura because he had more chances to drive in runs, and to what extent was it because he was a better RBI man?   Do you think it was 70% because Encarnacion was a better RBI man, or 30%?

              7)  The year that Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, was he actually the best RBI man in the American League?

              8)  Who was the best RBI man in baseball last year, comparing his RBI to his RBI opportunities?

              9)  Who is the best RBI man in baseball, year in and year out?

              10)  Is being a good RBI man entirely a predictable function of one’s hitting skills, or is there something about it that you wouldn’t anticipate?

              11)  How many runs do teams gain by putting their best RBI men in the prime RBI positions? 

              12)  One team in 2016 had three of the four best RBI men in their league.   What team do you think it was?

              I’d ask you, if you’re in a nice mood and your basketball team didn’t just lose a big game, to actually re-read that list of questions, and make up answers, guess what the answers are.   If you do that, you’re realize that you are actually learning something meaningful about baseball by reading this article.

              OK, let me explain the method; this won’t take long.   A player’s RBI opportunity are the sum of his actual RBI, and his missed RBI opportunity.   But what is an RBI opportunity?

              If a runner is on third base with less than two out and the hitter does not bring him in, that is a full RBI opportunity (1.0) that is lost.

              If a runner is on second base, or if he is on third base with two out, that is a 70% RBI opportunity (.7) that is lost.

              If a runner is on first base and the batter does not score him, that is a 40% RBI opportunity (.4) that is lost.

              If there is no one on base and the batter makes an out, well, he could have hit a home run.  That we score as a 10% RBI opportunity (.1) that is lost. 

              HOWEVER, a batter is never charged with a lost RBI opportunity if he doesn’t make an out in the plate appearance.    If there is a runner on first, let’s say, and the batter hits a single; the runner goes to second or third, but doesn’t score.  The batter hasn’t driven in the runner from first, but the RBI opportunity still exists and in fact has been improved, rather than lost.  So if the batter doesn’t make an out, he is not charged with losing an RBI opportunity. 

              Recently I had a query in "Hey, Bill"—I wish I could remember who it was from, and I wish I had kept the query somewhere—to the effect that it would seem like RBI Opportunities should be a basic stat that people referred to all the time whenever RBI are referenced, so. . .why isn’t it?   When he asked that I thought. . .yeah, why isn’t it?   And why haven’t we (at BIS) done anything with the eight years of data that we have? 

              We at Baseball Info Solutions have actually been tracking this data since 2009; we can debate the method later on.  Frankly, we have done astonishingly little WITH the data; we have just been tracking it, putting it on a shelf, and forgetting about it.  

              OK, let’s address these 12 questions:

              1)  Could an average hitter drive in 100 runs in a season, if he had enough opportunities?

              In the eight years that we have been tracking the data, no hitter has come close to doing that.   It could in theory happen, I guess, but it would be an extreme outlier event.  

              An average hitter drives in 30.4% of his RBI opportunities, or 7 out of 23.    In the eight years we have been tracking the data, 146 hitters have driven in a hundred runs.   The WORST RBI man to drive in 100 runs in that time was Pedro Alvarez in 2013, at 34.1%, which is still a pretty good distance above average, although the average for a regular player is 33.4%.   Alvarez wasn’t much above average compared to regular players. 

              In order to drive in 100 runs with a below-average RBI percentage, a player would have to have 230 Missed RBI opportunities, as a theoretical minimum.    The most missed RBI opportunities of any player in the last eight years is 205.4.     

              The most runs driven in by a below-average RBI producer in the last eight years are 85, by Robinson Cano in 2009.   Cano has been a good RBI producer most of his career, but in 2009 he hit .376 with the bases empty but just .207 with runners in scoring position, his OPS dropping more than 400 points when there were runners in scoring position.     Cano (2009) was also the player who had 205.4 missed RBI opportunities.   

              Brief digression.   About ten years ago I did some research into the history of the phrase "in scoring position".     I learned, to my surprise, that the expression "in scoring position" was originally used in every sport you can possibly think of, and in most sports more often than in baseball.   I assumed it was a baseball expression which had bled a little bit into the other sports.   This is not true at all.   Though it was used in baseball as early as 1905, it was not often used in baseball through the 1930s.   I found examples of the expression "in scoring position" being used in boxing, basketball, football, tennis, bowling, golf, polo, distance running, many others.   And not infrequently; it was used A LOT in football and bowling, in particular.   For some reason the expression almost entirely died out in other sports in the 1940s, becoming an expression exclusive to baseball.  

 

              2)  Do the best RBI men, over the course of a season, actually get the most chances to drive in runs?   If so, how many more chances to do they get?

              They do, yes.    Good RBI men frequently get 250 to 300 RBI opportunities in a season, occasionally over 300.     Bottom of the order and top of the order hitters may be more in the 160 to 225 range.    A little of the difference is accounted for by home runs counting as RBI, thus as RBI opportunities, but at least half of it is not.

              That paragraph didn’t QUITE get where I was trying to go.   Teams do, in fact, give more RBI opportunities to players who are better RBI men.   The traditional form of the batting lineup does work, in that sense.  

