The 2011 Carter-Batista Award

I would like to begin with an apology to Bud Selig and Major League Baseball. I realize that Commissioner Selig does not want any big announcements this week that would take away from the glory of the World Series, but I just can’t help myself. I have too much brewing in the Junk Stat Laboratory, and if I don’t export some of this stuff, a major explosion could be in the works — bits of laptop, brain matter, and SQL code everywhere. So today we begin with what some (read: almost no one) would say is the most “prestigious” of my made-up, junk-stat-based, year-end awards. It recognizes the hitter whose RBI total most exaggerates his actual offensive contribution: the Joe CarterTony Batista award.

Most FanGraphs readers understand that RBI are a bad measure of offensive value. This “award,” named after two players notable for racking up RBI despite poor hitting, is just a fun way of sort of getting the point across with numbers, especially when you compare it with the list of players who actually had the highest wRC+ this season. The general idea (explained in more detail in 2009’s award, cf. 2010) was inspired by a piece written a while back by Jonah Keri.

In the past I have used or considered using situational linear weights (e.g., RE24) or team-level linear weights derived by way of Base Runs. However, I have found that the added complexity tends to obfuscate rather than illuminate. Instead, I simply divide each player’s number of RBI by the number of “absolute” linear weights runs created (wRC). The higher the number of RBI per wRC, the more the player’s RBI total “overrates” their actual offensive performance. I somewhat arbitrarily use a 90 RBI minimum baseline as a qualification for eligibility.

The hitters who made the top of the list seem to be of general better quality (at least in terms of true talent) than those in past seasons. Perhaps this year it was a case of a group of generally good hitters having relatively down seasons while remaining in the middle of their lineups, where RBI opportunities are more plentiful.

Before counting down the top five, we should give honorable mentions to Mark Teixeira (should be fun to watch that contract play out), Carlos Lee (seems like he should make the final cut more often), and Josh Hamilton (thank goodness for Ian Kinsler, huh?).

And now your top five, in reverse order of RBI per Run Created (wRC):

5. Victor Martinez, 1.13 RBI/wRC, 130 wRC+, .330/.380/.470
On the surface, Martinez had a nice year even in terms of wRC+, but the decline in power is a bit ominous for a guy who is a part-time catcher, most-time DH at this point. He is a bit unusual, as that most of his RBI opportunities probably came not from leadoff-type hitters (Detroit’s usual #1 and #2 spots had “unexceptional” on-base skills, to put it kindly), but from Miguel Cabrera, who had his typical monster season.

4. Evan Longoria, 1.14 RBI/wRC, 134 wRC+, .244/.355/.495
As far as I can tell, there are two types of Evan Longoria seasons: a) he is awesome, b) he misses about a month with injury, is still awesome. You probably are getting sick of reading praise for Longoria, so I will try to restrain myself. By straight wOBA, this was Longoria’s worst offensive season so far — a .239 BABIP will do that. However, if you adjust for run environment using wRC+, this was actually better than his rookie season in 2008 and just as good as 2009. You want to know what is scary? Longoria posted career-best walk and strikeout rates in 2011. He just turned 26. For a bit of perspective on the changing quality of hitters on the list, last season’s #4 was Adam LaRoche. Longoria probably owes on-base machine Ben Zobrist a shout-out here. You know, because Longoria is totally reading this post.

3. Adrian Beltre, 1.23 RBI/wRC, 134 wRC+, .296/.331/.561
I guess I need to take back what I said earlier about the changing quality of hitters on this list, since last year’s #3 was Delmon Young, who, despite having only one non-awful season in his career (2010), is apparently really good now because he hit a bunch of bombs in the playoffs. Like Delmon Young, Beltre is not known for his patience. Unlike Delmon Young, well, everything else. Hitting in the middle of the loaded Texas lineup is what put him on this list, but in all of the actually valuable aspects of the game, Beltre basically put the nail in the coffin of the “he only plays well in contract years” nonsense. Well, I guess we should give some credit to Michael Young for the way he stepped aside without a peep. Beltre and Mike Napoli have been, as I heard during a recent broadcast, great complements to Classy Mike this season.

2. Josh Willingham, 1.25 RBI/wRC, 123 wRC+, .246/.332/.477
Willingham was part of Oakland’s most recent failed attempt to compete, and had the dubious distinction of being their best hitter. He played a decent number of games, and it was not as if he had a lot of great on-base guys in the order in front of him. Willingham will be a somewhat attractive option for a number of teams as a corner outfielder or maybe even a first baseman or DH. He seems to be on the downswing, though — the switch to the more difficult league and a pitcher’s park is not the only reason he had the worst walk and strikeout rates of his career since becoming a full-time major-leaguer in 2006. But hey, RBIs!

