By In Stuff

Question and Links 6/23

Question from Brilliant Reader Ross is about Hack Wilson’s record of 191 RBIs: How did Hack do it? And what would it take to break the record?

It just so happens I worked up a post on this not too long ago and never got around to putting it up. I don’t really care about RBIs — it’s such a context driven statistic – – but there is something fascinating about Hack Wilson’s record. He set it in 1930, when offense went bananas, and nobody has approached it since the end of World War II.

Top RBI totals since 1946:

    1. Manny Ramirez, 1999, 165
    2. Sammy Sosa, 2001, 160
    3. Ted Williams, 1949, 159
    (tie) Vern Stephens, 1949, 159
    5. Sammy Sosa, 1998, 158

I wondered: How did Hack Wilson do it?

Answer: Meet Woody English.

Before we get to Woody: People, it seems to me, still miss the point of just how context driven RBIs are. My old pal Marty Brennaman, who I absolutely love listening to on the radio, went off a bit on Joey Votto’s relative lack of RBIs this year (37), which to me is like going off on In ’N Out Burgers because you felt like eating pasta. Votto is a ridiculously good hitter having a ridiculously good season — his relatively low RBI total comes mostly because nine of his 13 home runs were solo shots and because pitchers tend to pitch around him when there are RBIs to be had (he leads the league with 10 intentional walks). Even if you count those intentional walks, he has come to the plate with fewer runners in scoring position than teammates Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, which speaks to some fairly unimaginative lineup crafting.

Anyway, your RBI leaders tend to be the guys who hit home runs and come up with the most runners on base. It’s really that simple. Yes, there is some variation there, but not as much as you might think.

Last year, Chase Headley came up with 237 runners in scoring position, most in the league. He led the NL in RBIs.

Last year, Miguel Cabrera came up with 232 runners in scoring position, most in the league*. He led the AL in RBIs.

*Well, he was tied with Josh Willingham — who had 110 RBIs.

It’s often like that. I put together a little chart showing the good things that have happened to the players who have led their league in scoring position base runners the last few years — remember this chart is only refers to how many times they came up with runners in scoring position:

2011 (AL): Michael Young. 106 RBIs, 8th in the MVP voting
2011 (NL): Ryan Howard, 116 RBIs, getting ready to start $125 million deal.

2010 (AL): Evan Longoria, 104 RBIs, 6th in MVP voting.
2010 (NL): Dan Uggla, 105 RBIs, 17th in MVP voting.

2009 (AL) Evan Longoria, 113 RBIs, 19th in MVP voting
2009 (NL): Andre Ethier, 106 RBIs, 6th in MVP voting.

2008 (AL): Justin Morneau, 129 RBIs, 2nd in MVP voting
2008 (NL) David Wright, 124 RBIs, 7th in MVP voting

2007 (AL) Mike Lowell, 120 RBIs, 5th in MVP voting
2007 (NL): Ryan Howard, 136 RBis, 5th in MVP voting

2006 (AL): Alex Rodgriuez, 121 RBIs, 13th in MVP voting
2006 (NL): Ryan Zimmerman, 110 RBIs, 2nd in Rookie of Year

2005 (AL): Alex Rodriguez, 130 RBIs, MVP
2005 (NL): Andurw Jones, 128 RBIs, 2nd in MVP voting

2004 (AL): Miguel Tejada, 150 RBIs, 5th in MVP voting
2004 (NL): MIguel Cabrera, 116 RBIS, 5th in MVP voting

2003 (AL): Carlos Delgado, 145 RBIs, 2nd in MVP voting
2003 (NL): Preston Wilson, 141 RBIs, 16th in MVP voting

2002 (AL): Nomar Garciaparra, 120 RBIs, 11th in MVP voting
2002 (NL): Pat Burrell, 116 RBIs, 14th in MVP voting

2001 (AL): Bret Boone, 141 RBIs, 3rd in MVP voting
2001 (NL): Sammy Sosa, 160 RBIs, 2nd in MVP voting

2000 (AL): Mike Sweeney, 144 RBIs, 11th in MVP voting
2000 (NL): Jeff Kent, 125 RBIs, MVP

Yes, you want to come up with a lot of runners in scoring position. It’s the only way to fly.

