I have to admit that I pay no attention to runs batted in. To me, RBI’s are just like a pitcher’s wins and losses — they can be useful if no other stats are available, but they are also somewhat arbitrary. Too many other factors influence them, factors outside the player’s control. It’s true that the best hitters usually have a lot of RBI’s, but it’s also true that RBI’s are influenced by factors such as:
- Batting order
- Clutch hitting, if you believe in that sort of thing
- The number of at bats with runners in scoring position
- The number of outs during each at bat with runners in scoring position
- The speed of the baserunners in scoring position
But I do think that certain batters are true Run Producers. They hit the extra-base hits and home runs, and they can deliver with men on base. They’re the guys you want batting third or fourth in your lineup, after the tablesetters. I just don’t think that the top RBI leaders are necessarily the top Run Producers.
So how can we determine the top Run Producers? Glad you asked. To give it a shot, I stole a page from Runs Created. The most recent version of Runs Created (which Bill James uses in Win Shares, and which we use on this site) includes a couple of formulas that credit batters who produce with men on base. I thought it would be fun to isolate those formulas and apply them to today’s batters. Maybe we’ll learn something.
Let’s start by looking at the RBI leaders in each league, with a couple of facts thrown in. Here are the top RBI men in the American League and their total at bats, along with the percent of at bats with runners in scoring position (their opportunity), and their batting average with runners in scoring position (their performance). All data in this article includes games through June 10th.
Name Team RBI AB AB/RISP BA/RISP Guerrero ANA 51 235 27% .391 Ortiz BOS 50 236 28% .318 Tejada BAL 47 222 35% .247 Martinez CLE 47 194 34% .308 Guillen ANA 45 221 27% .350 Beltran KC 43 222 23% .300 Ramirez BOS 43 219 26% .304 Hafner CLE 43 183 32% .305 Rodriguez DET 42 217 28% .459 Mora BAL 41 221 30% .348 Konerko CHW 40 195 29% .351
See, before I created this table, I had no idea that David Ortiz was second in the league in RBI’s. He has batted well with runners in scoring position, but not nearly as well as Vlad Guerrero (.318 to .391). In fact, only one player on this list has really batted poorly with RISP: Miguel Tejada, who is third in the league in RBI’s. However, 35% of his at bats have occurred with RISP, the highest percent on this list. Meanwhile, check out the great job that Jose Guillen, Ivan Rodriquez, Melvin Mora and Paul Konerko are doing with runners in scoring position.
Among the 190 players I reviewed, 25% of at bats are with runners in scoring position. The one player among AL RBI leaders who has had less opportunities than average is Carlos Beltran. So give him some extra credit for being in the pack at all.
Here are the National League RBI leaders, with the same info added on:
Name Team RBI AB AB/RISP BA/RISP Rolen STL 63 212 30% .406 Griffey CIN 48 209 23% .375 Berkman HOU 48 189 32% .383 Castilla COL 48 215 35% .237 Burnitz COL 46 211 32% .328 Burrell PHI 44 191 29% .357 Abreu PHI 43 201 29% .362 Casey CIN 43 227 20% .413 Ramirez CHC 43 231 29% .324 Kent HOU 43 218 32% .314 Edmonds STL 43 210 30% .219 Overbay MIL 43 216 25% .283 Bonds SFG 34 124 19% .292
Although he’s not among the National League leaders, I included Barry Bonds to show what all those IBB’s are doing to the guy. Only 19% of his at bats have been with runners in scoring position. Vinny Castilla has almost twice that rate. Also, look at the Reds on this list, Griffey and Casey. Their opportunities have been much lower than average, though both players are hitting extremely well with runners in scoring position.
Hitting home runs is a key component of producing runs, and it particularly helps to hit home runs with men on base. Following is a list of the RBI leaders, with some different info thrown in: home run totals, the percent of at bats with runners on, and the percent of home runs with runners on. If a batter is hitting a higher proportion of home runs with runners on (compared to at bats with runners on), then he is producing more runs with his home runs. American League first:
Name Team RBI HR AB/RO% HR/RO% Guerrero ANA 51 15 49% 40% Ortiz BOS 50 12 53% 67% Tejada BAL 47 9 54% 67% Martinez CLE 47 10 50% 10% Guillen ANA 45 11 44% 55% Beltran KC 43 12 39% 50% Ramirez BOS 43 16 46% 38% Hafner CLE 43 8 51% 25% Rodriguez DET 42 7 46% 71% Mora BAL 41 11 47% 27% Konerko CHW 40 14 45% 21%
Victor Martinez, as an example, seems to have a lot of opportunities to hit with men on base (50%), but nine of his ten home runs have been solo shots — not something you want to see from a Run Producer. Hafner, Mora and Konerko also tend to hit solo shots.
