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July 17, 2001
The Daily Prospectus
Second ThoughtsLost in the hoopla, the All-Star balloting, the RBIs, and the Sports Illustrated spread has been one small detail regarding Bret Boone's good first half: he hasn't been the best second baseman in his league.
That title belongs to Roberto Alomar. Alomar, who hit two home runs last night, has outplayed Boone by a not-insignificant margin this season:
Boone's slight edge in slugging is dwarfed by Alomar's huge edge in OBP, as well as Alomar's nine net steals to Boone's none. (Alomar: 17 SB/4 CS; Boone: 2 SB/1 CS.) Boone gets some of that back in park adjustments, as Clay Davenport rates Safeco Field as a significant pitchers' park, which Jacobs Field is a slight hitters' park. It's clear, though, that Alomar has been the better hitter so far this year.
Of course, it's no secret why Boone has gotten an excess of attention: that last column. RBI continue to be used as a gauge of a player's performance, despite the body of information that shows how deceptive they really are. RBIs depend as much on the performance of a player's teammates as they do on the player himself, and do more to cloud a discussion than to enlighten.
Alomar has spent most of the season batting behind Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, two veteran hitters having off years. Boone, on the other hand, has been batting behind the #2 and #4 guys in the American League in OBP, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud. Here's what that means to each player, the OBPs of the two slots in front of where they typically bat:
H BB OBP Indians #1 slot: 99 32 .308 Indians #2 slot: 102 43 .353
Thanks to these performances. Boone has batted with a runner on base in more than half of his plate appearances, an ungodly rate. And his performance in these situations has actually been worse than his performance with the bases empty:
PA AVG OBP SLG None on 187 .328 .374 .632 Runners on 209 .324 .359 .519 Scoring position 141 .306 .340 .488
Here's the same breakdown for Alomar:
PA AVG OBP SLG None on 210 .291 .386 .440 Runners on 176 .432 .483 .696 Scoring position 85 .456 .470 .632
I don't use these breakdowns to make the case that one player or the other is more "clutch." The notion that hitting with runners on or with runners in scoring position is an ability has been well debunked, so don't read too much into these breakdowns. What I want to show, though, is that the gap between the two players' RBI totals--the gap between the coverage they're getting--is entirely a function of the gap in their teammates' performances, not their own.
Roberto Alomar is the best second baseman in the American League, and probably the #3 candidate for MVP right now. Boone isn't quite that good, but deserves some down-ballot consideration as one of the top ten players in the AL this year.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.