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June 1, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Bringing Them Home

by Craig Brown

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At Baseball Reference, base runners scored is an outstanding way to discover who is coming through with men on base.  Noted as BRS%, it’s the percentage of runners scored, removing the times when a hitter drives himself home with a home run.  It also gives credit for a batter driving home a run in an instance where an RBI isn’t awarded, such as on a play where an error has been committed. 

It’s a useful stat because it can unearth the hidden gem of a player who is consistently coming through with runners on but who may not have had ample opportunities to rack up RBIs.  Two months into the season, there are a pair of hitters who have caught my eye with exceptional performances with runners on base. 
 

Martin Prado - 114 baserunners, 29 base runners scored, 25% BRS%

With 32 RBI through his first 55 games, Prado is almost halfway to matching his career best 66 RBI effort from last season.  It helps that Prado is driving in a full quarter of all runners on base when he’s at the plate.  That sounds impressive (it is), but with the Braves batting Prado in the leadoff spot for most of the season - he’s recently shifted to second in the batting order - he hasn’t exactly had a wealth of opportunities.  The average major leaguer with 252 plate appearances (Prado’s total through Monday’s games) comes to bat with 153 runners on base.  Prado has stepped to the plate with only 114 runners on base. 

While the Braves can be considered below average at reaching base as a team - their collective .311 OBP is nine points below the National League average of .320 - don’t lay the blame on their number eight hitters.  That’s the spot Nate McLouth has occupied for the majority of Braves games, and he’s reaching base at an impressive .443 clip when hitting eighth.  Ditto for Freddie Freeman, the player used the second most often in the number eight spot, who owns a .405 OBP in that role.  Indulge me for another moment as I tiptoe into even smaller samples, but the Braves third most frequent number eight hitter is David Ross.  He’s reached base in 10 of his 22 plate appearances while batting eighth.

The real culprit in hampering Prado’s RBI opportunities has been Alex Gonzalez, who has spent the majority of the season batting seventh.  Gonzalez has collected 132 plate appearances in this spot, yet can only muster a line of .258/.298/.403. 

Still, it’s interesting to note the three most common players Prado has brought home:

Gonzalez - 7

McLouth - 6

Freeman - 4

Gonzalez tops this list because he has, by far, collected the most plate appearances directly in front of Prado – at least while Prado was hitting leadoff.  All this means is that Prado is collecting one RBI per 7.3 at bats.  That’s solid, and probably best described as workman-like.  The average major league hitter picks up an RBI every 7.8 at bats.  Let’s just describe Prado as slightly above average. It’s not too bad, given what he has to work with in front of him in the lineup (not to mention the pitcher’s slot).

It’s also worth noting that Prado is having a down year at the plate.  His .267 TAv is the lowest of his career since he started accumulating serious playing time back in 2008.  Still, his .151 ISO is right in line with his averages over the last couple of seasons and his strikeout rate is still well above league average at 12.1 percent.  He’ll recover from his slow start, and if he keeps bringing home the base runners, Prado will certainly help your club down the stretch. If he’s on your team, you probably want to hang on to him and avoid selling low.  If he’s not on your team, now is an ideal buying opportunity.
 

Melky Cabrera - 129 baserunners, 30 base runners scored, 23% BRS%

Cabrera has spent most of his career batting in the bottom third of the lineup, so it’s not a surprise that he’s never been a big RBI guy, especially given his time in New York where the boppers in front of him got all the action.  Still, the Melk-Man hasn’t exactly been efficient with base runners throughout his career.  Here are his percentages of base runners scored going back to his rookie season of 2006:

2006 - 13%

2007 - 17%

2008 - 10%

2009 - 15%

2010 - 12%

2011 - 23%

Wow.  Cabrera is smoking with runners on base this year for the first time in his career. 

The teammates he’s responsible for scoring the most frequently are Chris Getz–who he’s brought home nine times–and Alcides Escobar, who has scored on six of Cabrera’s hits.  This is some sort of bizarro fantasy baseball as those three represent the three lowest on-base percentages among Royals regulars.  Escobar (.258 OBP), Getz (.324 OBP), and Cabrera himself (.312 OBP) frequently reside in the ninth, leadoff and second spot in the order respectively.  Despite the subpar on-base percentages, Cabrera has been able to come to the plate with close to the league average number of runners for someone with 236 plate appearances.  He has come to the dish with 129 runners on compared to the average of 143 runners. 

It also helps that Cabrera takes a “grip it and rip it” approach to each and every plate appearance.  With a career walk rate of 7.8 percent, he’s rarely out there looking for a free pass.   Of course, joining a team like the Royals who organizationally abhor the walk, Cabrera’s base on balls rate has actually dropped this season to its current rate of 5.5 percent.  (To be fair, as a team, the Royals are drawing a walk in 8.6 percent of all plate appearances, which is spot on the league average.  That they’re doing this with both Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur in the lineup on an everyday basis boggles the mind.)  While Cabrera’s lack of patience will cause many a sabermetrician fit, for our fantasy purposes, that has been a good thing… so far.

Cabrera’s batted ball profile hasn’t deviated from his career norm, but his HR/FB rate is at 10.4 percent–currently the best rate of his career.  Plus, if the season were over today, it would be only the second time he’s finished over 6.5 percent.  PITCHf/x data shows that he’s swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone than ever before, offering at almost 40 percent of all pitches that would be called balls by the ‘perfect’ umpire.  His approach has been working in the small sample that has been the first two months of the season, but it’s not likely to continue.  While his current .277 TAv (compared to his career mark of .253.) looks good and his power and RBI numbers have been strong, given Cabrera’s free swinging ways, it would be best to not get too attached.  Cabrera’s start has found him heavily rostered in fantasy leagues. But if he’s still available in your league, resist the temptation.  If he’s already on your team, now would be an ideal time to see if you can find any takers.  It’s likely his value will never be higher.

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

Related Content:  Melky Cabrera,  The Who

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