The RBI Stat Is Not Worthless

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Because of advanced statistics, the relevance of the run batted in has been diminished to the point where some don’t even want to know how many RBI a player has because they see it as totally irrelevant.

In a sense, I understand their point. RBI are only as good as how many opportunities a player has; he has no control over how many runners are on base when he comes to the plate; no say in whether he has teammates in the lineup who get on base; and doesn’t write the lineup so he can dictate where he’s going to bat or who’s in front of him. Like runs scored, an RBI is accumulated whenever a player hits a home run.

This makes it easy to see the redundancy of the “stat” that Mike and the Mad Dog, Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo, used to use to assess players—their version of “runs created”—calculated by adding together home runs, RBI and runs scored.

It’s not a stat; it’s a simplistic number that meant absolutely nothing.

But there is a place for RBI in dissecting a specific player’s numbers; it’s especially valuable when it’s a player who’s expected to be the main offensive force in his lineup and his numbers don’t quite add up to what logic says they should be.

Jose Bautista is one such player.

How is it possible that a player like Bautista, with 39 homers and a .450 on base percentage only has 91 RBI and 95 runs scored?

Part of the reason, obviously, is that Bautista is playing for a team with a .318 cumulative on-base percentage.

In comparison, Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox (playing for one of the league leaders in on-base percentage at .348) has 16 fewer homers than Bautista, but 103 RBI and 92 runs scored.

There are other aspects to consider.

The Red Sox have stolen 94 bases and been caught stealing 33 times—11th in the league. The Blue Jays have stolen 113 bases and been caught 43 times. The Red Sox don’t steal bases capriciously just for the sake of them; the Blue Jays run the bases with abandon and it costs them baserunners; baserunners that might be on base in front of Bautista at some point.

For most of the season, Bautista had Yunel Escobar and Corey Patterson batting in front of him. Escobar gets on base; Patterson doesn’t.

Gonzalez has had Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia batting in front of him. Ellsbury with his .372 OBP and Pedroia at .396 provide greater opportunities for Gonzalez to drive in runs.

What of the lineup protection provided for each player?

Stat people diminish the concept of lineup protection, but despite so-called evidence that there’s no correlation between performance and the hitters batting behind a Gonzalez or Bautista, looking at the players who’ve batted behind each and you see Gonzalez has had David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis alternating between batting fourth and fifth; Bautista has had Adam Lind and the likes of J.P. Arencibia; Aaron Hill; and Juan Rivera “protecting” him.

Their results with runners on base go as follows:

Bautista:

Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
RISP 91 150 94 22 5 0 4 42 50 29 .234 .500 .415 .915 39 .281 76 153
120 291 242 74 8 2 26 26 48 48 .306 .423 .678 1.100 164 .286 100 207
Men On 118 261 194 61 14 0 13 64 61 44 .314 .479 .588 1.067 114 .343 99 190
1– 88 111 100 39 9 0 9 22 11 15 .390 .450 .750 1.200 75 .395 118 221
-2- 51 52 33 6 1 0 0 4 18 12 .182 .481 .212 .693 7 .286 40 94
–3 28 29 16 4 0 0 1 9 13 2 .250 .586 .438 1.024 7 .231 99 171
12- 29 33 23 4 2 0 2 10 9 11 .174 .424 .522 .946 12 .200 76 171
1-3 17 15 12 5 1 0 1 8 2 3 .417 .533 .750 1.283 9 .500 136 226
-23 16 15 6 3 1 0 0 9 8 0 .500 .733 .667 1.400 4 .429 168 260
123 6 6 4 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 .000 -100 -100
on 1st, lt 2 out 84 115 96 39 9 0 11 36 17 17 .406 .487 .844 1.331 81 .400 141 243
on 3rd, lt 2 out 34 38 23 9 0 0 1 22 12 1 .391 .553 .522 1.074 12 .333 105 160
on 3rd, 2 out 25 27 15 3 2 0 1 6 11 5 .200 .556 .533 1.089 8 .222 107 219
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2011.


Gonzalez:

Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
RISP 101 192 162 54 12 0 3 74 25 34 .333 .411 .463 .874 75 .392 86 139
129 295 268 88 20 1 15 15 24 47 .328 .390 .578 .968 155 .354 101 171
Men On 128 317 279 99 20 2 8 88 31 51 .355 .416 .527 .943 147 .404 98 156
1– 105 125 117 45 8 2 5 14 6 17 .385 .424 .615 1.039 72 .421 116 181
-2- 57 76 65 18 5 0 1 15 11 18 .277 .382 .400 .782 26 .370 67 117
–3 20 22 15 8 0 0 1 14 5 1 .533 .591 .733 1.324 11 .467 179 245
12- 38 44 42 16 3 0 1 19 2 6 .381 .409 .524 .933 22 .429 96 167
1-3 26 22 19 7 3 0 0 9 2 4 .368 .409 .526 .935 10 .438 96 140
-23 14 14 8 1 0 0 0 7 4 1 .125 .357 .125 .482 1 .111 11 24
123 14 14 13 4 1 0 0 10 1 4 .308 .357 .385 .742 5 .444 58 108
on 1st, lt 2 out 92 139 129 53 13 1 4 35 7 17 .411 .446 .620 1.066 80 .450 123 179
on 3rd, lt 2 out 35 41 30 14 4 0 1 30 6 4 .467 .488 .700 1.188 21 .433 148 178
on 3rd, 2 out 25 31 25 6 0 0 0 10 6 6 .240 .387 .240 .627 6 .316 39 84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2011.

