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June 12, 2010

BP Unfiltered

Unfun with RBI Opportunities

by Christina Kahrl

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OK, I've been amusing myself with seeing how Gordon Beckham and Geovany Soto have both struggled to plate their baserunners, because both haven't been especially effective at it this season. As I catch the trio of Sox/Cubs games here in Wrigley this weekend, I'm futzing around with the data of the two teams, and it's a mixed bag, to be sure, but let's just goof off with Becks and Soto as a starting point, because it led me to notice something that still just stuns me.

Becks is seen as one of the season's great disasters for the White Sox, having delivered a .202 TAv through Friday's action while hitting a ghastly .204/.283/.250. He's driving in 9.4 percent of the runners on base when he's batted. Over on the North Side, Soto was in contrast hitting a productive-looking .265/.405/.456, for a lovely .306 TAv. He's an asset at a position where it's hard to find hitters who help you, but interestingly enough, he's also plated just 9.5 percent of his baserunners. While he's spent a good chunk of the season batting eighth, he's yet to draw an intentional pass to easily explain away some chunk of his failure to plate people; his 9.5 % clip is the same while batting eighth, so while you can certainly credit pitchers for pitching carefully to Soto, it hasn't made that big a deal.

Now, those numbers are below-average, but how low did they rank among their peers in the seasonal action so far? All major-league hitters who aren't pitchers are driving in on average 14.2 percent of the men on base when they bat. Taking a look at the leaderboard, or--before any aspiring Larry Andersen types crack wise--the trailerboard, check out the 10 least effective batters with 100 PAs when it comes to scoring baserunners, and you won't find Soto or Beckham on the board:

Batter
Team
ROB
OBI
OBI%
Dexter Fowler Rockies 74 3 4.1%
Alex Avila Tigers 72 3 4.2%
Jeff Clement Pirates 92 4 4.3%
Brendan Harris Twins 52 3 5.8%
Juan Pierre White Sox 118 7 5.9%
Gerald Laird Tigers 82 5 6.1%
Jim Edmonds Brewers 80 5 6.3%
Brandon Wood Angels 79 5 6.3%
Mike Aviles Royals 63 4 6.3%
Prince Fielder Brewers 184 12 6.5%

Now, not that Sesame Street ever gave us a 10-way split-screen to really puzzle the little people, but very obviously one of these things is not like the others, one of these things is not the same. Well, sort of--there's no joy in Beertown that there are two Brewers are on this list, and probably even less happiness over the fact that one of them is Prince Fielder. And what isn't like the others is opportunities. Where a couple of these players have already been demoted (Fowler, Clement) or are on the DL, most of these guys just aren't being asked to do something involving scoring their teammates in the same way that the Brewers' and many of them aren't being tasked with high-profile roles on offense, the Brewers were certainly expecting a lot more than this from their Prince among men. (For a full list, click here.)

Not much to say about this, other than that it's bad news in Milwaukee. Edmonds is being touted for just being here, and given that Carlos Gomez isn't exactly nailing down the job in center, having the former Cardinals great around can't be written off as a bad idea, not by any means. But what can you do about Fielder? In his frustration, skipper Ken Macha has flip-flopped Fielder and Ryan Braun, moving the hefty lefty into the three-hold after not liking what he was seeing from Fielder in the cleanup slot. But what else you gonna do?

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Wade

"But what else you gonna do?"

given that both Tiger catchers are on the list, perhaps the Motowners might want to consider finding someone else to man the tools of ignorance

Jun 12, 2010 16:54 PM
rating: -1
 
Josh Sklar

David Wells will always be the Hefty Lefty to me.

Jun 12, 2010 16:57 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I used it for El Sid for most of his career as well; I guess we never talk about "The Mighty/Flighty/Tighty Righty," but none of those are exactly good-humored or endearing.

Jun 13, 2010 10:59 AM
 
evo34

"But what else you gonna do?" Hmm. Maybe be smart enough to realize that abnormal performance with RISP is not a skill, and thus not predictive of future abnormal performance with RISP?

Jun 12, 2010 23:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Sharky

Essentially what I was wondering. Christina, how is this different from the concept of "clutch" hitting, which has been largely disproved in sabermetric circles (I believe). And like BABIP, is there any sort of mean (for the league or individual hitter) toward which we should expect regression? Would be interesting to know more (i.e. the why vs the what or how). Thanks!

