The 2013 Joe Carter-Tony Batista Award

Award season is upon us. It is a time for arguing about ERA versus FIP, pitching to the score, defensive value, and the meaning of “valuable.” Fun, right? It is also a time for me to whip out fun little toys to recognize different kinds of offensive contributions. One of these is the basis for the Joe Carter-Tony Batista Award, which annually recognizes the hitter whose RBI total most overstates his actual offensive contribution.

Spoiler alert: it was a banner year for the National League Central. Taste the excitement!

Diatribes against the RBI are not really needed any more, at least not around here, so this is not the place to look for one of them. This is just a way of looking at players whose RBI total is most out of step with their actual offensive production.
The award is based on a simple metric: runs batted in (RBI) divided by absolute linear weights runs created (wRC). More detailed explanations can be found in earlier write-ups. The higher a hitter’s RBI/wRC, the more his RBI total exaggerates his actual offensive production as measured by linear weights, the generally accepted (although differently implemented) sabermetric standard for measuring individual offense.

The award is named for Joe Carter and Tony Batista because they are the two players with the two “best” seasons according to this metric — seasons in which they hit poorly by sabermetric measures but accumulated high numbers of RBI nonetheless. Not all hitters who rate highly in this toy metric are bad hitters. As we will see, this year especially, that is not the case. Some of the 2013 hitting performances below were actually good according to linear weights. The winning performance was not. This is simply a fun (at least for me) way of highlighting the disconnect.

Here are 2013’s five Carter-Batista Award contenders (minimum of 90 RBI):

5. Allen Craig, 1.161 RBI/wRC, 135 wRC+, .315/.373/.457, 97 RBI

Want to know a good way to rack up RBI despite a serious drop in power (.142 ISO in 2013 after a .215 in 2012)? Spend 110 games batting cleanup behind Matt Carpenter (.392 on-base percentage), Carlos Beltran (.339, not great in itself, but pretty nice compared to, say, Zack Cozart), and Matt Holliday (.389). Allen Craig played in only 134 games this past season, but that is an ironman performance for him. Craig typified the 2013 Cardinals offense: unimpressive power, tons of line drives (resulting in a .368 BABIP), and insanely good hitting with runners in scoring position. Check out Craig’s splits:

Bases Empty: .262/.321/.383, 103 wRC+
Runners on Base: .378/.432/.432, 172 wRC+
Runners in Scoring Position: .454/.500/.638, 218 wRC+

There are a number of other ways one could point to Craig’s amazing situational performance (for example, contrasting his 22 batting runs above average with his 47 RE24) The Cardinals should not rely on this sort of clutch performance repeating itself on either an individual or team level, but it is remarkable nonetheless. Craig is a good hitter who provides nice value for the Cardinals despite his defensive limitations and health issues.

4. Jay Bruce, 1.171 RBI/wRC, 117 wRC+, .262/.329/.478, 109 RBI

A few years ago, Jay Bruce seemed headed for superstardom. He will only be 27 next year, so it could still happen, but in the meantime his offensive value has been limited by his contact issues. It is a testament to his walk rate and (especially) power that he has been able to a very good player (if not a star) anyway. In contrast to Craig, Bruce actually hit (slightly) worse with runners on than with the bases empty, but he had plenty of chance to rack up RBI given his impressive power and hitting most of the season fifth with on-base machine Joey Votto hitting third.

3. Mark Trumbo, 1.275 RBI/wRC, 106 wRC+, .234/.294/.453, 100 RBI

Trumbo was fourth on this list last year, so my advanced statistical analysis indicates that he should win it all in 2015. In terms of straightforward offensive value Trumbo had a relatively disappointing 2013 after his surprising 2012. It is not completely surprising, however. Trumbo’s power remained intact, as he hit more than 30 home runs for the second season in a row (and had 219 in 2011), but despite the uptick in his walk rate to around average, he still strikes out far too often, and his fly ball tendencies made his BABIP regression somewhat predictable. Like Bruce, he actually was slightly worse with runners on base. Also like Bruce, he hits enough home runs to increase his RBI total while also spending much of the season hitting in the middle of the order behind on on-base machine (Trumbo hit fourth or fifth most of the season while Mike Trout spent most of 2013 hitting second or third).

NB: Trumbo is the only player on this list who is not in the NL Central. Maybe the Reds will trade for him.

2. Pedro Alvarez, 1.334 RBI/wRC, 111 wRC+, .233/.296/.473, 100 RBI

Continuing our run of all-or-nothing sluggers, Pedro Alvarez outdoes Trumbo with a slightly lower walk rate, a higher strikeout rate, and more power. Again Trumbo (and Bruce), he did not hit better than usual with runners on (although he was not much worse than with the bases empty), and his RBI numbers are at partly a function of driving himself in with 36 home runs. He also hit behind Andrew McCutchen. Alvarez needs the power, as he does not really do anything else well at the plate.

