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May 27, 2011

The BP Broadside

What the Heck is an RBI Whore?

by Steven Goldman

Earlier today, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that Mets manager Terry Collins has encouraged Carlos Beltran to be selfish in RBI situations:

Since baseball is an individual game wrapped in a team concept, selfishness by Beltran and Reyes actually could be a good thing. I heard that with Wright and Ike Davis out of the lineup and Jason Bay still in freefall, Terry Collins actually went to Beltran recently and told the switch-hitter to get greedy in RBI situations. The Mets manager liberated Beltran to essentially become an RBI whore.

As Craig Calcaterra suggested, the whole concept of the “RBI whore” is questionable, because when is a player trying not to drive in a run in an RBI situation? This is not “Bartleby, the Ballplayer”—no hitter, confronted with ducks on the pond, says, “I would prefer not to.” The only possibility I can think of is that Collins is suggesting that Beltran expand his strike zone with runners on, hack away instead of taking close pitches and working a walk. This hasn’t been a big issue for Beltran so far—he’s taken all of eight walks in 53 PAs with runners in scoring position, leaving him swinging away 85 percent of the time. Still, it’s possible that Collins is gripped by the same questionable thinking that confronted Ted Williams back in his day, that a walk taken with runners in scoring position was a wasted opportunity.

This kind of logic would seem to avoid a great deal of complexity in both batter mindset, the idea that more baserunners equal more runs, and so on. In any case, a great deal of the potential for whoredom is out of the hands of the batter. You can’t be an “RBI whore” unless your team propositions you. Driving in runs is a matter of opportunity. Solo home runs aside, no hitter, be he Babe Ruth or Rey Ordonez, can plate a runner who isn’t on base.

As longtime readers know, at Baseball Prospectus we have an RBI opportunities report which keeps track of how often the whores have been given cash offers. Looking at the numbers over the course of years, some obvious limits on the amount of whoring become apparent. Given 400 or more plate appearances, the average whore—er, hitter—drives in about 14 percent of the runners on base when he comes to the plate. In the period of time contained in our database, 1950 to present, no whorish hitter has driven in as many as 30 percent of his baserunners, and in fact they haven’t quite gotten to 27 percent. In the table below, “OBI” stands for “Others Batted In,” which is to say that RBIs on solo home runs are excluded.

#

NAME

TEAM

YEAR

PA

OBI%

1

George Brett

KCA

1980

515

26.9

2

Kirby Puckett

MIN

1994

482

26.7

3

Andres Galarraga

COL

1996

691

25.4

4

Bill Buckner

CHN

1981

453

25.2

5

Andres Galarraga

COL

1993

506

24.8

6

Hal McRae

KCA

1982

676

24.7

7

Tommy Davis

LAN

1962

711

24.7

8

Dante Bichette

COL

1996

694

24.6

9

Ray Boone

DET

1953

443

24.5

10

Tony Gwynn

SDN

1997

651

24.4

Baseball is a cruel game, and what is truly frustrating is that the players most often given the chance to drive in runs aren’t the ones who have been must eager to indulge this particular vice:

 

NAME

TEAM

YEAR

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

ROB

OBI

OBI%

1

Jackie Jensen

BOS

1955

681

.275

.369

.479

576

90

15.6

2

Derek Bell

HOU

1996

684

.263

.311

.418

573

98

17.1

3

Vern Stephens

BOS

1950

588

.288

.357

.509

562

100

17.8

4

Justin Morneau

MIN

2008

712

.300

.374

.499

558

107

19.2

5

George Bell

CHA

1992

670

.255

.294

.418

557

87

15.6

6

Bret Boone

SEA

2001

690

.331

.372

.578

556

104

18.7

7

Mike Greenwell

BOS

1988

693

.325

.416

.531

553

99

17.9

8

Johnny Bench

CIN

1974

708

.280

.363

.507

552

96

17.4

9

Bill Buckner

BOS

1986

681

.267

.311

.421

551

84

15.3

10

Andre Thornton

CLE

1982

708

.273

.386

.484

550

86

15.6

Jensen drove in a league-leading 116 runs in 1955—90 of his baserunners, plus 26 RBIs on home runs. All else being equal, a hitter like Andres Galaragga in 1996, who saw 171 fewer runners, would have had 193 RBIs and banished Hack Wilson from the record books.

Beltran is going to have to get to work if he wants to satisfy Collins’ lusts. So far this year, he’s driven in 15.1 percent of his baserunners. He’s had 126 potential customers, the most on the Mets, but an insignificant amount league-wide, ranking 46th overall. The top ten runs from Torii Hunter with 165 (12.7 percent so far) to Kevin Youkilis (146, 16.4). Given the historical range of RBI production, Beltran could be doing a little more with what he’s been given, but not a lot more. As for his production with men on, .271/.351/.576, that’s not something to complain about.

Here are this year’s RBI sluts and prudes, 100 PAs and up:

#

NAME

TEAM

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OBI

ROB

OBI%

NAME

TEAM

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OBI

ROB

OBI%

1

Michael Young

TEX

209

.340

.383

.489

31

132

23.5

Robert Andino

BAL

114

.268

.366

.330

1

65

1.5

2

Mike Aviles

KCA

152

.234

.265

.433

24

103

23.3

Jamey Carroll

LAN

200

.304

.364

.365

4

84

4.8

3

Chipper Jones

ATL

196

.262

.347

.436

24

104

23.1

Kosuke Fukudome

CHN

147

.319

.441

.378

3

62

4.8

4

Danny Espinosa

WAS

195

.200

.301

.394

21

91

23.1

Magglio Ordonez

DET

106

.172

.226

.232

4

72

5.6

5

Stephen Drew

ARI

173

.265

.341

.426

25

112

22.3

Michael Saunders

SEA

140

.175

.228

.262

5

90

5.6

6

Martin Prado

ATL

232

.285

.325

.430

23

104

22.1

Michael Cuddyer

MIN

176

.267

.330

.391

6

107

5.6

7

Matt Holliday

SLN

173

.349

.439

.557

25

115

21.7

Chris Denorfia

SDN

100

.312

.360

.473

3

51

5.9

8

Victor Martinez

DET

140

.288

.357

.472

21

97

21.7

Dan Uggla

ATL

212

.180

.250

.335

8

135

5.9

9

Adrian Gonzalez

BOS

226

.337

.385

.553

35

162

21.6

Alexi Casilla

MIN

118

.215

.274

.280

4

65

6.2

10

Matt Wieters

BAL

164

.265

.335

.401

22

102

21.6

Jose Tabata

PIT

180

.252

.358

.364

5

81

6.2

Note that there is some correlation between those players who, both in 2011 and all time, have the greatest lust for RBIs and a certain tendency towards contact hitting and impatience. Still, that is not to say that this should be celebrated. First, a walk in no way diminishes a team’s offensive potential in an inning, it only enhances it. Hackers may drive in more runs, but their teams score fewer runs over all.

So, we’re back to the beginning. Carlos Beltran can’t be an RBI slut, he can only be Carlos Beltran. Were he to expand his strike zone, he would only diminish his value to the team, and in any case, he needs more than 126 baserunners to really throw his morals out the window. Or, to put this another way, Terry Collins is just not a good manager.

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville, one of my favorite stories, can be read here, though you might prefer not to read it. H/T to Jonah Keri and Craig Calcaterra.

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

Related Content:  Carlos Beltran,  Terry Collins

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