 

 

              3)  Did Edwin Encarnacion have a big uptick in RBI last year because he had more RBI opportunities, or because he was more productive with the chances that he had?

              Entirely because he had more chances.   He had a huge surge in RBI opportunities in 2016, far more than he had ever had before.  He actually had his LEAST productive RBI season in the last five years (in 2016), despite having a career high in RBI.  

 

              4)  Edwin Encarnacion drove in 127 runs last year and Caleb Joseph drove in none.   Obviously Encarnacion had more RBI opportunities than Joseph, but how many more?   Five times as many?  Ten times?  Three?   What is the real difference?

              Of the 127-RBI difference between them, how many do we attribute to Encarnacion’s performance, and how many to the difference between them in RBI Opportunities?

              Encarnacion had about seven and a half times as many RBI opportunities as Joseph did.   Encarnacion had 321, Joseph had 43.  

              Of the difference between them of 127 RBI, two-thirds is accounted for by RBI opportunities, and one third by the hitter’s productivity.     Given the number of chances that each hitter had to drive in a run, an average hitter would have driven in 97 runs with Encarnacion’s opportunities, and 13 with Joseph’s.      That’s a difference of 84 runs.   Encarnacion was 30 runs better than an average hitter; Joseph was 13 runs worse.    So 84 runs of the 127-run difference are accounted for by opportunities, and 43 are accounted for by productivity.  

 

              5)  To what extent did Caleb Joseph make history last year (141 plate appearances without an RBI) because he just didn’t have a lot of RBI opportunities, and to what extent was it because he didn’t drive in runs when he had a chance? 

              One-third because he didn’t have a lot of chances; two-thirds because he didn’t produce.   An average American League hitter last year had .47 RBI opportunities per plate appearance.   With 141 plate appearances, Joseph should have had 66 RBI Opportunities.    In fact, he had only 43—about a third less than random expectation.  

              The 23 Opportunities he was missing should produce 7 RBI—remember, 7 out of 23.   The 43 chances he DID have should have produced 13 RBI.    So he’s short by 7 RBI because of circumstances, and by 13 because he didn’t produce. 

              The 43 RBI Opportunities with no RBI is the most in our data, obviously.   Second on that list is Hiroki Kuroda, 2011, at 32.3.    Kuroda had an unusual season in that he had a LOT of RBI opportunities, for a pitcher, and never came through, but he is, after all a pitcher.   

              Joseph is first on that list, and then the next 36 players are all pitchers.   The most RBI opportunities without an RBI, after Joseph, is 19.6, but Koyie Hill in 2013.  

 

              6)  Or, to pick a more relevant comparison (for Encarnacion) than Caleb Joseph, Jean Segura.  Segura had more at bats than Encarnacion did in 2016, more hits, and exactly the same number of total bases as Encarnacion (318 each)—but drove in only half as many runs.    To what extent did Encarnacion drive in more runs than Segura because he had more chances to drive in runs, and to what extent was it because he was a better RBI man?   Do you think it was 70% because Encarnacion was a better RBI man, or 30%?

              Of the 63 RBI difference between them, 40 were because Encarnacion had more chances to drive in runs, and the rest were because Encarnacion hit 42 homers to Segura’s 20, and a Home Run is also an RBI.   Setting aside the larger number of RBI Opportunities for Encarnacion and the fact that he drove in himself 22 more times with homers, they were otherwise the same as RBI men. 

 

              7)  The year that Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, was he actually the best RBI man in the American League?

              He was not, no.    Cabrera drove in 11 more runs than Josh Hamilton of Texas, but had almost 50 more RBI opportunities, or 18% more opportunities.  

 

              8)  Who was the best RBI man in baseball last year, comparing his RBI to his RBI opportunities?

              Daniel Murphy.   Murphy had 104 RBI with 224 Opportunities, or 46.4%.     These are the league leaders in each league since 2009:

American League

2009     Jason Bay

2010     Jose Bautista

2011     Jose Bautista

2012     Josh Hamilton

2013     Chris Davis

2014     Mike Trout

2015     Josh Donaldson

2016     Mookie Betts

 

National League

2009     Albert Pujols

2010     Joey Votto

2011     Ryan Braun

2012     Garrett Jones

2013     Freddie Freeman

2014     Devin Mesoraco

2015     Nolan Arenado

2016     Daniel Murphy

 

              At the end of the article I’ll run a chart that lists these side by side with the total RBI leaders. 

 

              9)  Who is the best RBI man in baseball, year in and year out?

              You probably all got this one right.   It’s Miguel Cabrera. . ..well, Cabrera or Trout.   Trout if you consider a player eligible at 1,000 opportunities, Cabrera if you use 1,200.   Cabrera has never been the best RBI man in the American League in any one season since we’ve been tracking this, but he is always close:

 

Year

RBI

Opportunties

Pct.