1. Ryan Howard, 1.26 RBI/wRC, 123 wRC+, .253/.346/.488
Incredibly, Howard has not won this award, or even placed in the top five, since I started writing for FanGraphs in 2009. He made honorable mention last year. It was a rough year for Howard at the beginning of his new contract — oh, wait, that starts in 2012. The season did not end so well, either. Howard still managed the RBIs, though, thanks in large part to Shane Victorino‘s monster season and Chase Utley‘s ability to get on base at a good rate even in the midst of his decline.

Congratulations, Mr. Howard! You were definitely due.

NB: For those who think that perhaps this award should be seen as one of true merit, here are the “worst” three of the qualified (at least 90 RBI) hitters by RBI/wRC: Dustin Pedroia, Jose Bautista, and Miguel Cabrera.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

27 Responses to “The 2011 Carter-Batista Award”

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  1. mister_rob says:

    One of the all-time seasons for this would have to be Hubie Brooks circa 1985 who managed to drive in 100 despite have a pretty craptacular year (269/310/413).
    I guess its nice to have a tim raines (405 obp, 70SB, 50+ xbh) at the top of your order

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    • SC2GG says:

      Hubie’s OPS was over .700. That’s a monster compared to No Ordinary Joe in 1990:
      .232 / .290 / .391, with 115 RBI

      But hey, those RBI did net him 17th place in the MVP voting!

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  2. Brad Johnson says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    This should really help solve the “How Good is Ryan Howard” debate…


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  3. wes says:

    So, how many rbi would Ryan Howard have if he was “good?”

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    • Havoc says:

      I believe you are missing the point. Actually you’re not even close.

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      • hotspur says:

        No, this misunderstanding digs at the heart of the matter.

        Once you mention “number of “absolute” linear weights runs created (wRC)”, the general public and slothful sportsyakkers check out completely.

        We need a stat that is simply RBI/xRBI or “RBI efficiency.”

        Given Teixeira’s plate appearances, how many RBIs would a baseline player generate? If his number is above 1, then he’s “teh clutch.” If it’s below 1, then he can’t handle the pressure of the NYC media.

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      • wes says:

        No, I don’t think I am missing the point. We have several different ways we can measure performance. All of which are flawed. Now the problems with rbi as a measure of performance are reasonably well known. However WAR, runs created, etc are also flawed measures. For example, this essay uses wRC+–to how many significant digits is it valid? Is it an unbiased measure or does it contain systematic error? How reliable is it as a measure?

        In the context of Ryan Howard authors at Fangraphs like to point out the gap between his performance as measured on traditional performance metrics and how he performs on “advanced” metrics. Ok, the metrics look quite different; but what does that mean given that we have two sets of flawed measures? How do each set of metrics’ strengths and weaknesses compliment each other? I read these articles using Howard as the writer’s pinata and I have to ask this honest question, given the context in which Howard bats, if he was actually good given the author’s prefered metric what would his counting stats look like? And I ask because I suspect that those predicted counting stats would be far beyond what we see in a typical NL season.

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      • No, his counting stats wouldn’t be that outrageous. If he was “good” (and he is a good hitter, no one is arguing that) he would walk more, and make less outs in general. His RBIs might even go down. But the team would score more runs, which is kinda the point.

        The “both are flawed so we should look at both” argument doesn’t really hold any water. RBIs only looks at a portion of the good things a batter can do, and ignores all the bad things. Common sense should tell you that that shouldn’t be used to evaluate players.

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  4. Oscar says:

    Are you sure this wasn’t inspired by The Hardball Times’ Joe Carter award in their regular THT Awards column, that mockingly recognizes…wait for it…the hitter whose RBI total most exaggerates his actual offensive contribution?

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      My award was originally inspired by Jonah Keri’s piece in Baseball Beteween the Numbers. You are right that THT, had done a similar thing in the past, although I wasn’t thinking of it at the time I started doing this. I also don’t remember them quantifying it.

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      • Brad Johnson says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        John Barten formats the awards on a week by week basis. Here’s how he defines the Joe Carter Award:

        “The Joe Carter Award recognizes the hitter with the largest disparity between his RBI total and his overall value. This isn’t to say that Joe Carter was a terrible player, but he did drive in 102 runs for the Blue Jays in 1997 with a .234/.284/.399 line, 115 in 1990 while hitting .232/.290/.391, and a few other seasons that really stand out for their high RBI totals despite pedestrian overall production.”