Which brings us back to Woody English. He was a 24-year-old farm boy and shortstop who grew up in excellently named Licking County, Ohio. He kind of meandered into the Major Leagues. He played some semi-pro baseball around Zanesville, picked up with the Toledo Mudhens, and at some point was impressive enough that the Chicago Cubs bought his contract. For most of his career, he was not much of a hitter, but he always had a good sense of the strike zone and his own limitations. In 1930, in that crazy offensive explosion year, he walked 100 times. He also hit .335. That meant he reached base a preposterous 320 times. To give you an idea — Ichiro, Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn and, yes, even Pete Rose never reached base that many times in a single season.

Woody English hit in front of Hack Wilson.

Of course, it wasn’t just Woody English. It was also Kiki Cuyler. He hit .355 and on-based .428. He reached base 310 times, still more than Pete Rose’s best season. He also hit in front of Hack Wilson.

They weren’t just getting on base. They were hitting with extra-base power. Cuyler and English each hit 17 triples. They combined for 86 doubles. It’s likely that no player in baseball history — and certainly no player in the last 70 years — has come to the plate with as many good RBI opportunities as Hack Wilson in 1930. English scored 152 runs, Cuyler 155.

Wilson had a tremendous year, of course. He hit cleanup every single day and he hit .356 with 35 doubles and 56 home runs. That equaled 191 RBIs. (He did this despite walking a league leading 105 times). it’s simple mathematics. Based on what I can see going day-by-day, I don’t think Wilson hit significantly better with runners in scoring position. He just had a jackpot of runners in scoring position and, being a great player that season, he drove them in.

Could someone drive in 191 runs again? Well, I think it could happen — but it would take two things. One, it obviously would take a really great power year — but, in many ways that’s the easy part. When Manny Ramirez drove in 165 in 1999, he hit well enough to drive in 191 runs. Heck, he hit .383 with runners in scoring position and slugged .750. I can’t imagine Wilson was any better than that. Others like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Johnny Bench, Sammy Sosa, Mike Schmidt, Albert Belle probably, several others have hit well enough to post that kind of crazy RBI total.

The second part, the hard part, is having enough runners on base. You really need A LOT of runners on base. Ramirez played on a great offensive team in 1999. A near legendary offensive team. He had Robbie Alomar, Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton all getting on base ahead of him. Ramirez came up with 304 runners in scoring position, a HUGE number, the fourth-highest total since 1950.* And even that was not nearly enough for him to challenge the record much less break it.

*In 1996, Derek Bell drove in 113 RBIs, which may have led some people to think he had a productive year. He did not. He had THREE HUNDRED SIXTEEN runners in scoring position when he came to the plate. That is the most for any player since 1950 — essentially, Bell drove in just about as few runners as possible considering his circumstances.

Here, for fun, are the batters with most runners in scoring position since 1950:

1. Derek Bell, 1999: 316 runners, 113 RBIs.

2. Johnny Bench, 1974: 311 runners, league leading 129 RBIs.

3. Johnny Bench, 1972: 305 runners, league leading 125 RBIs.

4. Manny Ramirez, 1999: 304 runners, league leading 165 RBIs.

5. Tony Perez, 1975: 303 runners, 109 RBIs.

6. Vern Stephens, 1950: 300 runners, league leading 144 RBIs.

7. Jackie Jensen, 1955: 297 runners, league-leading 116 RBIs.

(tie) Don Baylor, 1979: 297 runners, league-leading 139 RBIs.

(tie) Jeff Kent, 1997: 297 runners, 121 RBIs

(tie) Miguel Tejada, 2004: 297 runners, league-leading 150 RBIs.