2009

103

270.1

.381

2010

126

282

.447

2011

105

252.2

.416

2012

139

316.8

.439

2013

137

284

.482

2014

109

259.3

.420

2015

76

186.7

.407

2016

108

278.9

.387

 

 

 

 

 

903

2130

.424

 

              He didn’t lead in 2013 because he happened to run up against a guy (Chris Davis) having the best RBI season in the last eight years, at .483.     But over the eight-year run, Cabrera and Trout are the best RBI man in baseball:

 

Rank

Name

RBI

Opportunities

Percentage

Grade

1

Mike Trout

497

1142.9

.435

A+

2

Miguel Cabrera

903

2130

.424

A+

3

Paul Goldschmidt

481

1149.8

.418

A+

4

Jose Bautista

691

1669.9

.414

A+

5

Mookie Betts

208

504.2

.413

A+

6

Ryan Braun

623

1532.5

.407

A+

7

Josh Donaldson

450

1111.7

.405

A

8

Jose Abreu

308

762.6

.404

A

9

Jim Thome

211

528.1

.400

A

10

Kris Bryant

201

504.2

.399

A

11

Joey Votto

526

1320

.398

A

12

Albert Pujols

741

1861.4

.398

A

13

Nolan Arenado

376

947.5

.397

A

14

David Ortiz

799

2022.6

.395

A

15

Yoenis Cespedes

453

1152

.393

A

16

Giancarlo Stanton

453

1155.6

.392

A

17

Edwin Encarnacion

695

1776.4

.391

A

18

Adrian Gonzalez

821

2100.9

.391

A

19

Josh Hamilton

524

1346.3

.389

A-

20

Matt Holliday

595

1532.1

.388

A-

21

Carlos Gonzalez

536

1382.4

.388

A-

22

Nelson Cruz

713

1841.2

.387

A-

23

Hanley Ramirez

566

1462.8

.387

A-

24

Chris Davis

578

1525.7

.379

A-

25

Andrew McCutchen

548

1446.6

.379

A-

 

 

              The WORST RBI men to get 500 RBI opportunities over those eight years are these guys:

 

Rank

Name

RBI

Opportunities

Percentage

Grade

1

Chone Figgins

116

561.8

.206

F

2

Emilio Bonifacio

110

518.9

.212

F

3

Ryan Theriot

111

506.2

.219

F

4

Ruben Tejada

117

530.6

.221

F

5

Brendan Ryan

181

806.6

.224

F

6

Everth Cabrera

132

585.9

.225

F

7

Adeiny Hechavarria

177

780.3

.227

F

8

Ben Revere

178

783.9

.227

F

9

Dee Gordon

117

511.6

.229

F

10

Peter Bourjos

149

645

.231

F

11

Ramon Santiago

135

583.8

.231

F

12

Juan Pierre

161

683.9

.235

F

13

Marwin Gonzalez

134

568.4

.236

F

14

Darwin Barney

133

563

.236

F

15

Cliff Pennington

212

892.8

.237

F

16

Brayan Pena

152

635.9

.239

F

17

Gregor Blanco

172

706.9

.243

D-

18

Ichiro Suzuki

291

1185.4

.245

D-

19

Alcides Escobar

354

1441

.246

D-

20

Jayson Nix

128

518.9

.247

D-

21

Leonys Martin

167

671.2

.249

D-

22

Skip Schumaker

178

710.1

.251

D-

23

Jeff Mathis

163

648.4

.251

D-

24

Andrelton Simmons

212

826.1

.257

D

25

Mike Aviles

247

961.9

.257

D

 

              I’ll try to post these grades for all hitters tomorrow. . .not sure if I can get that done, but I’ll try.  

 

              10)  Is being a good RBI man entirely a predictable function of one’s hitting skills, or is there something about it that you wouldn’t anticipate?

              Well, you now know the answer to that question, because of the chart I just gave you, with all of the great hitters at the top.   It’s largely a predictable function of the player’s production.  

              In a single season, things happen.   The best RBI man in the National League in 2014 was Devin Mesoraco.   Mesoraco is a career .237 hitter with only 16 career homers, other than the 25 he blasted in 2014, in just 384 at bats.    That year he hit .241 with the bases empty, his normal average, but hit .315 with men on base, and homered 65% more often when there were men on base.   With the bases loaded he went 7-for-9 and hit three homers.   That year, he was the best RBI man in the National League. 

              That is actually the second half of a postman-always-rings-twice double image.   Mesoraco was the Reds catcher.    In 2010  the Reds backup catcher was Ryan Hanigan, who had a very similar year.    Hanigan—a career .250 hitter—hit .300 in 203 at bats, but, more particularly, hit .376 with runners in scoring position.   He hit four of his five home runs with men on base, although more than 60% of his at bats were with the bases empty, and he went 5-for-9 with the bases loaded.   In 2010, although he didn’t have enough RBI opportunities to be considered the league leader, he had a higher RBI production rate than the league leader.  

              But both Hanigan and Mesoraco came back to earth the next season.   There’s really no such thing as an ability to hit .376 with runners in scoring position, if you’re a .250 hitter otherwise.     If it happens, it is just something that happens.  

              I know I have talked about this before, but I have always been fascinated by what I call Floyd Robinson seasons.   Floyd Robinson in 1962 hit .312 with 11 homers, but 109 RBI.   He hit 45 doubles, 27 of them with men on base.   Robinson, batting behind Joe Cunningham, who had a .410 on base percentage, had 384 plate appearances with runners on base, an enormous number, and hit .347 with men on base.  

