Anatomy of Brandon Phillips, RBI Machine

As Jeff Sullivan just pointed out, Shin-Soo Choo leads the majors in on base percentage, thanks to his willingness to endure pain for his team’s gain. #2 in the majors in OBP is teammate Joey Votto, Cincinnati’s star first baseman. The Reds acquired Choo to boost the top of their batting order, and in the first three weeks of the season, he has teamed with Votto to create havoc. Even with Zack Cozart and his .243 OBP in the #2 spot, the Reds lead the Majors in runs scored because of the sheer quantity of opportunities those two have created for their teammates.

And yet, because of how Major League Baseball has historically been covered and the numbers that are often used to tell the stories of the game, Brandon Phillips is the guy putting up numbers at an historic pace, as his 21 RBIs in 18 games put him on a trajectory to make a run at Hack Wilson‘s all time RBI record. And now, his own manager is propagating the myth of who is really responsible for the Reds early success.

“On-base percentage is good. But RBIs are better,” (Dusty) Baker said.

You’re reading FanGraphs, so you’re probably predisposed to dislike that quote. Just for fun, though, let’s go through the numbers.

Brandon Phillips has 21 RBIs, second in the majors to only John Buck. Phillips is having an excellent start to the season, hitting .307/.357/.533, good for a .376 wOBA. Nine of his 23 hits have gone for extra bases, and nearly all of his production has come in run producing situations. Here’s Phillips situational splits for the season:

Split BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
Bases Empty 3% 18% 0.212 0.235 0.455 0.690 0.242 0.200 0.295 82
Men on Base 12% 18% 0.381 0.440 0.595 1.035 0.214 0.424 0.432 175
Men In Scoring 16% 13% 0.458 0.516 0.667 1.183 0.208 0.476 0.482 209

Phillips has been a monster with men on base, and even better when they’re in scoring position, so it’s not incorrect to note that Phillips has been a great run producer this season. The data supports the notion that Phillips — through the tiny sample of three weeks — has been great in “clutch” situations.

But, not surprisingly, Phillips also leads the Major Leagues in inherited baserunners. According to Baseball Reference, he has been given 78 baserunners this year, so he’s averaged more than one runner on base for every plate appearance. Once you adjust for the number of opportunities given, Phillips’ pace of driving in runners stops looking so special.

B-R calculates percentage of runners scored relative to total baserunners inherited, which is different from RBI/RBI opportunity because it counts all plate appearances and gives a hitter credit for driving in a run when he might not get an RBI, such as when he hits into a double play or reaches on an error. The Major League average is 14%, so essentially an average “run producer” would drive in one of every seven runners he inherited. Brandon Phillips is currently at 23%, so he’s driving in nearly one of four runners he inherits. That’s good. Brandon Phillips has been very good at clearing the bases this year.

But, you know, 23% isn’t exactly special. John Buck has driven in 33.3% of the runners he’s inherited, the MLB leader for players with at least 50 plate appearances. Matt Holliday is second at 31.4%, and Marlon Byrd is third at 31.0%. At 23.1%, Brandon Phillips is currently tied with Nelson Cruz for 30th in run production efficiency. Among the players driving in a greater percentage of their baserunners than Phillips are proven sluggers like Chris Denorfia, Starling Marte, and Franklin Gutierrez.

Now, again, 23% is very good, well above the league average, because Phillips has been very good with men on base. But there’s no denying the simple fact that Brandon Phillips is second in the league in RBIs because Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto have been on base so often. The glorification of the RBI, at the expense of the run scored, has simply shifted credit from Choo and Votto to Phillips, when without them, he wouldn’t have had anyone to drive in to begin with.

To get back to Baker’s quote specifically, RBIs are essentially a function of on base percentage. It’s like saying cake is better than flour, butter, and sugar, or a building’s penthouse is better than it’s foundation. The latter is only made possible by the former. RBIs follow on base percentage. It is hard to act superior to something you rely on for your existence.

Kudos to Brandon Phillips for his excellent start to the season. Kudos to Brandon Phillips for hitting better in more important situations, and helping his team lead the league in runs scored. He’s been terrific. There is nothing wrong with lauding Phillips for his 2013 performance.