For someone to actually break Hack Wilson’s record, I would bet they would need to hit in the .330s or so with 50-plus homers and come up to the plate with 325 to 350 runners in scoring position. Could it happen? I suppose. But the odds are very much against it.




Remember you can send your questions — any questions — to me here and I’ll get to what I can.




A bonus basketball thought: Charles Barkley says his all-time Top 5 is Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell.

He says he second five are: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Jerry West.

That would be a fascinating game, wouldn’t it? The second five would have absolutely no answer for Wilt or Kareem inside and they would never get a single rebound. On the other hand, the first five would never been able to match up, and would give up wide open shots all over the floor.

If I had to pick, I’d pick that second five to win because of their versatility. And the first five might have some trouble sharing the basketball (though Wilt, who once led the league in assists, could share the point with the Big O).





Big Read: The Dodgers utterly baffle me. But Puig is fun.

I wrote this Manu Ginobili piece before his impossibly dreadful Games 6 and ambiguous Game 7. But the point remains.

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31 Responses to Question and Links 6/23

  1. This is perfect. Proponents of the RBI as a legit stat need to read this and never talk again.

    • RBI is a legit stat though. The best hitters drive in the most runs. A stretch of 100-200 games doesn’t mean much but it does over the course of a 15 year career. Same with wins. Doesn’t mean much to win 15-18 games once or twice. But do it 15x, it is an indication of a good pitcher. Like any other baseball stat, RBI is a good tool when used in context.

    • This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Steve O says:

      RBI is a perfectly “legit” stat when you recognize its limitations. Don’t expect it to tell you everything about a player, because it doesn’t.

    • Flax says:

      @Matthew: I think you’re missing the point. Okay, over an entire career, good players tend to have a lot of RBIs. That’s fine. But what does that matter when RBIs are used primarily in single-season samples, when they can easily mean nothing at all? There are a ton of other stats that are useful for telling you how productive a player was BOTH in one season AND over a full career. If RBI is only good for one of the two, we don’t need it. It’s not “a good tool used in context.” It doesn’t tell us anything about a single player that his on-base and slugging wouldn’t tell us (especially over the course of a full career when situational stuff evens out) except for how good of an offense he played in.

    • Because it shows the final result in a clear way. One guy can have a .650 slugging % but no one cares if he only plays 30 games. Like I said, it’s a tool. Did you know Manny Ramirez used to intentionally get 2 strikes on him if he came to bat with 2 outs and a runner on 1st? He knew the runner on 1st would run and he could drive him in with a single or double to right instead of having runners on 2nd and 3rd. No OBP or Slugging % stat will ever show that.

    • J Hench says:

      I don’t think that most runners on first would be running on a two-strike count to Manny, even with two outs. If the next pitch is a ball (a decent possibility given Manny’s eye, hitting skill, and the desire to get a batter to chase in a two-strike count) then the runner would either be thrown out (ending the inning and taking the bat out of Manny’s hands) or would be safe (potentially taking the bat out of Manny’s hands by leaving 1B open.

      3-2 count is a different story, of course, but I imagine it is a bit more difficult to intentionally get to a 3-2 count with a man on first and two outs than it is to give up two strikes with a man on first and two outs.

    • J Hench says:

      This is not to say it might not have actually happened. Fortunately, we can empirically check this (thanks bb-ref):

      Manny had 805 PAs with a man on first and two outs in his career. In those situations, his OPS was .961, which is actually lower than his career OPS (while obviously still being very good). It is possible that there is something to Manny going to two-strikes more frequently in those situations; he struck out in 161 of his at bats (20% of his PAs or 22% of his ABs compared to career rates of 18.5% of career PAs and 21% of career ABs). So he was a little more likely to strike out, which is what you would expect if he tried to get to two strikes.

      Of course, the strike outs would be the negative consequence. The positive consequence, in the theory outlined above, would be more RBIs (the runners getting an extra jump). In fact, in his career with a runner on first and 2 outs, Manny could have driven in 1610 (805 runners on first, plus himself 805 times). He actually drove in 126. That’s 7.8%.