              I was twelve years old at the time; I figured this was Robinson’s real skill level, and he would do that every year. I didn’t know how many plate appearances he had had with men on base, or that he had hit .347 with men on base, or that there really is no such thing as an ability to hit with runners in scoring position.    I just figured this was who he was; this is what he would do.    Of course he wasn’t able to sustain any of the elements of magic that had made that a magical season.   The next season he batted just 301 times with men on base—still a high number, but not 384—hit just .287 with runners on base, and hit just 7 doubles with men on base, down from 27 the previous year.  

              In 1970 Wes Parker had a very similar season, hitting .319 with 10 homers, 112 RBI.     He also hit 47 doubles.    He had come to the plate 349 times with men on base, and 231 times with runners in scoring position.    By now I was a young adult, a little more skeptical, but still intrigued to see if Parker could repeat his Floyd Robinson season.

              Periodically a player has a year like that.    Keith Hernandez in 1979.   48 doubles, 11 homers, 105 RBI.    He had hit .385 with men on base.   Hernandez was a great player, but he never drove in 100 runs again.    RBI are an essentially predictable outcome of your other numbers, over time—varying, of course, with whether you hit leadoff or cleanup, if you are Rickey Henderson, and with whether you hit sixth or eighth, if you are Leonys Martin. 

 

              11)  How many runs do teams gain by putting their best RBI men in the prime RBI positions? 

              About ten to fifteen runs in theory, although in practice that is probably an overstatement.   A typical team has about 2200 RBI opportunities in a season, which are arranged high to low something like this:

Player 1

290

Player 2

279

Player 3

268

Player 4

257

Player 5

246

Player 6

235

Player 7

224

Player 8

213

Player 9

202

 

              And a typical team has RBI producers of varying ability, something like this:

Player 1

.395

Player 2

.375

Player 3

.355

Player 4

.335

Player 5

.315

Player 6

.295

Player 7

.275

Player 8

.255

Player 9

.235

 

              If you maximize that so that the player with the most RBI ability gets the most RBI opportunities, the team will get 710 RBI.   Well, 711:

 

 

Opportunities

 

Productivity

 

RBI

Player 1

290

 

.395

 

114.55

Player 2

279

 

.375

 

104.625

Player 3

268

 

.355

 

95.14

Player 4

257

 

.335

 

86.095

Player 5

246

 

.315

 

77.49

Player 6

235

 

.295

 

69.325

Player 7

224

 

.275

 

61.6

Player 8

213

 

.255

 

54.315

Player 9

202

 

.235

 

47.47

           
 

2214

     

710.61

 

              If you randomize it—a random batting order—you’ll usually get somewhere between 695 and 700 RBI.    You can go as low as 684, if you make the batting order as illogical as possible.   You have a gain of about a dozen RBI by putting the best RBI producers in the prime RBI slots, or 27 RBI from the theoretical best to the theoretical worst. 

              Realistically, it is less than that, for two reasons.   One is that, at random, Miguel Cabrera might hit ninth.  In the real world, that’s not going to happen.   MOST of the distance from 684 to 711 is covered by just doing really obvious things like putting Miguel Cabrera somewhere in the middle of the order.  

              The other is that there are second-order effects which would tend to slightly reduce the measured difference.    There is a runner on second, one out.    There is an RBI potential of .7.    If the batter hits a single, the next hitter up has an RBI potential of .4.   If the batter strikes out, the next hitter up has an RBI potential of .7.    If one hitter produces the RBI, that reduces the RBI potential for the next hitter, if we ignore the "table-setting" half of the equation, which we are ignoring in this analysis.  

              12)  One team had three of the four best RBI men in their league last year.   What team do you think it was?

              It was the Red Sox.   These are the top ten RBI producers in the American League last year:

 

Rank

Player

RBI

Opportunities

Pct

1

Mookie Betts

113

251.4

.449

2

Mike Trout

100

224.6

.445

3

David Ortiz

127

286.8

.443

4

Hanley Ramirez

111

267.8

.414

5

Josh Donaldson

99

239.6

.413

6

Adrian Beltre

104

252.7

.412

7

Jose Altuve

96

235.2

.408

8

Edwin Encarnacion

127

321.3

.395

9

Mark Trumbo

108

275.7

.392

10

Kendrys Morales

93

237.8

.391

 

              The Red Sox had a terrific offense in part because they had three of the best cleanup hitters in the league.   One of those is retired now, and. . .you don’t want to EXPECT Mookie to perform at that level every year.    Whoever led the league last year, usually doesn’t this year.   Mookie is certainly not Floyd Robinson or Devin Mesoraco, but his season had quite a bit of magic to it, like Fred Lynn’s season in ’75.   He hit .355 with Runners in Scoring Position.   You can’t expect him to do that every year.  

 

              OK, before I go, I should explain a little bit about why the system is the way it is.     I know very well that a runner in scoring position does not have a 70% chance of scoring.   That is NOT what we are measuring here, and that is not a relevant fact.  

