September 10, 2010
Loney Loves Ribeyes
James Loney is somewhat of an odd player. Despite hitting .321/.372/.543 in 486 plate appearances across the 2006 and 2007 seasons for the Dodgers, his power output has resembled that of Placido Polanco lately. While a short supply of power isn’t always a death blow to success at first base, it usually means that the top notchiest of defensive ability is required to make up the difference. Loney realistically doesn’t fit that bill either. He might be smooth with the glove, and he might not have a glaring weakness such as Ryan Howard’s inability to throw a baseball, but it isn’t as if we’re talking about the first-base equivalent of Franklin Gutierrez or Jack Wilson here. Despite the shortcomings in his game, there is one area in which Loney has excelled, even if it is a stat kept only in my strange head: the ratio of RBI to home runs.
In 2008, Loney hit just 13 home runs but knocked in 90 runners. Last season, he did the exact same thing by launching 13 dingers and plating 90 runners. This season, he appears to be on pace for very similar numbers, as he hasnine home runs and 80 RBI. Recording that many RBI with so few home runs is one of those jarring parts on a batting line. It doesn’t really tell us anything revolutionary about a player, but it looks off, just like when an on-base percentage exceeds its slugging counterpart. A disproportionate number of RBI relative to home runs might suggest that we are dealing with more of a slap hitter who happens to come up with runners on very frequently, and if he were to be moved down in the order the ratio might decline. After all, Loney continues to bat in the middle of the order even if Martin Prado can out-homer him.
Upon thinking of the disconnect between the HR and RBI, I asked my father if he could recall anyone with similar numbers. He immediately brought up Tommy Herr, and while he was unable to quote the numbers off the top of his head, he vividly remembered Herr recording close to 100 RBI with fewer than 10 home runs. I instantly thought of two seasons: one belonged to Jeff Cirillo who, through my ownership of the Brewers in APBA leagues in the early part of this decade, became one of my favorites. For the record, Matt Mieske and Dave Nilsson were also favorites. I remembered Cirillo having something like 11 home runs and 110 RBI. I also remembered Tony Gwynn doing something similar, with around 15 homers and 120 runs batted in.
A quick check of their stats confirmed that all three of these players had low HR but high RBI totals. In 1985, Herr hit eight home runs and knocked in 110 runners. In 1997, a 37-year-old Gwynn hit 17 balls out of the yard and plated 119 runners. And in 2000, Cirillo hit 11 home runs and recorded 115 RBI. The exercise got me thinking about how rare it is for a player to have so many rib-eyes with so few home runs. Since 1974, here are the lowest home run totals for a player with at least 90 RBI:
These nine were also the only players to hit home runs in the single digits in their disproportionate year. What if we phrase the question differently? It’s obvious to see that Molitor’s 113 RBI produces a higher ratio to the nine home runs than Carew’s 90 steaks. What if we look for the highest RBI/HR ratio since 1974 for players with 90 RBI or more? The table below shows the players with the highest such ratios:
And what about the last few years? Here are the highest ratios from 2005-09:
Plenty of repeat offenders here. Seems that if your last name is Young, you excel in this area. Loney’s 2008 and 2009 seasons each show up, which isn’t surprising, though I was a bit worried after seeing the returns in the previous table. Abreu shows up a lot as well, as even though his home run totals have dwindled since leaving the Phillies, he is still knocking in a lot of runners. Here are the current leaders for the 2010 season with at least 60 runners batted in:
Suffice to say, my instincts are correct and Loney has the highest such rate over the last three years. I knew I wasn’t crazy. Well, maybe I am, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t right! Howsabout the opposite to all of this hullabaloo? In all likelihood, lower ratios likely mean a lot of solo dingers, but we’ll see. Here are the lowest ratios since 1974 for anyone with 400 or more plate appearances.
The list appears to be dominated by both leadoff hitters with power and freakish home run seasons. It’s incredibly difficult to hit 70 or 73 home runs without racking up a good number of solo homers. It’s also difficult to expect the likes of Ramirez, Soriano, and Wilkerson to amass a ton of RBI when the preceding hitters are usually the likes of a backup catcher and a pitcher. See what I mean about how some of these numbers look strange? It just seems wrong to me to see 26 HR attached to 54 RBI or 23 HR with 48 RBI. It’s as if someone made a typo and the first digit should be about three or four numbers higher. Either way, it has to be just as tough to produce a high ratio as it is a low ratio, given the relationship between dingers and RBI.
So there you have it. Loney isn’t exactly breaking records with his RBI/HR ratio, but he appears to be a recent outlier. And in the tradition of this Seidnotes column, here’s to hoping that he hits four more home runs with 10 RBI from here on out to once again finish with 13 HR-90 RBI. Now that would be a Dunn-esque feat!