      With one out and a runner on first, he drove in 7.7% (100/1298). With no outs and a runner on first, he drove in 9.5% (82/866). Manny had a greater likelihood of getting an RBI with a runner on first and less than two outs (182/2164=8.4%) than he did with a runner on first and two outs. So if he was taking two strikes in an attempt to set the runner in motion with two outs, it was not a very effective strategy.

      (The numbers above include the times he drove in himself with a HR. If you are talking about the number of times he drove in the runner on first, he did that 10.6% of the time with no outs, 8.5% of the time with one out, and 9.2% of the time with two outs. 9.3% of runners on first scored with fewer than two outs, which is closer, but again not indicative of Manny getting any special advantage from taking two strikes in that situation, if that is actually what he did).

    • Ok and what about when game is on the line? Tied game in 8th inning or later? Or down 1 run? Or up 1 run with Pedro or Schilling throwing up zeroes? Or the bullpen struggling after starter knocked out early with an afternoon game the next day? Fact is, these numbers don’t exist in a vacuum no matter how hard you try.

    • All reasonable questions, Matthew, which is why it’s your responsibility to do the research. You don’t get to just make stuff up and pass it off as fact because it conforms to your preconceived notions of how baseball works. Evidence, please.

    • NRJyzr says:

      My favorite example of the lack of value in RBI is 2006 NL, Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols.

      Howard hit .313 with 58 HR and 149 RBI
      Pujols hit .331 with 49 HR and 137 RBI

      On the surface, looks like Howard was just a bit better w/RISP. A look at the numbers tells the story:

      Howard had 223 PA w/RISP (249 runners)
      Pujols had 170 PA W/RISP (199 runners)

      Slash lines w/RISP
      Howard, 256/426/518 (12 of his 58 HR)
      Pujols, 397/535/802 (14 of his 49 HR)

      Interesting stuff….

  2. spencersteel says:

    Victor Martinez is on pace to drive in 83 runs and has a 622 OPS. Any stat that can be derived nearly exactly by factoring some basic hitting numbers along with the the number of men on base is pretty awful. As poor a metric as batting average is, runs batted in has to be ten times worse.

  3. BobDD says:

    Hey Matthew, why are you having so much trouble with the first syllable of your name?

    Embrace the Math; set yourself free.

    • I’m perfectly fine. I am not the one that refuses to acknowledge rbi’s as a stat; you are. I have said numerous times that it needs to be used in context. Not my fault if you have shitty reading comphrension.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Matthew, Joe, with an assist from a couple of readers have empirically dismissed the rbi and your Manny Ramirez thory. That doesn’t mean MannyBManny and others with a lot of rbi’s weren’t great players… But other stats tell the story better…I.e. OPS etc. The Derek Bell stat Joe quo

    • Rob Smith says:

      Matthew, Joe, with an assist from a couple of readers have empirically dismissed the rbi and your Manny Ramirez thory. That doesn’t mean MannyBManny and others with a lot of rbi’s weren’t great players… But other stats tell the story better…I.e. OPS etc. The Derek Bell stat Joe quo

    • John Gale says:

      Perhaps the lamest joke I have ever seen on the Internet. And yes, I know that is covering a *lot* of territory. But come on, dude. A “Math”hew joke? Really.

      As for RBI, it’s certainly not the *best* stat (for reasons cited ad nauseam), but I reject the argument that it’s completely meaningless. As with all player evaluations, it’s best to use as many stats as possible to get the most complete picture. Willfully ignoring one of stats, especially one that (for better or worse) has been used forever, just makes people look ignorant.

  4. Steve O says:

    I really think everyone here is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Junking RBI because it’s not a “perfect” stat makes no sense. It encapsulates in one round, easy to digest number how many PAs a single batter had that resulted in a run scoring (minus things like a GIDP with a man on 3rd).