This too can be taken out of context, but Bautista is batting under .200 with two runners on base; .250 with the bases loaded; and .390 with one runner on.

Gonzalez is batting .385 with one man on base and a ridiculous .533 with the bases loaded. Gonzalez has had almost 60 more plate appearances with runners on base than Bautista has.

Like most statistics, it’s easy to misinterpret the value depending on how it’s used. If RBI is taken as an end unto himself by saying, “wow, X has 20 more RBI than Y!” or “X should be the MVP because he had 135 RBI when Y had 101”, but it ignores other bits of information that could be just as or more important than an easy statistic to reference as validation for a successful season.

It’s only worthless if it’s taken wrongly; but that doesn’t make it entirely worthless when used as part of the big picture and is interpreted by one who knows baseball and doesn’t take reading a stat sheet to be expertise.

Because it’s not.

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2012 Starts Now For The Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays can and will contend for a playoff spot in 2012 if they make smart personnel decisions this winter.

Here’s what they have to do:

Get a legitimate closer.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is notoriously close-to-the-vest in how he runs his team; there’s no ironclad “strategy” of using stats or scouting; he doesn’t betray his hand and acts stealthily and aggressively in making his moves.

He may or may not care what’s said about him, but he doesn’t allow it to interfere with what he does.

This past winter, Anthopoulos signed two former closers in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch; he also traded for Frank Francisco.

In the logistical sense, they were all interchangeable and were signed to short-term deals to preclude widespread complaining about not being the closer. But if the Blue Jays want to be taken seriously next season, they have to get someone better and more trustworthy than Rauch or Francisco. (Dotel was traded to the Cardinals at the end of July.)

The market will be flush with established closers via free agency and trade. Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon (who worked with Blue Jays manager John Farrell with the Red Sox) and Ryan Madson are all free agents or potential free agents. Jonathan Broxton is a probable non-tender; and Joakim Soria is a trade candidate.

All are worthy of consideration and are better than Rauch/Francisco.

Find a veteran anchor for the starting rotation.

The Blue Jays let a future Cy Young Award winner get away.

No. I’m not talking about Roy Halladay. I’m talking about Chris Carpenter.

To be fair, when the Blue Jays non-tendered Carpenter under J.P. Ricciardi’s regime, Carpenter was injured and hadn’t been particularly effective; the talent that made him a 1st round draft choice wasn’t going to be fulfilled until he was streamlined—mentally, mechanically and physically—under Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan with the Cardinals. The Blue Jays wanted to bring him back for less money, but he smartly went to the Cardinals, rehabbed his injury for a year and became a star when he got healthy.

Carpenter has a $15 million option for 2012, but he’s a 10-and-5 player so he can veto any trade; for him to waive it, the trading team would presumably have to give him a contract extension.

The Cardinals are in major flux, but if they’re looking for salary relief and want to bolster a sagging farm system, they could exercise the option rather than pay Carpenter’s $1 million buyout and trade him. This would all have to be done within a rapid series of maneuvers to make it work.

Shedding that $15 million and trading him would give the Cardinals room to re-sign Albert Pujols; re-signing Pujols might be the key to LaRussa coming back for another year; Adam Wainwright will be back next season and they could bring back Joel Pineiro to fill Carpenter’s slot and hope reuniting with Duncan will return Pineiro to his Cardinals form.

The Blue Jays have prospects to trade.

Carpenter leading a rotation with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek would be superior to most of baseball if the younger pitchers fulfill their potential; Carpenter could teach them how.

Be flexible and think outside-the-box.

They don’t have the cash to go after Jose Reyes and they signed Yunel Escobar to a contract extension; but Brett Lawrie‘s ability to play third and second base allows the Blue Jays to go after a David Wright.

The recently acquired Kelly Johnson is a free agent, but if they offer him arbitration he’d probably take it. An infield of Adam Lind, Johnson, Escobar and Lawrie can mash—whether it’d be adequate defensively for the pitching staff would have to be determined.

The Mets probably aren’t going to trade Wright, but the Blue Jays have a lot of young pitching and outfield bats. Anthopoulos thinks outside-the-box and goes after players who “probably aren’t” getting traded. Sometimes the players who “probably aren’t” getting traded do get traded and extract a major chunk of a trading team’s farm system. (See Ubaldo Jimenez.)

Alter the strategy on the bases and with the lineup.

The Blue Jays run the bases with abandon. If they’re doing it at the bottom of the lineup to try and make something happen, it’s an arguable premise; doing it in front of a basher like Jose Bautista is a mistake.

Without doing any deep statistical research into the matter, there’s no excuse for Bautista to have 37 homers and only 83 RBI.

