The Run Producers

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?

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