    Yes, it’s better to know exactly how many PAs a batter had with RISP/runners on base in a single year, and what they did in those PAs, but that’s a lot of information, and not every baseball fan is the type who will scour splits on BB-Ref.

    That being said, there have been 1,060 seasons of 100+ RBI in the expansion era (1961-2012), and only 26 of them were with an OPS+ of below 100. And the highest number of RBI among that group was 119 by Sammy Sosa in 1997 (high offensive context).

    So, yeah, it might be silly to say “140 RBI is a good season.” But you know what? They pretty much all are really good seasons, unless they happened in the 90’s/early 00’s in Colorado, which accounts for almost all of the crappy ones, except for Matt Williams in 1999.

  5. njwv says:

    Now I’m morbidly curious if there’s an RBI/RISP percentage (acknowledging that walks and HBPs throw this off) and how that stat looks historically.

  6. Marco says:

    Important omission: When talking about the 1999 Indians, one is obligated to mention that they’re only team since 1950 to score 1,000 runs.

  7. purebull says:

    one of the better recent examples of context driving RBI…remember when ARod and Griffey left the M’s? folks were worried about there being no one left to drive the offense and plate those runs…

    so, of course, Edgar stepped in and picked up the runners that hadn’t been falling to him, and drove in a hundred forty runs or so…

  8. Yes, RBIs are a context driven stat, just like every other stat. Even such a pristine stat as home runs must be viewed within the context of the parks and eras they were hit in. So ragging on RBIs gets tiresome pretty quickly.

    When I think of good RBI men, I think of how often they are able to drive in runners from scoring position, particularly runners on third with less than two out. For instance, Adam Dunn in 2004 had an impressive 46 home runs but a relatively modest 102 RBI, partly because he had zero sacrifice flies that year to go along with 195 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Eddie Murray, who never hit more than 33 home runs in a season, always drove the runner home from 3rd, as attested by his 128 career sacrifice flies, the best of all time (and the only time he struck out 100 times in a season was his rookie year). Unlike Dunn, Murray also had lots of singles (3255 career hits) so he could drive a runner in from second base with something other than a homer. So with the game on the line and runners in scoring position, who do you want to see at the plate? It’s a guy with some pop who also makes frequent contact, and is skilled at the art of situational hitting. That’s what makes for a good RBI man.

    • macomeau says:

      So you’re saying Eddie Murray is a better hitter than Adam Dunn? And that you want a better hitter up in a tight spot? Controversial.

      Because that’s the key. Eddie Murray’s not a better “RBI man” because of singles and sac flies and whatnot. He’s just a better hitter than Adam Dunn. He got more RBIs because he was a better hitter, and because over the course of time, better hitters tend to drive in more runs. Because they get more hits. Because they’re better hitters. Variables beyond your control like the number of runners on base ahead of you, or outs, or leverage, or nearly everything tend to average out over a career.

      The context that you’re leaving out is, for example, why Dunn had no sac flies in 2004. It’s not like he never hits them. Maybe he just had very few opportunities in 2004. Maybe every time there was a guy on third, Dunn drove him in some other way. Also, maybe the guys batting ahead of him weren’t too quick and scored less often from second on a single than one might expect. Coupled with hitting fewer singles (because he isn’t as good a hitter as Murray), you get fewer RBIs.

      Maybe there just weren’t very many guys in scoring position for Adam Dunn in 2004.

      The team scored 750 runs and Dunn led the team in RBIs (and runs, but that’s not important). He also batted behind Sean Casey and (injured, half-season) Ken Griffey (and sometimes as low as sixth, behind Austin Kearns or Wily Mo Pena), who were more likely to drive in the faster top order hitters (who had roughly average OPSes), but also less likely to score on sac flies or from second on a single because they were slower, power guys. Dunn probably hit more singles that year than any year in his career, by the by. He had 45 games that season where there was never a runner in scoring position when he batted. He had 34 at bats with a runner on third and less than two out and drove in 23 runs (some of those are other guys on base and himself).