On the other hand, Ivan Rodriquez really has shown a knack for hitting his home runs with men on base which, combined with his great BA with RISP, makes him look like a real Run Producer (despite hitting only seven home runs). And hitting home runs with men on base is what helps set Ortiz apart from the other RBI leaders.
The average percent of at bats with runners on was 44%, among players I analyzed. Carlos Beltran again is the one AL leader who falls significantly below that standard.
Here’s the home run info for the National League:
Name Team RBI HR AB/RO% HR/RO% Rolen STL 63 16 50% 63% Griffey CIN 48 17 46% 59% Berkman HOU 48 14 49% 43% Castilla COL 48 15 57% 60% Burnitz COL 46 16 45% 13% Burrell PHI 44 10 53% 50% Abreu PHI 43 14 47% 50% Casey CIN 43 11 41% 45% Ramirez CHC 43 12 47% 42% Kent HOU 43 9 52% 33% Edmonds STL 43 13 46% 23% Overbay MIL 43 6 40% 50% Bonds SFG 34 16 40% 44%
Boy, Scott Rolen really does deserve to be among the RBI leaders. His home run rate (and his BA/RISP) are great. And Griffey also impresses in this category. On the other hand, Jeromy Burnitz, Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds are not quite delivering their home runs at the optimal times.
I think you can see that there is more to producing runs than a simple RBI list will tell you. Some batters truly deliver in the clutch, but aren’t given as many opportunities. Others make the list almost solely because they have the opportunities. To lead the list, you need to both produce and be given the opportunities.
So can we construct a true list of this year’s Run Producers? Well, I gave it a shot by constructing a Runs Produced (RP) list that gives each batter credit for the following:
- One RP for each home run.
- 1.25 additional RP’s for each home run delivered with runners on, based on his home run/at bat rate, assuming that each player’s opportunity rate equals the average.
- 1.25 additional RP’s for each hit with runners in scoring position, based on his BA/RISP rate, assuming that each player’s opportunity rate equals the average.
The 1.25′s are educated guesses. For instance, each home run with a runner on obviously yields at least two runs. Since we’ve already counted one run in the home run calculation, I estimate that there’s an average 1.25 runners per home run with runners on. I applied the same thinking to runners in scoring position. The good news is that total “runs produced” is virtually the same as total RBI’s, for the 190 players I analyzed, so I don’t think I’m off by much.
So, here is my list for the top American League Run Producers so far this year:
Name Team ProRuns RBI Diff Guerrero ANA 50 51 -1 Ramirez BOS 46 43 3 Young TEX 44 37 7 Ortiz BOS 44 50 -6 Rodriguez DET 43 42 1 Guillen ANA 42 45 -3 Beltran KC 42 43 -1 Thomas CHW 40 37 3 Konerko CHW 40 40 0 Mora BAL 40 41 -1 Sheffield NYY 39 39 0 Blalock TEX 39 36 3
Wow. Michael Young isn’t even on the list of top RBI men, but I have him as the third-best run producer in the league. David Ortiz comes down six runs, primarily because this formula brings his opportunity total down to the league average. But the best Run Producer in the AL is pretty clearly Vlad Guerrero, at this stage of the game.
And the National League…
Name Team ProRuns RBI Diff Griffey Jr. CIN 55 48 7 Rolen STL 54 63 -9 Gonzalez ARI 50 36 14 Abreu PHI 48 43 5 Bonds SFG 48 34 14 Berkman HOU 48 48 0 Casey CIN 46 43 3 Alou CHC 46 39 7 Pujols STL 46 40 6 Dunn CIN 42 40 2 Ramirez CHC 41 43 -2 Burnitz COL 40 46 -6 Bagwell HOU 40 34 6 Lowell FLO 40 38 2 Castilla COL 40 48 -8
I knew Barry Bonds would jump up this list, but Luis Gonzalez? It turns out that Luis Gonzalez is the league’s third-best run producer by my reckoning. Gonzalez is having a tremendous year, with 13 home runs, a .353 BA with RISP and 54% of his home runs with runners on. Unfortunately, only 15% of his at bats have come with runners in scoring position. Talk about a waste…
And, at the top of the list, just barely eking out Scott Rolen, is the rejuvenated Kid. You knew Ken Griffey Jr. was having a fine year, but did you know he has been the top run producer in either league? I sure didn’t. But he’s hitting home runs and batting well with runners in scoring position, and just having a super year. Is it too early to nominate him for Comeback Player of the Year?