July 3, 2018

JD Martinez Leads MLB In RBI, But He's Not The Red Sox's Best At Driving In Runs

In the fifth inning on Tuesday night, NESN's Dave O'Brien said Xander Bogaerts had been doing "damage with runners in scoring position" and he cited X's 44 RBI as evidence.

Bogaerts's 44 RBI is fourth-best on the Red Sox, tied for 33rd-best in the American League, and tied for 55th-best in MLB. (Games played on July 3 are not included in online stats as I am writing this.)

Not all of those 44 RBI qualify, however. Five of Bogaerts's RBI came from runners on first base (i.e., not in so-called "scoring position") and he drove himself in 12 times on home runs, so his true amount of RBI from runners at second and/or third is 27.

Where does that rank on the Red Sox?

# of RBI From Runners At 2nd And/Or 3rd
Andrew Benintendi   35
J.D. Martinez       33
Rafael Devers       27
Xander Bogaerts     27
Mitch Moreland      21
Mookie Betts        17
Brock Holt          15
Jackie Bradley      14
Eduardo Nunez       13
Sandy Leon           9
Christian Vazquez    7
Blake Swihart        3
Rick Porcello        2
The more opportunities a batter has to drive in runs, the more runs he will likely drive in. That should be obvious and it's why RBI totals - as a counting stat - can be misleading. You might think Player A is a better "run producer" because he finished the season with 120 RBI and Player B had only 95 RBI, but what if Player B drove in 95 of 320 possible runners (29.7%) while Player A drove in 120 of 450 runners (26.7%)?

Here is a concrete example from this year:
In 298 plate appearances, Mookie Betts has batted with runners on 97 times.
In 253 plate appearances, Mitch Moreland has batted with runners on 131 times.
Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein:
Sometimes you guys [the media] get stuck evaluating players through home runs and RBIs. It's not the way most clubs do it these days. ... [Y]ou guys can talk about RBI if you want. We ignore them in the front office. ... If you want to talk about RBI at all, talk about them as a percentage of opportunity, but it simply is not a way that we use to evaluate offensive players.
Theo said that back in 2009.

The Red Sox's front office has not cared one whit about RBI totals for probably close to 15 years. But the perspective fans get from NESN (and other media) remains stuck in the dark ages. Is it crazy to want the network broadcasting the Red Sox's games to understand the team's philosophy and make an effort to enlighten fans?

"If you want to talk about RBI at all, talk about them as a percentage of opportunity ..."

Bogaerts has driven in 20.3% of runners on second base - fourth-best on the team, behind Martinez (23.4%), Benintendi (22.5%), and Betts (22.2%), and ahead of Leon (19.2%).

Bogaerts has also driven in 42.4% of runners on third base - third-best on the team, behind Benintendi (50.0%) and Holt (45.0%). After Bogaerts: Moreland (41.9%), Martinez (40.5%), Leon (40.0%), and Betts (36.8%).

And in case you are wondering which Red Sox batter is most successful in driving in runners from first base ... it's Sandy Leon (8.8%)! Beneath him on the list are Moreland (8.7%), Martinez (8.3%), Bogaerts (6.4%), Devers (6.2%), and Betts (5.9%).

So, put all of that together and we get:

Percentage Of All Runners On Base Batted In (Games 1-86)
Andrew Benintendi   18.87%
J.D. Martinez       18.83%
Xander Bogaerts     18.3 %
Sandy Leon          17.1 %
Mookie Betts        15.9 %
Mitch Moreland      15.7 %
Rafael Devers       15.28%
Brock Holt          15.25%
Jackie Bradley      10.6 %
Eduard Nunez         8.4 %
Christian Vazquez    6.8 %
Blake Swihart        5.7 %
Note #1: Martinez drove in three of four baserunners last night and passed Benintendi, who did not drive in any of his three baserunners. I am not changing my clickbait headline, though!

Note #2: Among all MLB hitters with at least 90 plate appearances, Steve Pearce has been the best at driving in runs this year: 28.6%.

Note #3: Aaron Judge: 16.2%, Didi Gregorius: 13.5%, Giancarlo Stanton: 12.0%.

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