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December 8, 2015

Fantasy Categorical Breakdowns

Runs and RBI: The General Landscape

by George Bissell

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As the Baseball Prospectus fantasy team boldly pushes forward in our Fantasy Categorical Breakdowns series, be sure to catch up with our previous installments over the past couple of weeks. We’re providing a 10,000-foot overview of each category—such as this article here—to go with a specific article on 2015 over/underachievers and another one targeted for deeper leagues.

If you’re reading BP, you don’t need me to explain the futility of spending time analyzing runs scored and RBI totals. However, I can’t resist the urge. They’re largely the result of a player’s lineup placement in tandem with the number of opportunities he has, either from coming to the plate with runners already on base, or from the ability of ensuing hitters to drive them in. These two context-dependent statistics offer little in terms of predictive value and reveal almost nothing about a hitter’s offensive prowess. Runs scored and RBI may be antiquated metrics, but they are firmly entrenched in traditional fantasy formats.

Let’s start with runs scored. Analyzing individual totals isn’t very useful, but league-wide runs scored totals provide a glimpse into the overall offensive trends in the game. The fairly linear league-wide offensive decline over the past decade has been well documented, but that began to change this past season. Offense began to rebound in 2015, thanks in large part to a significant uptick in home runs.

With offense trending back up, we saw a corresponding increase in the number of individual hitters who cracked the 100-run barrier, up to 13, the most in a single season dating back to 2012. The chart below highlights the number of individual hitters to record 70, 80, 90 and even 100 runs scored in a single season since 2010.

Year

70+ Runs

80+ Runs

90+ Runs

100+ Runs

2010

102

66

34

17

2011

84

58

28

16

2012

99

61

29

12

2013

83

49

22

9

2014

80

41

18

7

2015

81

51

28

13

The only hitters to eclipse the lofty 100-run plateau in back-to-back campaigns over the past two seasons are Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, and Brian Dozier. If you want to include Matt Carpenter (99 runs in 2014, 101 last year) or Ian Kinsler (100 and 94, respectively), who just missed the mark, that’s fine. This exercise only further illustrates the general lack of year-to-year consistency with runs scored totals relative to leaderboards for situation independent hitter statistics like home runs, walks and strikeouts.

Now, let’s dive into RBIs. As evidenced by the table below, despite a league-wide offensive surge last year, the number of elite RBI producers didn’t experience a similar increase.

Year

70+ Runs

80+ Runs

90+ Runs

100+ Runs

2010

86

60

33

25

2011

82

59

33

17

2012

84

56

35

18

2013

75

47

22

15

2014

66

41

24

12

2015

79

48

25

13

Just like stolen bases, the year-to-year leaderboards don’t look very similar. The only hitters to exceed 100 RBI in each of the past two seasons were Jose Abreu, David Ortiz, Yoenis Cespedes, and Bautista.

2014 RBI Leaders

2014 Total

2015 RBI Leaders

2015 Total

Adrian Gonzalez

116

Nolan Arenado

130

Mike Trout

111

Josh Donaldson

123

Miguel Cabrera

109

Chris Davis

117

Nelson Cruz

108

Jose Bautista

114

Jose Abreu

107

Edwin Encarnacion

111

Albert Pujols

105

Paul Goldschmidt

110

Giancarlo Stanton

105

David Ortiz

108

David Ortiz

104

Kendrys Morales

106

Jose Bautista

103

Yoenis Cespedes

105

Victor Martinez

103

J.D. Martinez

102

Justin Upton

102

Jose Abreu

101

Yoenis Cespedes

100

Anthony Rizzo

101

Josh Donaldson

98

Matt Kemp

100

Edwin Encarnacion

98

Kris Bryant

99

Michael Brantley

97

Bryce Harper

99

The overall takeaway from this exercise is not that projecting runs scored and RBI totals is completely impossible. Instead, it should only reinforce the importance of how a hitter’s spot in the lineup and the surrounding talent will affect his ability to drive his teammates home and come around to score when he gets on base. Fantasy owners shouldn’t completely overlook runs and RBI, but they don’t carry nearly as much importance as home runs and stolen bases in the current fantasy landscape.

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

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Runs,  Rbi

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