Jun 13, 2010 07:16 AM
rating: -1
 
TheRealNeal

Clutch hasn't been disproved - there always have been and always will be hitters who do better in RISP situations than you would expect, and more importantly, there are hitters who do worse with RISP than you would expect.

Every player is prone to "real" slumps, where they expand their strike zone often because they're trying to drive in runs. Just because over the course of 3 years those things tend to even out, expecting a manager to not make adjustments when he recognizes a real slump in a player is foolish - unless you have the misfortune of having Lou Piniella as your manager.

It's always made more sense to me to bat Fielder ahead of Braun in the lineup, since Braun is more of the 'see ball, hit ball' type, you would think that Fielder would benefit more from lineup protection.

Jun 13, 2010 07:56 AM
rating: 0
 
Brian24

Actually, the fact that "over the course of 3 years those things tend to even out" seems to at least arguably indicate that "those things" are not "real" slumps.

Jun 14, 2010 14:36 PM
rating: 0
 
acarlisle

I've always wondered about this, and I can't find any analysis easily via google. Do you have a link to a study? My gut has always told me that runners on base require a defensive shift, and that RISP would change the performance for right handed batters.

Jun 13, 2010 09:02 AM
rating: -1
 
acarlisle

I guess I'm just saying that I wouldn't be surprised if, say, right handed hitters with a high LD% have a boost in numbers with a runner on third over other hitters. I also wouldn't be surprised if, over the course of a career, some hitters are better at this than others.

But, yeah, less than half a season of opportunities probably doesn't tell us anything meaningful. The numbers are just so small.

Jun 13, 2010 09:07 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

True, but this is where we have to dissociate any predictive power of numbers from their more basic descriptive value. In the same way that I've always said that "clutch is an adjective, not a skill," it's pretty clear Prince Fielder's performance with ROB has been godawful, and that hurts worse given the huge number of opportunities he gets as a function of lineup position. Will it stay that way? I doubt anyone reading this really thinks that it will.

And yet... I guess I keep coming back to how some guys *do* show up on the OBI% leaderboard year after year. Aramis Ramirez before this season, for example, had been one of the top 20 or so guys year after year for his entire Cubs career. That doesn't make clutch a skill, but it does say something nice about Ramirez's performance.

It's also important to recognize that the way certain players hit aren't going to shine using a coarse metric like OBI%. Take Pierre this season--he's hitting a ton of grounders this year, and as unreliable as line-drive data is, he's not really the sort we associate with hitting lots of hard-hit balls to the outfield, having seemingly become even more grounder-oriented with age. Which is further cause for looking forward to HitF/X and what it might tell us about the types of hits that plate people at a new level of detail... or just renew our faith in permanent truths like the three-run home run. ;-)

Jun 13, 2010 11:17 AM
 
evo34

"Will it stay that way? I doubt anyone reading this really thinks that it will."


Clearly, you did. One doesn't generally write a whole article about a statistical fluke without at least mentioning that it is in fact a fluke. Instead, the reader is asked, "But what can you do about Fielder?" -- implying there is something that could/should be done to address the (non-)issue.

Jun 18, 2010 17:58 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

No, I did not, but that's apparently where you want to go, holding to canon. I'm pointing out a few facts which I find curious. Ramirez (for example) has been consistently excellent with his ROB opportunities. As these things go, I don't pretend to know why it didn't go away until he hurt his thumb this year, any more than I would claim this is a guaranteed skill. It simply happened.

Now, that's not unlike Fielder, because here we are more than a month later, and his OBI% is now the worst of any everyday player in baseball, clocking at 7.9%. You can make an inference if you choose, and get sloppy with adjectives; I'm just noting this is something that has happened, and is happening, and it's interesting on that level alone.

Jul 20, 2010 23:53 PM
 
BuzzingThalami

Hmm, with 141 RBI last year and so godawful-few this year, it seems like Prince's hitting-it-where-they-aint-while-they-are-on skill got significantly rusty over the winter. I wonder if he just didn't sufficiently work out his RISP muscle groups during the offseason? Could this be something the Milwaukee medical staff should be looking at? Obviously this muscle group was in great shape last year, and radically atrophied over the cold months in beer country.

Jun 13, 2010 17:24 PM
rating: -1
 
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