December 28, 2003

The Producer

Long time no see! Hope everyone is having a great holiday season. I haven't written anything here since last Tuesday, so let's not waste any time...

There wasn't a whole lot of big news over the last week or so, mostly due to the holidays. There were a few minor transactions though, including one in particular that caught my eye.

MONTREAL - The Montreal Expos added some much needed power to their lineup Friday, agreeing to a $1.5 million, one-year contract with third baseman Tony Batista.

For those of you who haven't heard, Tony Batista drove in 99 runs for the Baltimore Orioles last season. That feat has earned him such titles as "proven RBI man" and "solid run producer."

I have spoken before about how silly I think it is for so many "old school" baseball writers and experts to get worked up over someone's RBI totals. The words being used to describe Batista's 2003 season are nothing new and have been used for plenty of similarly qualified "RBI men" in the past. Heck, Joe Carter is now mounting a relatively well supported Hall of Fame campaign based almost solely on his status as a "solid run producer."

After taking a look at Batista's stats, both from last season and for his entire career, it struck me that he is a perfect example of why RBIs are, in many instances, an extremely misleading statistic.

First of all, take a look at Batista's "other" numbers from last season:


.235 .270 .393

Those numbers are just awful. Pathetic really. Among the 164 major league players who qualified for the batting title last season, Batista ranked 159th in batting average, 134th in slugging percentage and 164th (dead last!) in on-base percentage. This from a guy who is said to be bringing "some much needed power" to the Montreal Expos.

For the most part, RBIs are nothing more than a function of a team's offense, as well as a player's position in the lineup and the opportunities that come along with that position. In other words, there are two ways to drive in a lot of runs. One is to be a really good hitter. The other is to bat in the middle of a lineup with some guys who get on base batting in front of you.

When you take the former and combine it with the latter, you get something like Carlos Delgado and his 145 RBIs last season. When you take the latter without anything even resembling the former, you get Tony Batista and his 99 RBIs.

Some people will see a nice RBI-total and conclude that a player was a "Clutch Hitter" or some other such garbage, but in most cases that's not the case. Take Batista for example. He nearly cracked triple-digits in RBIs last year and ranked 21st in the AL.

His numbers in clutch situations?

                               AVG      OBP      SLG

Runners On Base .243 .282 .417
Scoring Position .238 .286 .390
Men On w/ 2 Out .208 .261 .312
Scoring Position w/ 2 Out .213 .276 .325

I defy you to look at those numbers and see any aspect of clutch hitting ability. Go ahead, take another look. You won't find any.

Tony Batista's run producing "ability" last season came directly as a result of one thing and one thing only: his place in Baltimore's lineup. Batista batted 4th, 5th and 6th in the lineup all season. The top few spots in Baltimore's lineup had the following numbers last year:

         OBP      SLG

#1 .351 .384
#2 .327 .399
#3 .361 .434

Not only did the first three spots in the lineup have relatively good on-base percentages, they also had low slugging percentages, which means they didn't drive each other (or themselves) in all that much. That left plenty of chances for Batista. I would normally end that last sentence with "and he took advantage of them," but, as you already saw, he really didn't.

Batista had 288 at bats with runners on base last season, the 8th-most in the American League. He also had 172 at bats with runners in scoring position, also 8th-most in the AL.

In this situation I use at bats and not plate appearances because walks are involved in plate appearances. When you take a walk, you don't usually have a chance to drive a run in (although you give the guys batting behind you more chances).

Let's say two hitters each come to the plate in 100 identical situations with runners on base. Who is going to have the best chance of driving in the most runs for himself, the guy who shows some plate discipline and takes a few walks or the guy who is swinging at everything? Batista would, of course, be the guy who was swinging at everything.

While hacking away at anything and everything, Tony Batista made 512 outs last season. For those of you without calculators handy, 512 outs are the equivalent of 19 entire games worth of outs.

Let's put that into some context in regard to other "run producers" who put up similar RBI numbers to Batista last year. There were a total of 11 other guys who drove in either 97, 98, 99, 100 or 101 runs last season.

                      RBI     Outs     Outs/RBI

Tony Batista 99 512 5.17

Jay Gibbons 100 470 4.70
Jeff Bagwell 100 469 4.69
Magglio Ordonez 99 443 4.47
Eric Chavez 101 442 4.38
Edgar Renteria 100 431 4.31
Bobby Abreu 101 433 4.29
Shea Hillenbrand 97 402 4.14
Edgar Martinez 98 376 3.84
Carlos Beltran 100 380 3.80
Jorge Posada 101 367 3.63
David Ortiz 101 330 3.27

As you can see, no one was even close to using up as many outs per RBI as Tony Batista last year. Batista made nearly 200 more outs than David Ortiz did, while driving in two fewer runs. Batista made 42 more outs than his own teammate, Jay Gibbons, and Gibbons drove in 100 runs.

In fact, there were 55 players who drove in at least 90 runs last season. Batista made the second-most outs per RBI among all of them, behind only Alfonso Soriano, who batted leadoff for all but 55 at bats last season.

Let's have some more fun with Tony Batista's RBIs...

Batista became an everyday player in 1999. Since then, he has the following impressive RBI numbers:


1999 100
2000 114
2001 87
2002 87
2003 99

His 487 RBIs from 1999-2003 ranks tied for 27th in all of baseball during that time.

RBIs (1999-2003) 

1) Sammy Sosa 650
2) Alex Rodriguez 638
27) Tony Batista 487
27) Scott Rolen 487

Now, take a look at how many outs Batista has made, compared to the guy he shares the #27 spot with:

Batista        2335

Rolen 1970

That's right, over the course of five seasons, Tony Batista and Scott Rolen each drove in the exact same amount of runs...and Batista made 365 more outs. That is 13.5 games worth of outs, for those of you scoring at home.

From 1999-2003 there were a total of 39 players who drove in at least 450 runs (90 per season). Here's what they look like, ordered from fewest outs made per RBI to the most:

1)  Barry Bonds         526     1480     2.81

2) Manny Ramirez 623 1761 2.83
39) Tony Batista 487 2335 4.79

Interestingly enough, Tino Martinez, one of the most heralded "run producers" of this era, ranks second-to-last, ahead of only Batista with 4.64 outs per RBI.

But wait, it gets even better. Here's the kicker...

In the entire history of baseball, there have been 1,648 instances of a player driving in at least 99 runs in a season. Among those 1,648 seasons, spanning well over 100 years, Tony Batista in 2003 used the most outs per RBI.

The most, in the history of baseball. 1,648 seasons. 1,648!

When you think about it, it's really quite an accomplishment. For the sake of accuracy though, Batista should never again be called a proven run producer. No, if anything, Tony Batista is a proven out producer.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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