Jackie Bradley, OF, Boston Red Sox
Actual: 94 R, 87 RBI
Bradley shattered his previous career highs of 45 runs and 43 RBI, in part because he played a full season for the first time, in part because his hot streak lasted four months instead of four weeks, and in part because the context couldn’t get any better. Boston led the league in scoring and the difference between the Sox and the Cardinals, who finished fourth, was roughly the same as the difference between the Cardinals and the Yankees, who finished 22nd. The top-to-bottom strength of the lineup is evidenced by the fact that, among nine-hole occupants, Bradley scored the fifth most runs and drove in the second most, despite only 147 plate appearances there. He spent the rest of his time throughout the bottom two-thirds of the lineup. Assuming you believe more in the first half Bradley than the second half version, you can count on him for balance and accumulation no matter where he hits in 2017.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
PECOTA: 77 R, 59 RBI
Actual: 117 R, 83 RBI
In his age-33 season, Kinsler didn’t just postpone his decline phase, he reminded us what mid-20s peak Kinsler looked like. Because of the current depth up the middle, Kinsler’s 117/28/83/14/.288 roto-slash line was somehow only good for eighth best among second-sackers, but his 200 R+RBI trailed only Altuve and Cano at the position. Kinsler’s 117 runs were the fifth most in baseball and his 82 RBI tied Charlie Blackmon for the most out of the leadoff spot. That last bit is important, as nobody has crossed 80 as a full-time leadoff hitter since Mike Trout in 2012. Detroit is stuck between rebuilding and true contention and Kinsler’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors, so his contextual situation may change this winter. There aren’t many landing spots that can offer the same kind of run scoring potential as the top half of the Tigers’ lineup. If he stays in the leadoff spot – in Detroit or elsewhere – the only way you can expect the RBI total to stay within shouting distance of his 2016 number is if you believe that league-wide run production approximates last season’s level and that Kinsler can continue to stall Father Time.
Wil Myers, 1B/OF, San Diego Padres
PECOTA: 78 R, 65 RBI
Actual: 99 R, 94 RBI
This one feels like cheating to a degree since Myers bettered expectations mostly by staying healthy, racking up 676 plate appearances in the process. That’s 300 more than his previous career high. PECOTA had Myers pegged for 589 though, and Myers obliterated the 143 R+RBI it projected for him. Perhaps some of the bearishness was due to PECOTA’s justifiable assessment of San Diego as a poor offense. The Padres finished 21st in the league in runs scored, which certainly isn’t good, but it’s better than what it would have been if not for the unexpected emergence of players like Ryan Schimpf, Alex Dickerson, and Adam Rosales, the resuscitation of Bossman Junior Uption, and the continued improvement of Yangervis Solarte. Myers is a good reminder that the lineups you perceive as bad in March don’t always play out the way you think they will. The prudent move for players on cellar dwelling teams is to bet on individual talent and let the contextual chips fall where they may.
Jason Heyward, OF, Chicago Cubs
PECOTA: 86 R, 68 RBI
Actual: 61 R, 49 RBI
Mike Gianella already discussed Heyward’s brutal 2016 campaign while tagging him as a batting average under-achiever, but he’s worth a mention here too, because posting 110 R+RBI was especially difficult given the circumstances. Heyward accrued more than 300 plate appearances batting second and nearly another couple hundred batting sixth for a club that scored the third most runs in baseball. Turns out you have to get on base to score runs and drive the ball to capitalize on the run-scoring ability of your teammates, and Heyward was among the worst in baseball at both. His .325 slugging percentage was the lowest among qualified outfielders (by 37 points!) and his .306 on-base percentage was seventh worst. That suggests that Heyward has a ways to go to get back to standard depth relevance, though it’s especially hard to believe he’ll hit .229/.313/.317 with runners on again. His defense and paycheck will keep Heyward in the lineup and his down-the-order placement should provide ample RBI opportunities on a loaded Cubs squad.
Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
PECOTA: 77 R, 69 RBI
Actual: 71 R, 46 RBI
Figure this one out: second round stud on a top-half offense spends the vast majority of his time in the cleanup and fifth spots in the batting order, sets new career highs in batting average and slugging percentage and drives in…46? Among the 22 players with 400 or more plate appearances from the four and five spots on the card, Marte’s 39 RBI were easily the least, despite the fact that his .875 OPS was fourth best in that group. He hit .294/.373/.444 with runners in scoring position, so we can’t even drum up a narrative about wilting in leveraged situations to account for an RBI total that’s one shy of his stolen base total. In today’s game, I’m not complaining about anyone that steals me 47 bags, though I sure would like to see more of the five-category balance Marte offered in 2015. That season’s power output might not be coming back, but I’ll come in around PECOTA’s nice 2016 RBI projection when I’m sharpening my pencil for 2017 drafts.
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