              It would be easier to design THIS measurement if we were measuring teammates batted in—TBI.   That would be easier.   We have to work with the definition of RBI that we have inherited. 

              I tried to set it up so that an average hitter has about the same level of measured success in each situation, more or less, and consistent with the goals of simplicity and conceptual clarity.    Let’s say a player makes 400 outs in a season, and hits 18 homers.   If those all come with the bases empty, his RBI percentage is .310—18 RBI in 58 opportunities.   Each out (with the bases empty) is .10 RBI lost.  

              Let us say he hits .280 with a runner in scoring position. . . .let’s say 50 for 180, which is actually .278, and let us say that 40 of the 50 runners score.    He’s got 40 RBI, and he is charged 91 lost opportunities (180 minus 50 is 130, times .70 is 91).   So he is 40 for 131, which is .305.  

              Let us say he bats with a runner on first only 150 times, hits .280, which is 42 for 150.   Let’s say that includes 12 doubles, 2 triples, 5 homers.   He is going to have about 17 RBI there.   If he is charged with .40 RBI opportunity when he makes an out, that’s 43.2. . . he is 17 for 60.2, or about .280.  

              I was trying to set it up so that, whether he hit doubles, singles, homers, whatever, his RBI production ratio would be about the same one way as another.     What matters is whether he produces or whether he doesn’t—if he is an average hitter.

              If he is a home run hitter—well, of course that makes him a better RBI man when the bases are empty.    That’s inherent in the definition of RBI that we have inherited from our ancestors; three point penalty to the writer for using "inherent" and "inherited" in the same phrase.     I think it is a reasonable premise, and a reasonable approach to measuring RBI opportunities.   You can make of it what you will. 

              Thanks for reading.   Tomorrow I’ll try to post the career ratings for everybody.    Here’s the list I promised you earlier. 

             

Year

Lg

RBI Leader

Best RBI Producer

2009

AL

Mark Teixeira, 122

Jason Bay, 46.1%  (119/257.9)

2009

NL

Prince Fielder and

 

 

 

Ryan Howard, 141

Albert Pujols, 48.2% (135/280.1)

2010

AL

Miguel Cabrera, 126

Jose Bautista, 47.6%  (124/260.3)

2010

NL

Albert Pujols, 118

Joey Votto, 46.7%  (113/241.9)

2011

AL

Curtis Granderson, 119

Jose Bautista, 47.1% (103/218.5)

2011

NL

Matt Kemp, 126

Ryan Braun, 45.4% (111/244.7)

2012

AL

Miguel Cabrera, 139

Josh Hamilton, 47.7% (128/268.4)

2012

NL

Chase Headley, 115

Garrett Jones, 44.1% (86/195.1)

2013

AL

Chris Davis, 138

Chris Davis, 48.3% (138/285.5)

2013

NL

Paul Goldschmidt, 125

Freddie Freeman, 46.0% (109/237)

2014

AL

Mike Trout, 111

Mike Trout, 45.8% (111/242.6)

2014

NL

Adrian Gonzalez, 116

Devin Mesoraco, 45.4% (80/176.3)

2015

AL

Josh Donaldson, 123

Josh Donaldson, 43.9% (123/280.5)

2015

AL

Nolan Arenado, 130

Nolan Arenado, 45.0% (130/288.8)

2016

AL

Edwin Encarnacion and

 

 

 

David Ortiz, 127

Mookie Betts, 44.9% (113/251.4)

2016

NL

Nolan Arenado, 133

Daniel Murphy, 46.4% (104/224)

 

 

 

              There have been ten Floyd Robinson seasons in the majors since the end of World War II.    What you will notice about those guys is that they mostly lost about 25 RBI the next season.    Hernandez drove in 99 runs in his followup season, but then, he was actually really good.  

 

First

Last

YEAR

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

Hank

Majeski

1948

148

590

88

183

41

4

12

120

.310

.368

.454

.822

George

Kell

1950

157

641

114

218

56

6

8

101

.340

.403

.484

.886

Floyd

Robinson

1962

156

600

89

187

45

10

11

109

.312

.384

.475

.859

Wes

Parker

1970

161

614

84

196

47

4

10

111

.319

.392

.458

.850

Keith

Hernandez

1979

161

610

116

210

48

11

11

105

.344

.417

.513

.930

Paul

Molitor

1996

161

660

99

225

41

8

9

113

.341

.390

.468

.858

Jeff

Cirillo

2000

157

598

111

195

53

2

11

115

.326

.392

.477

.869

Edgar

Renteria

2003

157

587

96

194

47

1

13

100

.330

.394

.480

.874

Michael

Young

2011

159

631

88

213

41

6

11

106

.338

.380

.474

.854

Victor

Martinez

2011

145

540

76

178

40

0

12

103

.330

.380

.470

.850

              

 
 

COMMENTS (33 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
....and for anyone who's interested to see the article from 2008:

www.billjamesonline.com/article701/?AuthorId=3&pg=7&F_All=y

....and there was this follow-up, with Bill's replies to the comments, plus new comments:
www.billjamesonline.com/article708/?AuthorId=3&pg=7&F_All=y
1:12 AM Feb 10th
 
