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Lost in the hoopla, the All-Star balloting, the RBIs, and the Sports
Illustrated
spread has been one small detail regarding Bret
Boone
‘s good first half: he hasn’t been the best second baseman in his
league.

That title belongs to Roberto Alomar. Alomar, who hit two home runs
last night, has outplayed Boone by a not-insignificant margin this season:


PA AVG OBP SLG EqA EqR RAP R RBI Alomar 379 .355 .430 .555 .344 75.1 35.2 65 58 Boone 387 .326 .366 .574 .327 74.5 29.7 68 85

RAP: Runs Above Position

Boone’s slight edge in slugging is dwarfed by Alomar’s huge edge in OBP, as
well as Alomar’s nine net steals to Boone’s none. (Alomar: 17 SB/4 CS;
Boone: 2 SB/1 CS.) Boone gets some of that back in park adjustments, as Clay
Davenport rates Safeco Field as a significant pitchers’ park, which Jacobs
Field is a slight hitters’ park. It’s clear, though, that Alomar has been
the better hitter so far this year.

Of course, it’s no secret why Boone has gotten an excess of attention: that
last column. RBI continue to be used as a gauge of a player’s performance,
despite the body of information that shows how deceptive they really are.
RBIs depend as much on the performance of a player’s teammates as they do on
the player himself, and do more to cloud a discussion than to enlighten.

Alomar has spent most of the season batting behind Kenny Lofton and
Omar Vizquel, two veteran hitters having off years. Boone, on the
other hand, has been batting behind the #2 and #4 guys in the American
League in OBP, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud. Here’s what
that means to each player, the OBPs of the two slots in front of where they
typically bat:


                     H   BB   OBP
Indians #1 slot:    99   32  .308
Indians #2 slot:   102   43  .353

Mariners #3 slot: 86 65 .435 Mariners #4 slot: 100 61 .426

Thanks to these performances. Boone has batted with a runner on base in more
than half of his plate appearances, an ungodly rate. And his performance in
these situations has actually been worse than his performance with the bases
empty:


                       PA    AVG   OBP   SLG
None on               187   .328  .374  .632
Runners on            209   .324  .359  .519
Scoring position      141   .306  .340  .488

Here’s the same breakdown for Alomar:


                       PA    AVG   OBP   SLG
None on               210   .291  .386  .440
Runners on            176   .432  .483  .696
Scoring position       85   .456  .470  .632

I don’t use these breakdowns to make the case that one player or the other
is more "clutch." The notion that hitting with runners on or with
runners in scoring position is an ability has been well debunked, so don’t
read too much into these breakdowns. What I want to show, though, is that
the gap between the two players’ RBI totals–the gap between the coverage
they’re getting–is entirely a function of the gap in their teammates’
performances, not their own.

In conclusion:

  • Bret Boone is having a great year, the best in his career, and has been
    a big part of the Mariners’ success.

  • The entire case for Bret Boone having a better year than Roberto Alomar,
    though, is based on Boone’s RBI total.

  • Because that RBI total is misleading–the result of disparate
    opportunities, not disparate performances–the case for Boone falls apart.

Roberto Alomar is the best second baseman in the American League, and
probably the #3 candidate for MVP right now. Boone isn’t quite that good,
but deserves some down-ballot consideration as one of the top ten players in
the AL this year.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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