December 8, 2015
Fantasy Categorical Breakdowns
Runs and RBI: The General Landscape
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.
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.
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.
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.