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May 21, 2008

Fantasy Beat

RBI Opportunities and You

by Marc Normandin

Generally speaking, those with a sabermetric bent to their work avoid any kind of positive discussion relating to Runs Batted In. Since this is a fantasy column, though, it's inevitable that the discussion comes up, lest we ignore one of the five standard offensive categories. Despite our general avoidance of RBI, we have a few statistics in our reports that can help you out in your fantasy league.

The RBI Opportunities report houses a few neat categories to browse though. First, you have Runners on Base (ROB), which is also presented in PA_ROB form; R1, R2 and R3 refer to the number of runners on each individual base when the batter comes to the plate, and the R#_BI set details how many runners have scored from each base with this batter up. There's also a percentage form for success for each base in the report. We also have OBI, or Others Batted In, and its percentages form OBI%. OBI equals RBI minus home runs, a simple formula that helps keep a hitter's surrounding lineup in focus by removing the number of times they plate themselves with one swing.

These numbers are all useful for determining RBI opportunities, and the fact that success is also measured on a rate basis helps you see who in particular is taking advantage of his team's lineup. Conversely, it can also show you where improvements or regression can be expected, and that's what we will take a look at today. I've taken the liberty of also calculating RBI%, since it's good for fantasy owners to see who is driving themselves in often for both RBI and whatever power category they are using.

First up, Dustin Pedroia ranks fourth in the league in plate appearances with runners on base, despite 173 PA in the second slot, and another 40 leading off for the Red Sox. He's converted 13.8 percent of those baserunners into OBI, a disappointing total considering the sheer number of opportunities he's had. Looking over the RBI Opportunities report gives you a clear reason why, though: Pedroia has had 70 runners at first base when he's come up, and has managed to drive in just a pair of them. As a second baseman with a .103 Isolated Power, Pedroia is not the kind of guy who is going to be clearing the bases with a single swing. He has driven in 23.2 percent of the baserunners on second and third when he's come up, an event he's stepped up to the plate for 82 times already during this young season. That total of runners in scoring position is about as many runners on base as Ichiro Suzuki, Grady Sizemore and Jeremy Hermida have seen total in 2008. Despite his shortcomings in the power department causing him to move runners at first on a more station-to-station pace, the number of runners he comes to the plate with on a Red Sox team with a .363 OBP gives you reason enough to keep Pedroia around for RBI from your middle infield.

If you're desperate for RBI and your league doesn't count OBP as a category, Emil Brown may be worth a look, at least for exploitation's sake. Brown is coming to bat with plenty of runners on, as he's already batted with 133 runners on base (17th in the majors) and had 85 PA with runners on (58th in the majors). Despite their lack of power as a team, the A's have been able to score runs due to the number of runners they put on base, and Brown has done his best to contribute to this by driving in 21.8 percent of those baserunners, which currently ranks 12th in the majors.

Even so, though he's doing well in the RBI department, this all looks a little too Ruben Sierra circa 1993 at first glance, considering that Brown is hitting just .260/.290/.393 overall. He should improve on that with more playing time, as his BABIP is a below-average .265. Given his liner rate is 18.4 percent-and his career liner rate is closer to 20 percent-we can expect Brown's line to improve with an increase in BABIP. For those who aren't familiar with the method, adding .12 to a hitter's line-drive percentage gives you an estimate of what a player's expected BABIP should be, or his eBABIP. How dramatic is that difference in line drives for Brown? His eBABIP is .304, 39 points higher than his current figure.

Part of the problem (for him, and for you, if you're thinking of adding him) is Brown's home park, McAfee, which reduces BABIP in part because of its expansive foul territory. From 2005-2007, the park's BABIP was .281, while the league's average BABIP during that same timeframe was .299. We'll split the difference for Brown and just give him a 30 point boost from his BABIP to his eBABIP due to this park effect, meaning we should expect Brown to hit somewhere around .290/.320/.423, assuming all of the lost hits are singles. That's pretty close to his 75th percentile PECOTA forecast. Since he wouldn't only add singles, his slugging would jump to maybe .440-.450, while helps Brown look a lot closer to a league-average outfielder who has tons of opportunities to drive in runs, rather than as a Ruben Sierra redux, a "slugger" with the potential to drive in 100 runs on the season based entirely on the quality of the lineup around him. Chances are good that Brown is available given his poor rate stats so far, so stashing him on your bench until we see improvement in his BABIP is a good idea.

Casey Blake's batting line in the early going is the source of some serious confusion, because it's not immediately apparent why he is hitting .226/.314/.379. His BABIP is .281, below average in general and below his career rate of .301, but not so low that it is the root of his miserable batting average. His ISO is .153, which again is below his career rate (.181) but not exactly a number that's cratered, either, so he's hitting for power. He's walking in 9.5 percent of his plate appearances, but even more critically, he's striking out a very Casey Blake-like 25.8 percent of the time, five percent more often than in 2007. His line-drive rate is 22.8 percent, so he's been very unlucky so far, but we'll use his career liner rate of 20.2 percent to play it safe with adjustments. The eBABIP from that is .322, 41 points higher than his current BABIP. Adding that into his line gives him a .267/.355/.420 line, assuming once again all of the missing hits are singles.

It's importance to keep this likely bounce upward in production in mind, because Blake has still managed to drive in a solid number of runners at a good clip. His OBI% of 25 percent ranks third in the league among players with 100 plate appearances or more, and his 24 OBI rank 14th in the majors. Despite this being his age-35 season, Blake's bat doesn't appear to have slowed down that much from last year, as his ratio of home runs to fly balls (or HR/FB-a good indicator of a player's bat speed dropping, since they can't generate the same power on their fly balls as before) is nine percent again.

If anything he's hitting the ball more squarely, going to center field more often than usual, while keeping his pull and push tendencies roughly the same:

chart1

Blake's struggles mean he's more than likely available if you think you need the RBI help. For those in leagues with daily changes, Blake's available as a third baseman, first baseman, and right fielder, giving him a bit more value as a guy you can plug in where necessary in your lineup. Given his success driving in runners and the fact that he should bounce back to where we are used to seeing him, picking him up is a solid investment for you.

Finally, Jose Guillen was supposed to give the Royals a solid bat in the middle of their lineup, but instead he started off his Kansas City career with a .192/.231/.364 April line. He's recovered somewhat in May by hitting .345/.367/.586, improving his overall showing to .235/.266/.422. His actual ability is somewhere in between his May and his season numbers; an adjustment to his .279 BABIP based on his career liner rate would put him at .289/.320/.476. The OBP is a problem if that stat counts in your league, but the average and slugging are worthwhile, especially with his OBI% of 19.8 percent.,/p>

Despite the Royals poor offensive showing, hitting only .257/.316/.365 as a team, and scoring only 3.7 runs per game, Guillen has nevertheless come up to bat with 126 baserunners on, the 34th-highest total in the majors. His 87 PA with runners on ties for 50th in the majors, and while that's not at an elite level, it makes him a solid complementary piece to add to your bigger guns. When you throw in the positive change in production his eBABIP tells us should occur, there's no reason not to toss a flyer his way if he's available in your league, and see if you can boost your RBI numbers.

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