        And here’s his season finale picks for the JCA:

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  5. vivalajeter says:

    FYI, you may want to correct Longoria’s stat line. He slugged .495, not .395.

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  6. byosti says:

    If the threshold were 80+ RBI Raul Ibanez laps the field I believe. 1.4 RBI/wRC

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  7. dave in gb says:

    Ok, so if there was an “award” to the hitters who were most productive with the LEAST amont of RBI’s, 1) who would you name this award after, and 2) who would be the winners/runner ups?

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    • Ian R. says:

      Well, according to the last line of the post, the three players whose RBI totals most understated their performance were Dustin Pedroia, Jose Bautista and Miguel Cabrera. Makes sense to me – a top-of-the-order hitter who gets few RBI chances, and two guys who had teammates who couldn’t get on base for them.

      I’d be inclined to call it the Tim Raines award, for someone who is criminally underrated in large part because of his lack of “power numbers.”

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  8. Jacob says:

    On a side note Josh Hamilton lead the Rangers in WPA. Could RBI mean something. Or… Coincidence. Likely

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    • Brad Johnson says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Driving in runs – especially timely runs – is going to positively affect WPA, that’s the nature of the statistic.

      In a sense, WPA shares some of the same problems as RBI. Hamilton gets a lot of positive credit from Ian Kinsler being on base all the time.

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    • Minstrel says:

      WPA is a descriptive measure. It tells you what happened, which helps you describe a player-season but doesn’t necessarily tell you the “true talent” of the player or help you figure out what the player is likely to do in the future.

      So, you’d expect some amount of positive correlation between a “clutch” measure and RBI, since they share a similar root: being the guy to actually knock the runs in.

      Predictive measures, though, try to quantify run production, which is somewhat independent of “actually knocking runs in.” Run production is all about generating positive offensive outcomes. You only get RBI when teammates happen to be on base when you generate those positive offensive outcomes.

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  9. Greg says:

    I can’t even believe how wrong you are!!! It won’t be fun to see how the Teixeira contract plays out at all.

    The real question is, which contract will look like the biggest albatross next season, Teixeira, A-Rod, or Burnett…

    I’m gonna go be depressed for the rest of the offseason now. Thanks.

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  10. Theo says:

    Driving in a run is generally going to help your team’s chance of winning, and WPA has the same basic fault as RBI’s do in that it’s almost entirely context dependent, so it’s probably not a coincidence but simply two different ways of saying a similar thing.

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  11. JG says:

    Didn’t Zobrist usually bat behind Longoria? I know Maddon shuffles his lineups all the time, but I doubt Longoria drove Zobrist in very often.

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  12. tigers fan says:

    Does anybody know why people think that Delmon Young is a good player? He’s not even a good hitter and wasn’t a good hitter during his tigers tenure. The defense, well, everybody knows about that.

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    • haha says:

      Klaasen said it: because he hit home runs in the playoffs. Everyone forgets the more meaningful sample (thousands of PAs of suckitude) when you perform “when it counts.”

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  13. cpdodger says:

    I realize that this isn’t a serious statistic but isn’t WRC+ the wrong measure of hitting talent? WRC+ is adjusted for environment but we would expect hitters in better hitting environments to have higher run totals. Hitters in hitters parks would have too high rbi/wrc

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  14. Horace says:

    I understand the cuteness of this award and recognize that RBIs are not the be all end all. But we can’t pretend like Victor Martinez did not have a fantastic season. We can’t pretend he did not get those RBIs. There is no way he does it again next year, but he *did* hit .400 or whatever it was with RISP this season. The Tigers would have scored significantly fewer runs this year if not for his AVG with men on base. Those are facts. Things that actually happened. RBIs should absolutely play a role in WAR, because they do matter.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    Luck on BIP in terms of BA counts in WAR because those hits actually happened and are not associated with skill but things like WPA, BA with RISP (RBI) don’t because they are not associated with skill, even though they actually happened?

    Same thing with UZR and WAR.

    I can’t figure out if WAR is measring what actually happened on the field (BABIP, UZR) or player talent. If it’s results then we’d include pitcher’s BABIP and LOB% and Runs Allowed. If it’s measuring skill, then we’d regress some key components.

    RBI’s happenening because of a non-repeatable skill does not mean they did not happen during that season, ala BABIP.

    I think in some areas WAR is trapped between trying to measure the value of what actually happened (WPA, etc) and what the player’s skill is.

    I thought WAR was supposed to measure what actually happened like what we see with BABIP and UZR no matter how much higher they are above career norms.

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  16. The Nicker says:

    I don’t know why 90 rbis is the cutoff. It should include all qualified hatreds, like raul

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