But let’s not pretend that Phillips is not standing on the shoulders of giants. Brandon Phillips, RBI Machine only exists because of how good Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto have been at getting on base.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Trotter76
Guest
Trotter76
3 years 3 months ago

I read Dusty’s quote to mean “Actual runs are better than potential runs.” You are correct in that without men on base, all homers are solo homers and those are the only possible RBIs. However, when Choo gets on base he’s only a potential run until someone drives him in, and runs, not baserunners, are what win ballgames.
Also, the 3 players listed as having driven in a greater percentage of inherited runners are all leadoff hitters, so I imagine their sample size would be a bit smaller than Phillips’.

Cus
Guest
Cus
3 years 3 months ago

Reading anything Dusty says in a way that suggests he has any capability of analysis or managerial expertise above and beyond the most banal of baseball cliches is a mistake.

SurprMan
Member
SurprMan
3 years 3 months ago

Criticizing Dusty Baker for every single thing he says is beyond the the most banal of baseball commentary cliches.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 3 months ago

Brillian analysis. You’ve basically said that, with the exception of solo homeruns, somebody must get on base and somebody must drive him in for a run to score.
Other than the fact that this isn’t even true (runners can score on steals, WPs, PBs, balks, catcher interference, dropped third strikes, etc.), it’s trivial.

jason_mitchell
Guest
3 years 3 months ago

Dave – there is an exact way to calculate RBI Opps, or better yet: Expected RBI:

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-opportunity-of-rbi/

I would love to share with Fangraphs, since I don’t have access to daily data, only post-season when retrosheet is available.

rjbiii
Guest
rjbiii
3 years 3 months ago

I dunno about ribbies, but cake is WAY better than flour, butter and sugar. Also costs a lot more.

hmk
Guest
hmk
3 years 3 months ago

if you bought the flour, butter, and sugar and made your own cake it would cost a lot less. and probably taste better too.

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
3 years 3 months ago

I don’t know about this one. I bake about as well as Colby Rasmus makes contact.

Rob
Guest
Rob
3 years 3 months ago

Thanks for the article because I as a Reds fan have wondered whether Brandon is just that good with RISP or whether he gathers so many RBI because of his on-base brothers. Seems like a mixture of that is the case, nevertheless I have to applaud him for being great at the cleanup spot and who knows, maybe Dusty is clever enough to let him stick there instead of Luddy.

DD
Guest
DD
3 years 3 months ago

The best example of this I’ve seen is Ryan Howard in his heyday. No one in baseball benefited as much from the guys in front of him than Howard over his peak.

jason_mitchell
Guest
3 years 3 months ago

Incorrect. If you define Howard’s heyday as 2006-2008, Alex Rodriguez actually benefited the most.

http://aeratio.thephaithful.com/

DD
Guest
DD
3 years 3 months ago

I meant 06-09, where he had by far the most RBI opportunities of anyone.

JP
Guest
JP
3 years 3 months ago

Alex Avila is not clutch 49 inherited runners 0 scored.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 3 months ago

Perfect game baby! Don’t jinx it…

Jeff Francoeur
Guest
Jeff Francoeur
3 years 3 months ago

Wow.

Aroldis Chapman
Guest
Aroldis Chapman
3 years 3 months ago

Say what you want, but give Dusty his props for knowing how to use Brandon Philips in high-leverage situations.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 3 months ago

Yes, that being whenever his turn at bat comes up.

MrKnowNothing
Guest
MrKnowNothing
3 years 3 months ago

I’d rather live in the Penthouse than the basement. Just sayin.

jb
Guest
jb
3 years 3 months ago

Cozart does have a low overall OBP: .243, as you say. However, batting second in the order, he has a .357 OBP (numbers from Baseball-Reference.com, as I can’t find batting order splits here). Small sample size, I know, but I noticed this last year, too – overall OBP of .288, but OBP of .378 batting second in the order.

Is this statistical noise, or is he seeing different pitches to hit in front of Votto and Phillips as compared to hitting in front of the catcher and pitcher spots?