MarisFan61
(BTW, Bill: Since you said you wished you knew who was the member who kicked this off on "Hey Bill" by asking about RBI opportunity, here it is:)

Why hasn't RBI per opportunity become a thing? I know we need another stat like we need a hole in the head, but still. If we want to limit the overvaluing of certain stats (RBI), can't we simply replace it with something more accurate? That way, the actual number of meaningful stats doesn't grow, it just evolves.
Asked by: jollydodger

Answered: 1/18/2017
Oh, thanks for mentioning that. Several years ago I created an RBI per opportunity method, and published it here. . . .you can find it here on the site somewhere. Then I asked that it be included in the Handbook, and I think that it is. . . .but whoever was instructed to do the programming for the Handbook didn't get half of the memo, so they don't actually figure it the way I asked them to figure it; they just divide RBI by runners on base or something. . .not sure what they do, but I don't think it is what I asked them to do. Always meant to fix that, but I always forget.

Later. . .the article introducing this method was published here May 23, 2008, and is still available in the archives of the site. On examination, I am unclear as to whether the data published in the Handbook is accurate or is not. Working on it.

1:06 AM Feb 10th
 
CharlesSaeger
Guy, Bill's system doesn't give a failed opportunity if a player doesn't make an out.
4:31 PM Feb 9th
 
MarisFan61
It seems like a very good question, why actual RBI's are included as a component in the "opportunity." It seems to somewhat distort the conclusions, in exactly the way that Guy suggests.

Would love to see the reasoning behind it.
4:22 PM Feb 9th
 
Guy123
Add all of these together, then add RBIs. That's opportunities.
Charles, you can also easily calculate unbiased estimates of RBI opportunities this way. Simply use PA instead of (AB-H-ROE), and don't add the RBI. That will give you a consistent measure of each hitter's opportunities to drive in runs.
12:00 PM Feb 9th
 
CharlesSaeger
Here's a quick way of finding RBI opportunities with bb-ref.com data.

First, find AB-H-ROE for when the bases are empty, and multiply by 0.1.
Then, find AB-H-ROE for when there is a runner on first, and multiply by 0.4.
Then, find AB-H-ROE for when there is a runner on second, and multiply by 0.7.
Then, find AB-H-ROE for when there is a runner on third, and multiply by 0.7.
Lastly, find AB-H-ROE for when there is a runner on third and less than two outs, and multiply by 0.3.

Add all of these together, then add RBIs. That's opportunities. It won't be perfect since there are little issues involved, like run-scoring ground outs, some of the reached on errors being on sacrifice hits (errors happen a lot on bunts), and fielder's choice plays where everyone is safe. But you'll be close.
10:45 AM Feb 9th
 
Guy123
I think you will be much happier with this metric in the long run if you remove RBI from the definition of RBI opportunities. By counting all RBI as a full opportunity, the metric gets biased by a hitter's success (or failure) at driving in runs. A batter who comes up with a man on first is credited with 0.4 opps if he strikes out, but 1.0 opps if he hits a run-scoring double. The more runs a hitter drives in, the more "opportunities" that get credited, even when the actual opportunity to drive in runs was identical.

Measuring all opportunities the same, regardless of outcome, would change your analysis subtly in some cases, more dramatically in others. These are back-of-envelope estimates, but use Bill's values of .1 for bases empty, .4 runner on first, .7 on second, and .9 on third (ignoring number of outs).

The comparison of EE to Joseph changes just a bit. Instead of 2/3 of the RBI gap stemming from opportunities, it's really 58% (74 out of 127). Bill's method overestimates EE's opps (by about 15) because he had so many RBI, while understating Joseph's. Interestingly, Joseph lost only one RBI because of opportunities (which were about average) -- his zero RBI total stemmed almost entirely (92%) from poor hitting.

Comparing EE to Segura, the story shifts noticeably. Bill's method sees most of EE's edge stemming from opportunities (40 opps/23 performance), while in fact a bit more came from performance (28 opps/35 performance). Segura certainly did have well below average opportunities. But EE gained only 10 RBIs from having excess opportunities, while gaining 38 RBI from above-avg performance.

Whenever possible, it's best to define a player's opportunities independently from his success at converting them. If you don't, a bias gets introduced. In this case, it serves to penalize high-RBI players and reward low-RBI players.
10:02 PM Feb 8th
 
ksclacktc
@raincheck
Amen! Fed up with hubris indeed.
7:39 PM Feb 8th
 
raincheck
Thank you. The typical treatment of "legacy" stats is "[wins, RBIs, etc] are meaningless and if you aren't as smart as me and you talk about them it just proves how much better I am than you."

Bill knows they are part of the language and, more importantly, that they do TELL US SOMETHING. If we look at them the right way and try to understand them better they can still be useful or at least fun. It is typical of the life wisdom one can learn from listening to him.
3:31 PM Feb 8th
 
cderosa
>That's 40.9%.

Thanks, Charles, for figuring it!