      This is the problem with RBIs. It is not a useless statistic, it just tells us far less about a hitter than many people think, and doesn’t do as good a job as other stats, both ‘standard’ and advanced’.

      Bonus fun with context: In ‘high leverage’ situations during their age 24 seasons (2004 and 1980), you’d actually want Dunn batting over Murray. They both hit .320 in 122 ABs, but Dunn had a higher OBP and hit for more power. And, unsurprisingly, given those facts, more RBIs.

    • Steve O says:

      Before his tailspin that started in 2011, it wouldn’t have been crazy to argue that Adam Dunn was a better hitter than Eddie Murray. He had a higher career OPS+ and much higher OBP, though obviously that includes a rather lengthy decline phase for Steady Eddie.

      Even so, in a SF-type situation, you’d probably take Murray, not because he has mystical clutch hitting powers but because he strikes out a lot less, and even though K’s are going way up league-wide and they aren’t anathema like they used to be, runner on 3rd with less than 2 outs is one of those situations where you want a guy who puts the ball in play.

    • Yes, RBI’s is a context driven stat, like every other stat (including hitting .320 in 1980 vs hitting .320 in 2004) and the fact that better hitters tend to drive in more runs can be seen as a reason to embrace RBIs as a statistic. Even among good hitters, however, there is a variance as to runs batted in that is not simply a factor of total chances to hit with runners in scoring position. This is the situational hitting I was talking about. It’s not simply about batting average with RISP either, it’s the game situation. When to hit a fly ball, when to hit a ground ball, when to go for a single, when to hit for power, when to take a walk, when to expand the zone. Are you driving in runs against soft middle relief in blowouts, or against tough pitchers in tight contests? By this measure, Eddie Murray was the best RBI man I ever saw. If he had 35 runners on third with less than two outs, chances are that 35 runners would have scored.

      It maybe unfair to compare Murray to an inferior hitter like Adam Dunn. How about to a superior hitter like Mickey Mantle? Like Murray, the Mick was a switch hitter, and by most statistical measures, Mantle easily bests Murray (172 OPS+ to 129 OPS+), particularly in their power numbers (36 homers a year for Mantle, 27 for Murray). Yet while Mantle drove himself in 9 more times a year, Murray averaged 103 RBI per 162 games, while Mantle averaged 102. Perhaps Murray came up with far more RISP than Mantle, but given that the Yankees were in the World Series nearly every year of Mantle’s career, they generally had decent lineups, and it wasn’t like Murray had Rickey Henderson hitting in front of him.

      The first thing an RBI man has to do is make contact (unless he walks with the bases loaded), and Mantle struck out 115 times a year to Murray’s 81. Mantle was by his own admission not a situational hitter, swinging for the fences every time. Perhaps as a result, he averaged about 3 sacrifice flies a year to Murray’s 7. There’s no stat that measures run producing ground outs, but given Murray’s edge in making contact (he averaged 10 more hits a year than the Mick to go with his fewer K’s), it’s safe to say he bests Mantle in this category as well. So if I’m looking for a bomb to tie the game, I go with Mantle. If I need someone to get that runner in from third, I go with Murray.

      It’s one thing to point out that RBIs should be seen in relation to RBI opportunities. It’s another to say that some hitters aren’t better at driving in runs than other hitters.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Dunn’s rbi numbers were down because he failed to hit the five, or so sacrifice flies one year? Now I’ve heard everything. And when comparing Mantle to Murray, look at games played for the easy reason for the rbi difference. Not only did Mantle play a 154 game season for most of his prime, but he was also frequently injured. Murray played in the 162 game era and didn’t miss as many games.Using RBIs per season as a legit comparison, assume that the players being compared played a comparable number of games per year.