Josh
Guest
Josh
3 years 3 months ago

He mostly batted 1st last year. Of his 713 career PA’s, 471 come at leadoff, and another 189 are when he bats second. That’s less than 200 PA when batting second, which is a pretty small sample. In that small sample, he has a .372 BABIP compared to .277 total BABIP for his career. His K% and BB% when batting second (17.5% and 5.3%, respectively) are substantially similar to his overall career numbers (18.1% and 4.6%). His ISO when batting second is .182, which is slightly higher than his overall career number of .160, but it takes much more than 200 PA for ISO to stabilize. So all that points to his “success” batting second to statistical noise at this point.

DavidA
Guest
DavidA
3 years 3 months ago

Not to hijack this thread, but someone should consider doing a profile of Josh Rutledge, if that hasn’t been done already. (I searched here but couldn’t find any articles.) Rutledge currently has more runs (17) than hits (14). He does have a few walks (7) but overall his OBP of .300 is nothing to write home about.
In fact it’s pretty awful. I’m not sure how many times Rutledge has been used as a pinch runner or reach first on an error, but in general those Run numbers look really incongruent. I want to know what he is doing when he gets on base that makes the hitters behind him so good at driving him in. Do they feel sorry for him? Is he stealing signs from the pitcher? What gives with Josh Rutledge, scoring machine?

MrKnowNothing
Guest
MrKnowNothing
3 years 3 months ago

grit

hmk
Guest
hmk
3 years 3 months ago

heart

Rated Rookie
Member
Rated Rookie
3 years 3 months ago

In relation to the metaphors cited as illustrations, don’t you mean “The former is only made possible by the latter.”?

Sleight of Hand Pro
Guest
Sleight of Hand Pro
3 years 3 months ago

i will preface this comment by saying i fully understand RBIs suck as a stat and aren’t predictive in any way.

now, is it possible he was just simply referring to the end results of the play on the field? would a manager rather his team have more RBIs than the other team or have a higher OBP? more RBIs (in 99.9% of the cases) means winning the ballgame. maybe dusty baker really is just this simplistic.

i know im grasping at straws here. just felt like doing something besides piling on the dusty hatred.

Josh
Guest
Josh
3 years 3 months ago

While, logically, your statement can be correct, I think we have enough data on Dusty to safely assume that wasn’t his train of thought. He has enough stupid quotes like this that we’ve moved beyond small sample size.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 3 months ago

But OBP is the main constituent of RBI.

PackBob
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PackBob
3 years 3 months ago

The quote makes for a good jump off for the post, and Dave is certainly correct about the importance of getting on base. I don’t know if Dave’s interpretation was Dusty’s intent (although without that interpretation the post would have to start with something else), but the quote can be interpreted in other ways that aren’t a stretch. A run realized is better than a potential run. This makes sense when you add the last part of the quote that Dave omitted: “If you can get all of it that’s better yet.”

The content of Dave’s point stands on its own and doesn’t need a good guy/bad guy tension.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 3 months ago

True, but laughing at Dusty Baker is a great sport.

Snarfle
Member
Member
3 years 3 months ago

Pleasure as always, Dave. Makes me wonder if Phillips has a talent for hitting the ball between first and second (though that only helps with a runner on 1st or runners on the corners, so it probably can’t explain his nutty RISP slash line).

Colin P
Guest
Colin P
3 years 3 months ago

Without looking at spray charts or anything to verify my observation, Phillips does seem to frequently slap the ball to the opposite field with runners on base. Especially with two strikes, he shortens his swing and is very willing to go the other way with an outside pitch.

He’s also a high contact guy, so he might benefit more than most from gaps in the infield created from holding runners.

Yale, Economics, baseball
Guest
Yale, Economics, baseball
3 years 3 months ago

So you are saying that the TEAM wins the game, right?

Owen
Guest
Owen
3 years 3 months ago

Teams don’t win games. Only starting pitchers who go five innings.

Dave Silverwood
Guest
3 years 3 months ago

Hey I love your stuff,but please Phillips is not a great rbi man it is Baker who made the judgement he was a logical 4 hitter with Ludwick out of action.

tbjfan
Guest
tbjfan
3 years 3 months ago

Are all runners-inherited considered to be ‘the same’? A runner inherited at 3rd base (especially with 1 out or 0 outs) should not be viewed to be the same as a runner inherited at 1st base. There’s no way the run-expectancy can be the same in both situations.

On a larger note, I think this idea can be applied to relief pitchers as well.

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