Chris
5:11 AM Feb 8th
 
MarisFan61
(Here's some general data on sac flies and SLG:
Sac flies seem to make about a 3-4 point difference in overall SLG, on the average.
They make about a 6 point difference in SLG with men on base, on the average.)
1:42 AM Feb 8th
 
MarisFan61
Regarding the role of sac flies in the difference between Tommie Herr's slugging with men on base vs. bases empty:
Not really.

In general, sac flies make only a few points difference in SLG, like 3-4. Herr had more sac flies than average and so it's more of a difference for him, but just a small portion of his noted difference.
(9 points of it -- details on request)
12:00 AM Feb 8th
 
matt_okeefe
Glenn Wilson hit .277 with 14 homers and 102 RBIs for the Phillies in 1985. I think Schmidt drove in 93. The next spring they ran ads for "Glenn-bo: RBI Part II," and he did pretty well that year, drove in 85.
11:13 PM Feb 7th
 
shthar
Tommy Herr in 1985 isn't in the top ten of FR seasons?

8 homers & 110 RBIs.
9:47 PM Feb 7th
 
AJD600
So who was a worse RBI man/who was less valuable to his team considering RBI's only? Caleb Joseph or Enzo Hernandez for the '71 Padres with his 12 RBI's in 618 PA's?
9:28 PM Feb 7th
 
OldBackstop
Well, Fireball, I would see Buckner and raise Joe Carter in 1990:

115 ribbies
batted .232
OBP .290
slugged .391
OPS .681

....with only 24 home runs for a Padres team below the league average in runs scored. And he only batted .252 with men on.

I've had to check that one like three times. Okay, post.
7:04 PM Feb 7th
 
Fireball Wenz
Bill posed the question: could an average hitter drive in 100 runs in a season if he had enough opportunities?

What about 1986 Bill Buckner. with 102 RBI? Playing as a left hitter in Fenway, Billy Buck batted .267, with an OBP of .311 and SLG of .421. Baseball-Reference has him at 98 OPS+.

He scored 16 percent of the 551 base runners on when he batted. That was just a hair over the team figure of 15 percent.
6:19 PM Feb 7th
 
MarisFan61
Bill: It would seem that you set the bar in not the best place on doubles and batting average, if it kept out a season like Herr's 1985.

(Just for everyone's info: Herr hit .302, with 38 doubles.)

BTW, I don't mean just that the cutoffs should have been just a little more liberal. It would be hard to say how much more liberal, but I think it's an easy call that the absence of the Herr season means the cutoffs were too strict. The Herr season certainly meets everyone's 'gut' criteria for the kind of year you're talking about.
6:18 PM Feb 7th
 
wdr1946
How does this compare with the big RBI men of the past- Hack Wilson in 1930, Gehrig, Greenberg, Foxx, etc.? Obviously they would have had more opportunities with more men on base, but how do their percentages compare? I once read that Pie Traynor produced many more RBIs than he should have, given his OBS+ and place in the line up. I think that some editions of Total Baseball have statistics about this.

6:13 PM Feb 7th
 
CharlesSaeger
I get 110/269 for Herr in 1985, though I would think I have a run-scoring ground out or three counting against him. (Why did Sacrifice Grounders never become a stat?) That's 40.9%.
4:51 PM Feb 7th
 
Riceman1974
BBall Reference has men-on-base data going back to 1930. Obviously they don't have full play-by-play for every plate appearance, but they do have enough of a sample size to make some rough estimates.

For example, Lou Gehrig in 1931 (185 RBIs), had 495 men on base for the 581 plate appearances they have play-by-play data for. In all of 1931 Lou had 738 plate appearances. Assuming a similar ratio of men on base to plate appearances, Lou had about 630 (!!!) total men on base when he went up to the plate. Lou drove in 139 runners (185 RBI minus the 46 times he drove himself in), so he drove in 22% of his total baserunners (139/630). That % is not an historic total. Most years a handful of star players will drive in 20-21%. In 1980 Brett drove in 27% of his available baserunners. That is insane, but he was pretty good that year.
4:25 PM Feb 7th
 
OldBackstop
In fooling around with RBIs/HRs, I started away from my keyboard today when I saw that, prior to this year, the lowest number of RBIs recorded by a player hitting 30 or more home runs was 64. However, this year both Curtis Granderson and Jedd Gyorko tallied a mere 59 RBIs with 30 home runs.

So, I mean, freaking Trump, am I right or what?
1:16 PM Feb 7th
 
tangotiger
"In his career he slugged .375 with men on (2637 PA), .331 with the bases empty (3479 PA)."

Be careful, as a SF is not counted as an out for SLG purposes. So, "men on" will naturally be biased because of this.
12:55 PM Feb 7th
 
BobGill
As for the mystery of the twice-appearing article, did you notice that one is dated Feb. 6 and the other Feb. 7? Unless you posted it at something like 11:59 p.m. Monday, that seems odd, and tracking down that discrepancy might help to explain the double posting.

12:54 PM Feb 7th
 
bjames
1) Very puzzled by why this article appears twice. Anxious to see whether, when I post this comment, it will also show up in the other copy.

