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Playoffs and RBIs

We’ll label it a spirited conversation — spirited — the one I had with Dustan Mohr by the cage during batting practice today. He mentioned to me that I had previously said (possibly in this blog; I don’t really remember) that I thought runs batted in were an overrated statistic when it comes to measuring a player’s true individual value.

I get, and possibly even support the argument that the object of playing and winning a baseball game is to score runs, and that driving them in is also a necessity. As Allen Iverson would say, I know that — I honestly do. And I ain’t shoving it aside like it don’t mean nothin’. Sorry, I heard that clip on Jim Rome today and am pretty stuck on it even when I don’t hear it. But we’re talking about a player’s individual value. How good am I, on my own merits? In my opinion, RBIs don’t tell that story.

It’s because they’re reliant, for the most part, on other players. If it’s not a solo home run, you can’t drive in a run without somebody getting on base ahead of you. You can’t score runs without getting on base. I’m acknowledging that RBIs are important, but they’re only a situational stat. If I drive you in with a double, I still get the double. My on-base percentage goes up, my slugging percentage goes up. Even if I didn’t drive in a run with that double, the probability that my team scores goes up because of my double.

I don’t know, necessarily, how to put this argument into words. I just know what I think. The statistic I look at most is OPS+, which measures a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage against other players, with the score of 100 equaling league average, 101 being one percent above league average and so on. If you get on base enough and have a reasonably high slugging percentage, you’re going to drive in a lot of runs.

And if you don’t, it’s because the guys ahead of you in the lineup aren’t doing their jobs. If you come up every at-bat with the bases empty and hit .350 with a .400 OBP and .500 slugging percentage, you’re not going to get a lot of RBIs. But that doesn’t decrease your overall value. If you hit .250 and don’t get on base but get a lot of RBI opportunities and drive in 90, does that make you a good, valuable player?

So I’ll agree to disagree with Mohr because I respect his opinion as an ex-major league player. I know how major leaguers feel about RBIs and the “counting” statistics. I’ve been in major league clubhouses. I don’t knock those players for thinking that, I just fall into a different camp. I’m a stat geek, I never played the game, I live in my mom’s basement, etc. But part of what I love about baseball is the arguments it produces. Mohr took offense to my opinion, but I could have argued with him for days because I love talking about baseball, harmoniously or not.

Onto more important matters — the playoffs. Game 3 of the North Division series with Lincoln, to be exact. I called a Wichita sweep in my last post and was wrong. Now I’m calling a five-game series but not predicting a winner. I can’t even predict who wins tonight’s game because I don’t have a feel for Lincoln starter Tim Brown, who has good numbers but not much experience. He’s still a rookie, and I don’t care what level this is, it’s still a postseason game and he hasn’t pitched in one professionally before. He could be dominant, he could be average, he could be bad. Who knows? Another thing I love about baseball.

On the other hand, Wichita starter Derek Blacksher has pitched in the postseason — last year with Gateway of the Frontier League. But he’s young, too (as are most pitchers in this league, so I won’t hold that against Blacksher or Brown). I’m calling a low-scoring game. Which we know means it’ll be a slugfest, because my predictions are brutal, usually. We’ll see.