With runs and RBI, playing time is the name of the game. Certainly, the lineup around a hitter matters in these categories: players need their teammates to knock them in and players need their teammates to get on base to drive them in. These team-based factors matter less than the most basic driver of these categories: plate appearances. Players can’t score runs or drive them in from the DL or from the bench. Look for players likely to be healthy for a full season, and look for players with little competition for playing time at their position, which often means players on bad teams. The ability to play multiple positions helps, too, as it gives the player more opportunities to get in the lineup.
One of the biggest profit centers in roto in 2016, Adam Duvall has appeared on a lot of postseason retrospectives. He put up 85 runs and 103 RBI this past year, good for 11th in the NL in production across these two categories combined according to my colleague Mike Gianella’s valuations. Originally expected to split time in Cincinnati’s outfield, Duvall mashed his way into 150 games and 607 plate appearances. It was his first full season in the majors, but he turned 28 during the season, so it’s not like he’s a youngster with room to develop into something more. His .241 AVG and .297 OBP are not strong and limit his ability to score runs when he doesn’t knock himself in. His teammates, aside from the transcendent Joey Votto, are similarly challenged when it comes to getting on base, limiting his RBI opportunities. The Reds’ roster is fairly weak, though, so he shouldn’t have anyone seriously pushing him for playing time, even if his OBP sinks even lower in 2017.
Players eligible at multiple positions are easy to love. They make it a lot easier to fill gaps in your roster when injuries and role changes happen. These players also get themselves into the lineup on their MLB teams more often than single-position players of similar offensive skill by virtue of their ability to slot in at multiple spots. Jose Ramirez is one of the best of these types of players, starting multiple games at second base, third base, shortstop and outfield for Cleveland. If his teammates are all healthy, he might not play the same position every day, but he’ll be in the lineup somewhere just about every day. And his teammates won’t all stay healthy all season, given him the playing time to rack up big numbers in both runs and RBI in 2017.
The fact that Brian Dozier hit 42 home runs in 2016 was unexpected. A lot of people don’t think that home run total is repeatable, either, making him a popular pick as a regression candidate. His 104 runs and 99 RBI gave him a lot of roto value last year. The 99 RBI established a new career high, smashing his previous record of 77. The 104 runs, however, were not a career high, as he scored 112 times in 2014. His 2017 RBI totals will depend on how much of his 2016 home run power can be sustained, but his runs scored should be in the same range regardless of his HR/FB rate.
The Interesting Cases
I know that Melky Cabrera is an odd pick for the Interesting Cases section since he isn’t, well, interesting. He has been quite steady over the last few years, though, playing at least 139 games in each of the last three seasons and at least 151 games in each of the last two seasons. He’s a longshot to approach twenty home runs, but he should hit 10-15 dingers with 30+ doubles and a better-than-average contact rate, helping him drive his teammates in. If he stays on the south side of Chicago, he’ll have very little competition for playing time and will get to the plate enough times to rack up a lot of runs and RBI. If the rebuilding White Sox continue to trade their veterans, he could end up elsewhere, which might result in less playing time but would also likely place him in a stronger lineup with more run scoring and RBI opportunities.
Yes, he’s old and he’s been a replacement-level player in real life for the last several years. Still, according to Mike Gianella’s valuations, he was 6th in the NL in 2016 in production across the runs and RBI categories combined thanks to his 89 runs and 108 RBI. And while he doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to health over the duration of his career, he has played 150 games or more in each of the last three years. Maybe he’s a better bet to post respectable numbers in runs and RBI in 2017 than his reputation suggests. Or maybe I’m trying to talk myself into something crazy.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now