2) Tom Herr is a distinct phenomenon from Floyd Robinson, really not an extremely similar season. He doesn't qualify for the Floyd Robinson list because he didn't hit 40 doubles, and also his batting average is lower than any of these players. So of the five standards to be included on this list (13 or less homers, 40 or more doubles, 100 or more RBI, .300 average, 1946 or later) Herr meets 3, squeaks by technically on one, and misses on the other.

But Herr is a different phenomenon, because, of course, Herr drove in 100 runs because Vince Coleman stole 100 bases, giving Herr a very large number of chances to bat with runners in scoring position.

3) I THINK the reference file referred to in the article will actually appear Thursday, not tomorrow. . .not sure. There was some sort of communication issue. It does not include Mantle or Berra or Herr or Floyd Robinson; it is 2009 to 2016.
12:17 PM Feb 7th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. I realize full well that when Mantle walked, the player that he left with the RBI opportunity was.......Berra. I'm not saying those walks were chopped liver.
11:25 AM Feb 7th
 
MarisFan61
(I immediately had the same wonder: Why isn't Tom Herr on the list?)

Love the article, very interesting findings.

BTW, some/many people would argue over the criteria -- I think especially not being charged with a lost-RBI-opportunity if you don't make an out.

A couple of examples of player benefits and costs from doing it that way ('without prejudice,' just pointing them out):
-- It gives a relative advantage to a player like Ted Williams over one like Stan Musial. (Not an extreme one, because Musial walked a lot too.)
-- It gives a relative advantage to Mantle over Berra. I think Berra was considered (FWIW) a superb RBI man, Mantle just an OK one (for a great hitter), and much of this resulted from their relative walks. The formula here doesn't take account of that. Not that any formula [i]has to[/i] take account of how people 'consider' things, but one [i]might[/i] feel it should take more account of such a thing, and this would include having some negative inclusion of times when the hitter doesn't make an out but doesn't drive in the run.

I think we'd have to say that [i]not[/i] doing so reflects a choice to give emphasis to general run production at the expense of the usual concept of "RBI man." Getting on base without making an out of course increases the team's run production (on an [i]overall[ /i] basis, but arguably not necessarily in particular situations but that's a flash point and a whole other argument, so forget about it; it's our old "Darrell Evans" debate) .....getting on base without making an out of course increases the team's run production, but if it happens with men on base and nobody scores, I think it is in fact somewhat of a negative in most people's concept of "RBI man."
10:46 AM Feb 7th
 
jwilt
So Tommie Herr spawned another observation...

In 1985 Herr had 349 PAs with men on base. He had a .891 OPS in those situations and drove in 105 runs.

In 1990 Bobby Bonilla had 349 PAs with men on base. He had a .762 OPS in those situations and drove in 100 runs.

In 2007 David Ortiz had 349 PAs with men on base. He had a 1.143 OPS in those situations and drove in 99 runs.

Some/most of that difference is probably walks. Some is where on base those runners were. Vince Coleman and Willie McGee were probably stealing second constantly.
10:01 AM Feb 7th
 
jwilt
Top ten in opportunities with runners on, since 1913:

Rk Player Year G PA RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Justin Morneau 2008 156 400 122 .330 .418 .574 .991
2 Jackie Robinson 1949 152 398 116 .360 .441 .562 1.003
3 Alex Rodriguez 2007 156 393 138 .329 .443 .719 1.162
4 Jackie Jensen 1955 144 392 103 .265 .378 .466 .844
5 Rusty Staub 1978 158 392 112 .269 .344 .457 .800
6 Jim Rice 1984 154 392 113 .306 .349 .535 .884
7 Albert Belle 1999 155 392 99 .304 .418 .547 .965
8 Sal Bando 1969 154 390 98 .294 .405 .512 .917
9 Paul Molitor 1996 149 389 109 .344 .393 .477 .870
10 Don Baylor 1979 154 388 122 .302 .379 .527 .906

9:53 AM Feb 7th
 
jwilt
Tommie Herr had 349 PAs with men on base. In the piece Bill says 384 is an enormous number, so 349 is probably pretty high. And Herr slugged .407 overall, broken down to .481 with men on, .356 with the bases empty.

In his career he slugged .375 with men on (2637 PA), .331 with the bases empty (3479 PA).
9:48 AM Feb 7th
 
garywmaloney
And, for that matter, Tommy (Tommie?) Davis 1962 -- phenomenal RBI output, on that astounding Dodger offense (that lasted just one year). Thanks
8:00 AM Feb 7th
 
garywmaloney
Yes, Bill, please explain Tommie Herr 1985 in this context. He should be part of this conversation -- as might Willie Davis in 1970 (another low HR, high-RBI season you cited in an old Abstract). Thanks​
7:58 AM Feb 7th
 
cderosa
Hey Bill,
Interesting stuff; I always like how you plumb the old stats now and then.

The most famous high-RBI/low-homer season of my fandom was Tommie Herr's 110 runs batted (8 home runs) in 1985.

Baseball-reference reports he hit .333 with 2 homers with runners in scoring position.

Do you know how did he do with RBI opportunities measured your way?

Chris DeRosa
6:39 AM Feb 7th
 
 
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