I’m Not Dead…

But my internet connection is, so posting has been – and may be – spotty for a few days, as I do my best to gank the unsecured wireless connections of the poor saps in my building. So I leave you with a quick thought, and feel free to discuss whatever you like in the comments.

Tony Jackson’s ESPN column today included the following segment:

Begin with Loney.

The lefty-hitting first baseman has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season and hit only 10 of them in 2010, but he had a career-high 41 doubles and drove in 88 runs, his third season in a row with at least that many RBIs.

This is not a dig at Jackson, who’s been one of the better Dodger beat writers in recent years and who I realize has to cater to an ESPN audience,¬† but the part about how Loney has put up at least 88 RBI at least three years in a row – as though that’s some sort of positive – kind of irks me. As I’m sure I don’t need to explain to the enlightened readers of this blog, RBI tells you just about nothing about a hitter other than how well his teammates did at getting on base ahead of him.

Baseball Prospectus has a fantastic statistic called ROB, which requires no fancy explanation; it’s merely the amount of runners on base a particular hitter had when he came up. Simply put, it’s the total number of chances for RBI (other than driving himself in with a homer) that a batter had.

Last year, James Loney had 463 ROB when he came to the plate, which was 10th most in baseball, and that high total is exactly how an average-ish hitter gets 88 RBI. His OBI% (i.e., the amount of those runners driven in, or 78 of 463) was tied for 44th best in the bigs, meaning that he got his 88 RBI by doing less with more.

As a point of comparison, Delmon Young of the Twins came up with 456 runners on base last year, almost identical to Loney’s 463. Yet because Young was so much more efficient with his at-bats, he drove in 91 of those runners, compared to Loney’s 78. That’s not including homers – because the argument I hear is that Loney’s RBI total means he’s very good at driving in runners, even if he doesn’t hit for power – and when you do include dingers, the gap gets larger, since Young drove in 112 RBI on the season.

Taking it the other way, Alexis Rios also had 88 RBI last year. If we’re judging just based on RBI, then he and Loney had the same season. Yet Rios had only 378 runners available to drive in, compared to Loney’s 463. Rios was MUCH more efficient, and had he been lucky enough to have been gifted with 463 runners on base, he would have ended up driving in well over 100 RBI.

As you can probably tell by now, that’s why RBI is as useless as pitcher wins. Yes, you need runs to win the game, and that makes RBI a team stat. It doesn’t tell you anything about how good a hitter is, because if he’s coming up with a guy on third, then someone else did 75% of his work. And what’s the point of a stat if it’s not helping you evaluate the player in question?

******

On Tuesday night, I was kindly invited to be a guest on the new Beyond the Boxscore podcast series with Dave Gershman of, well, everywhere, and Matt Klaassen of BtB and FanGraphs. It was great fun, and I don’t totally come off like a dingus, so have a listen. I’m in the second segment.

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