    • Dunn doesn’t hit sacrifice flies, he doesn’t hit run scoring ground balls, and he doesn’t hit good pitching period. His production comes mainly from homers hit against mediocre pitchers making mistakes over the plate—a lot of cheap runs, so his stats need to be taken with a ton of salt. It’s one reason why Adam Dunn’s teams have never made the post-season, even with the expanded playoff format. He rarely produces when the game is on the line—say when there is a man on third and less than two outs. Dunn is where rallies go to die. Meanwhile, Murray could drive runners in with singles, extra base hits, homers, sac flies and ground outs, and he could do it against tough pitchers in situations where it mattered. That is the mark of a run producer. Like everything else, context matters.

      As per Mantle/Murray, I was using’s 162 game average, which isn’t the same thing as a per year stat. So whether Mantle played in fewer games due to the schedule/injuries is irrelevant (it matters in his career totals, of course, which I did not talk about).

  9. Joe and everyone else bitching about the RBI miss the point: The RBI’s problem is not that it’s a counting stat. Because it does correlate well with its own rate stat (at least among those who play enough to qualify for the batting title).

    No, the problem with the RBI is that the thing it measures is perhaps, maybe even likely, not a talent. It is I think the subtext behind RBIs that truly most offends: that anyone would be be better with the bat with men on base than without. I can see that.

    But if you work to dissociate the RBI from the idea of “clutch,” I think using the stat in a suite as we’ve done as a way to establish what a player has done is definitely unsilly.

    • Steve O says:

      I don’t think there’s some mystical ability to hit with men on base, but isn’t it possible that some hitters do better with a guy who is pitching from the stretch as opposed to a full windup?

    • macomeau says:

      I don’t think the problem isn’t that it’s counting stat. Or anything to do with clutch or leverage. It doesn’t tell us, meaningfully, what a player has done, either. The problem with RBI is that it is a painfully superficial stat that gives essentially no useful information, and yet it is held up as one of the three central pillars of batting.

      Most hitters’ counting stats subconsciously turn into rate stats. A guy who hits 30 home runs is good because we know he did that in about 550 to 600 at-bats. And that all the other good hitters in baseball got about 550 to 600 at-bats throughout history. I believe we subconsciously think the same thing about RBIs. Everybody has about the same number of chances. It’s just not true though. A guy who drives in 100 runs may have had 300 guys on base and isn’t especially good at hitting or 200 guys on base and is great at hitting. Intra-season, how many at-bats a guy gets in RBI situations can fluctuate wildly from team to team, even if a guy got the same 550 to 600 at-bats as everyone else.

      Between 1989 and 1991, Joe Carter hit .243, .232 and .273 with 105, 115 and 108 RBIs. Will Clark hit .333, .295 and .301 with 111, 95 and 116 RBIs. Per 162, Carter hit .249 with 110 RBIs. Clark hit .310 with 114 RBIs. Looking at splits for 1991 (Carter’s best BA year, Clark’s second), Carter was brutal in high leverage situations (76 tOPS+) and Clark was brilliant (146 tOPS+).

      So, between those two at least, RBIs don’t correlate strongly to either batting average or ability in high pressure situations.

  10. Michael says:

    Mr. Posnanski, I love you writing, but I expected better from you on the Dodgers. Beckett has been injured and, when he pitched, often ineffective, and other players have been injured. You set up the article to make it seem as if he and Ramirez and company had indeed been around all season.

    Now, that is not to say injuries are the only excuse. Your comments about the bench are as right, as Red Smith said, as a second martini at lunch. And that begs the bigger question: why have the LA writers not called for Ned Colletti’s head instead of Mattingly’s? Consider that when Frank McCourt–yes, McCourt–had the team, Colletti had the money to spend $47 million on Jason Schmidt, who was finished, and another ton on Juan Uribe, who is just starting to show signs of life. Colletti provided that bench. Colletti provided the bullpen that includes a couple of long-term contracts to people–Brandon League and Matt Guerrier–who I could outpitch, and I am 48 years old and have been in the ER twice with a dislocated shoulder.

    When the writers and other experts talking about these issues get around to how bad a GM Colletti is, I will think they have something to say.

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