As we continue our Fantasy Categorical Breakdowns series this offseason, this week we will be taking a deeper dive into the RBI and runs scored categories. George Bissell did a fantastic job in presenting his survey of the overall RBI/Runs landscape, and previously Matt Collins and Keith Cromer took a retrospective look at players in both leagues who took big steps forward in 2015 in these statistical categories, as well as identified a handful of hitters who regressed from the previous season. I will take a deeper look at players who could contribute in the runs category here, while Greg Wellemeyer will seek to excavate a few deeper league hitters that will knock the runners home in 2016.
Chasing players who can make a significant contribution in the runs scored category in December is generally not a great idea, as it is an almost entirely contextually driven statistic that is largely dependent on where in the lineup a manager chooses to place a hitter. Quite obviously that is tough to determine any time prior to spring training, let alone during the Winter Meetings. As George pointed out in his initial piece, just three hitters cracked the 100 runs scored mark in each of the last two seasons with none of them classified as deep-league specials (Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, and Brian Dozier). Only 55 hitters crossed the plate a combined 150 or more times between 2014 and 2015.
The Quick Hit Jumpers
Fowler is a prime example of what playing every day while hitting atop a prolific offense and getting on base at an above-average clip (.346 OBP in 2015) can do for a runs-scored total. Fowler stayed healthy and received a career-high 690 plate appearances with the Cubs and blew past his 2014 runs output of 61 with the Astros (hitting leadoff in only 148 of his 505 plate appearances) and finished tied with Manny Machado for seventh overall with 102 in 2015. Fowler will have to be brought back to the North Side next season or land in a spot where he can hit atop a quality lineup and not be platooned in order to once again top the 100-run mark.
D.J. LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies
There is lineup placement, and then there’s placement within the Rockies lineup. A simple move from the eighth spot (where LeMahieu hit almost exclusively in 2014 and scored 59 runs while receiving 538 PA) to the two-hole propelled LeMahieu—a below-league-average hitter (89 wRC+ in 2015)—to 39th overall with 85 runs scored in 2015. Whoever Walt Weiss pencils in towards the top of the Rockies batting order in 2016 will be a good source of runs, as all four Rockies hitters who got 600 plate appearances crossed the plate at least 85 times in 2015.
Just as the top third of the Rockies lineup is a good place to be historically, the Rangers lineup is a pretty nice place to be near the top of for a hitter as well. After Leonys Martin was displaced from the lineup, DeShields was in position to receive 299 plate appearances after the All-Star break and scored 47 runs, 19th most over the season’s second half. If DeShields is more than a platoon option in 2016, he could finish much higher than 46th overall, as he did in 2015 with 83 runs scored.
The Interesting Cases
Inciarte (very quietly) finished inside the top 30 among fantasy outfielders in 2015 (according to ESPN’s Player Rater), based largely upon his .303 batting average and 21 stolen bases. Inciarte received 447 plate appearances this season while battling A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas, and “outfielder” Mark Trumbo for playing time. With the Shelby Miller trade providing Inciarte with a new address for 2016, he should be a strong bet to hit atop the Braves order and receive regular playing time. With increased at-bats likely on the way, Inciarte should be able to top his 73 runs-scored total from 2015, despite moving to a (much) worse lineup. Inciarte is also a strong bet to surpass his 21 steal total, making him a solid option to inch even higher up the outfield rankings in 2016, even if his batting average dips closer to his .284 lifetime minor-league batting average.
Bradley scored 41 runs in 60 games after the All-Star break (39th over the period), while hitting eighth or ninth in the Red Sox order almost exclusively. Should the 2016 Red Sox opt to utilize the lineup that they did over much of the last two months of the 2015 season (playing Rusney Castillo and Bradley along with future PBA-member Mookie Betts in the outfield), Bradley could be in line to blow past the 255 plate appearances he garnered in 2015. If he plays enough to come to the plate 500 or more times, Bradley could vault into the top 20-30 run scorers of 2016.
After the Blue Jays cut bait with Valencia at the beginning of August, he joined Oakland and was given regular playing time over the last two months of the season. Valencia scored 33 runs in his 47 games (helped by knocking himself in 11 times) with the A’s, and with Brett Lawrie’s trade to the White Sox, the door is open for Valencia to be more than just a lefty-masher in 2016. Between his two big-league stops in 2015, Valencia crossed the plate 59 times while receiving 378 plate appearances, putting him on a 78-run pace per 500 plate appearances. That total would have placed him just behind Jason Heyward in a tie for 53rd overall.