Before Corey Patterson was traded, he was batting in front of Bautista for much of the season; Patterson steals bases, but has a woeful on base percentage. Escobar also batted in front of Bautista and gets on base at a good clip. Since his arrival, Colby Rasmus has been batting second with Bautista third.

A better plan would be batting Bautista fourth and having Escobar lead off; Johnson would bat second; Lawrie third; and Rasmus and Lind behind Bautista.

The haphazard stolen bases also have to stop.

Temper expectations and idol worship.

There was recent talk of Anthopoulos being a “genius”.

Yah. Well. Billy Beane was a genius once too. So was Theo Epstein. So was Jack Zduriencik.

Are you getting my point?

Listening to sports talk radio on Friday, Jim Mora Jr. was being interviewed about the upcoming NFL season and he subtly hit back at the notion of Patriots coach Bill Belichick being a “genius” saying something to the tune of, “he’s a good football coach; a genius is someone who comes up with life-saving vaccines”.

He’s right.

The Blue Jays have been built the right way so far, but expectations and idolatry have doomed even the smartest people with the most coherent and logical plans.

They’re in a great position now to take the next step, but keeping from doing something stupid isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If they follow some incarnation of the plan I laid out (or something similar), they could be a playoff team in 2012.

If….

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Soxfinger, Tony Tantrum And Another Casualty Of Moneyball

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Let’s do this in order.

First the White Sox traded Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Blue Jays for veteran righty reliever Jason Frasor and 25-year-old minor league righty Zach Stewart.

This is not a “give-up on the season” trade by White Sox GM Kenny Williams (aka the James Bond villain known as Soxfinger). He dumped Teahen’s salary and gave up a pitcher in Jackson who they had no intention of keeping. Jackson’s good, but he’s represented by Scott Boras and the White Sox payroll is already bursting at the seams. It made sense to get a veteran reliever in Frasor to bolster the White Sox leaky bullpen.

In analyzing Stewart apart from what I can see in his minor league numbers, I’ll say this: it’s unwise to bet against Williams’s pitcher-recognition skills. It was Williams who acquired both Gavin Floyd and John Danks when neither were on anyone else’s radar; yes, he made the expensive and retrospectively mistaken decision to acquire Jake Peavy, but Peavy is a former NL Cy Young Award winner—it just hasn’t worked out. You can give him a hard time for trading Daniel Hudson to get Jackson, but it’s not something to go crazy over.

Clearly Williams sees something in Stewart to inspire him to make this trade.

Teahen is another failure from the 2002 Billy Beane/Athletics “Moneyball” draft in which Beane and his staff were supposedly “counting cards” in selecting players.

No commentary needed as to how that worked out.

After that was done, the Blue Jays spun Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson and Octavio Dotel to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters.

Miller is supposedly going to to the White Sox.

Let’s find a rational explanation. Or two.

Once Jonny Gomes was off the market, did the Blue Jays feel they had to make a move on Rasmus? (Satirical.)

Was Joel Sherman wrong in the assertion that the Cardinals were asking for a “ton” in a Rasmus deal? (Likely.)

Did the Cardinals judge this return as a “ton”? (Possible.)

Or is it all of the above? (Hedging.)

All kidding(?) aside, this trade has Tony LaRussa‘s fingerprints all over it.

The curmudgeonly baseball manager/non-practicing lawyer that LaRussa is, he’ll deftly separate himself from the trade and deflect responsibility and evidence in all directions to save the man in the mirror.

It turns out my repeated statements that LaRussa’s doghouse was “entrance only” were mistaken; there’s an exit, but it happens to lead to another town on a questionable exchange policy.

LaRussa wanted Rasmus gone and this is another case in which the front office is appeasing the manager to try and win now.

That doesn’t make wrong the analysis that Rasmus was never going to fulfill his promise in St. Louis; nor that his “stage-father” Tony Rasmus wasn’t going to back away from interfering in his son’s career to let the Cardinals do what they wanted. It’s just the way it is.

On the surface, it’s a weak trade for the Cardinals.

Jackson’s a rental; as mentioned before, his agent is Boras and the Cardinals have got to save their money to keep Albert Pujols. Jackson’s a good pitcher and will help them.

The key for the Cardinals will be Rzepczynski. He’s spent this season in the bullpen and that may be where he is for the rest of the season with the Cardinals having traded Miller, but he’s got starter stuff and a gentle delivery that bodes well for his durability—he reminds me of Mark Mulder when he was in his prime. Had Mulder not had the hip problems, I believe his shoulder would’ve stayed in shape to continue pitching as well as he did for the Athletics early in his career and not had its premature end.

Patterson and Dotel are veterans from whom you know what to expect—such as that is.

The Blue Jays got themselves an everyday center fielder in Rasmus who won’t be saddled with the pressures he felt in St. Louis. A clean start might be exactly what he (and his dad) need to fulfill his promise.

For the White Sox, this is a move for the now and the future; for the Cardinals, it’s a move to improve immediately; and for the Blue Jays, they’re hoping to be in a legitimate position to contend in 2012—and I think they will be.

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