June 21, 2000
Doctoring the Numbers
Luis Castillo is enjoying a breakout season. The Marlins' second baseman, still just 24 years old, is hitting .351 with 39 walks in 50 games for a stellar .461 OBP. That's sixth in the majors and the highest OBP by a leadoff hitter. In fact, no second baseman has had a higher OBP in a full season since Joe Morgan in 1975.
But while Castillo is without peer in terms of setting the table for his teammates, he is equally without peer in terms of clearing it. Through 50 games, despite a .351 batting average, Luis Castillo has the grand total of three RBI.
Three. Three in the Marlins' first 69 games. Castillo is on pace to come to the plate 552 times this season and drive in seven runs.
The fewest RBI in a single season in history (min: 400 PA):
Name Year RBI PA AVG/OBP/SLG
(Has there ever been a more apt name for a ballplayer than Goat Anderson?)
While their complete inability to drive the ball doomed them this list, it is interesting to note that all of these players were pretty patient hitters; only Enzo Hernandez failed to walk in at least 10% of his plate appearances. It's possible that as rare as it was for them to get a hit with runners in scoring position, their willingness to draw ball four cost them a few RBIs during the season. But not nearly as much as their inability to slug .270.
But Castillo isn't slugging .270. His slugging average is .435, and when you examine the list of the fewest RBIs by a hitter with a slugging average of at least .400, you get a much different picture:
Name Year RBI PA AVG/OBP/SLG
(Four other guys had 27 RBI in a season; I listed Lloyd Waner and Matty Alou because they had the most total bases.)
Matty Alou actually won the batting title that season, though it was an empty .342 he hit. But Lloyd Waner probably had the most impressive season ever in terms of RBI futility. He came to bat nearly 700 times and rapped out 223 hits. But despite playing for the NL pennant-winning Pirates, he hit for such little power that he was able to drive in just 27 runs.
Lloyd was known as "Little Poison" to his brother Paul's "Big Poison," and he certainly was both: he played little ball and he was poison to his team's offense. He had to hit .330 to help his team, something he did early in his career, but by 1940 he was such a liability that he set the 20th-century record for most hits (43) in a season with just three RBI. Despite a career average of .316, Waner had a lower career OBP (.353) and slugging average (.393) than Dave Hollins. He was voted into the Hall of Fame--by the Veterans Committee--in 1967.
How is Castillo doing it? Anytime such an extreme event happens, a confluence of circumstances must be involved. In Castillo's case, it's a combination of few opportunities to drive in runners and a horrible performance when he does get the opportunity.
Take a look at Castillo's splits:
Situation AB H D T HR RBI BB K AVG/OBP/SLG
Just seven of Castillo's 57 hits have come with men on base, and just one of his 13 extra-base hits. Amazingly, even that extra-base hit, a double with a man on first base, failed to drive in a run. And somehow--presumably by beating out infield hits with a runner on second base--Castillo has five hits with a runner in scoring position...and just two RBIs. Please don't try this at home.
In case you're wondering, Castillo has batted just twice with the bases loaded. Naturally, he's 0-for-2.
But as terrible as Castillo's performance is with runners on base, consider that only 26% of his plate appearances have come in that situation. Even for a leadoff hitter in the NL, batting behind the pitcher, that is unusually low.
Quilvio Veras and Luis Castillo are two of the most similar players you'll find in the majors today: they are both switch-hitting second basemen, they both lead off, they're both great on-base guys with no punch and they both steals a lot of bases with mediocre success rates. Veras has had runners on base for 38% of his plate appearances. Despite a slugging average of .380, 55 points lower than Castillo, Veras has 23 RBIs.
Why has Castillo had so many fewer opportunities to bat with runners on? Don't blame the pitchers: the Marlins' #9 hitters are batting a combined .172/.227/.252, about what you'd expect. And the Marlins' #8 hitters, mostly Mike Redmond and Paul Bako, are hitting .258/.336/.317. So who is to blame? Perhaps the team's primary #7 hitter, Alex Gonzalez, who is hitting a staggering .167/.212/.251, one of the worst performances by any hitter in recent times. Overall, the Marlins' #7 hitters are batting .219/.257/.306.
The fewest RBI in history by any player with 60 or more hits:
Name Year H RBI
As you see, this is nothing new for Castillo. Clearly, he despises the RBI. Hmmm...is it possible he's a closet stathead?
Rany Jazayerli, M.D., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.