It is not as if Alvarez is terribly young (he is actually two months older that Jay Bruce) with tons of upside. But if he can continue to play third base decently, his power should make him as asset for at least the next few years whatever irrespective of his RBI totals.

No one is going to accuse the 2013 Joe Carter-Tony Batista Award recipient of being too dependent on home runs. And here he is:

1. Brandon Phillips, 1.484 RBI/wRC, 91 wRC+, .261/.310/.396, 103 RBI

Even within the context Phillips’ career, this is curious, as his 103 RBI is his highest single-season total, while his 91 wRC+ is one of the worst of his career. Phillips’ decline and potential trade value have both come up in the off-season, so there is no need to discuss them at length here. Given Phillips’ lack of power (and pretty much everything less this season), it should come as no surprise that he hit much better with runners in on and in scoring position than with the bases empty, although he was not on Craig’s level. Hitting fourth for most of the year with Shin-Soo Choo (.423 on-base percentage) leading off and Joey Votto (.435) hitting third also might have helped a bit.

Congratulations to Phillips, Bruce, and the Reds. With that kind of RBI ability in their lineup, just imagine how many runs Cincinnati might score if they can convince Joey Votto to stop taking so many walks.

Print This Post

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

18 Responses to “The 2013 Joe Carter-Tony Batista Award”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jabronies says:

    1 word: Clutch!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. olerudshelmet says:

    Wow. 219 homers in 2011 for Trumbo is pretty impressive.

    Also, the Angels want pitching, which the Reds have, and the Reds need a center fielder. You won’t know if Trumbo is worse in center than Choo if you never try it out. It makes perfect sense.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Nit Pickety says:

    “…his power should make him as asset for at least the next few years whatever irrespective of his RBI totals.”

    Please, please fix this sentence, because it made my brain hurt to read it, and I would rather spare others the same fate. (There are at least 7 other pieces of assorted errata in this article, but I’ll leave those for other assiduous readers to discover for themselves.)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Ruki Motomiya says:

    219 HRs? Wow, I hope he at least managed to drive in some RBIs that year!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. chief00 says:

    I love this piece but it was hard to read. I’m no grammar genius, but it needs to be proofread from Trumbo’s 219 HR right to the end.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. waynetolleson says:

    Shit like this is why I sometimes hate this site. Tony Batista had three 100-RBI seasons and one other 90+ RBI season. Joe Carter had ten 100-RBI seasons, another 98-RBI season, another season where he had 76 RBI in a strike-shortened season.

    You don’t have ten 27+ HR seasons and ten 100+ RBI seasons by accident. Continually, you guys think you’re reinventing the f’n wheel. If getting 1445 RBI were so freakin’ easy and a matter of luck like you freakin’ geniuses suppose, than a lot more than 59 people would have more than 1445 RBI and a lot more people than 54 people would have more than 396 HR’s. (And Carter hit most of those in an era with small ballparks, not facing expansion pitchers, and not in lineups where everyone 1-9 was juicing.)

    We get the point that RBI’s are overrated, but they’re not meaningless. Fangraphs has some great content, but man, do I get tired of the snarky BS. Make some point other than you’re a condescending snob.

    -6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Phil says:

      I think you need to relax. Also, you can’t argue against an article saying RBIs are overrated by quoting RBI totals. Matt even stated being on this list doesn’t make you a bad hitter, but the point is anyone hitting 4th or 5th in the Reds lineup is going to get far more RBIs than other hitters of the same ability. Is that that hard to grasp?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Poppin the Elder says:

      Are you sure you have the right site?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Boris Chinchilla says:

      And for the record, Wayne is a stupid name. So take your rbi lovefest over to Joe Carters house for a steak dinner. See if Gretzky will bring the booze

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      The author said specifically that he chose those players because they have put up the two top seasons according to the stat he’s using: RBI/wRC. Their name were not chosen as a shot at those players, nor was it insinuated that a high RBI total says nothing about the player who earned them.

      What this post and it’s underlying premise say, at it’s most reduced, is that there are many ways to produce runs, and RBIs help to measure only one of them, and that RBIs also depend on the competence of a player’s teammates.

      Your point is vacuous and circular. Carter had a lot of RBIs. He also had poor contact skills, poor plate discipline, and poor defense. His one excellent quality as a hitter, power, is the one that is best for accumulating RBIs. So Joe Carter got RBIs. What’s your point?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. DNA+ says:

    The great irony is that RBIs are actual production, while linear weights are hypothetical production. When you drive in a run, your team actually benefits. Until fractions of runs are awarded for walks, etc., linear weights will remain the hypothetical offensive contribution a player would have batting in the average offense and in the average lineup slot.

    …so, the whole concept of this post is wrong. It may very well be the case that these players ACTUALLY contributed more to their team’s success than their abilities (or their batting outcomes) suggest they should have. It might be the case that you should be applauding these players rather than mocking them for doing well in a statistic that this sight has a knee jerk reaction against.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bip says:

      By only looking at RBIs you completely ignoring the value of on base percentage. By contrasting runs created with RBIs, what we get is not players who “didn’t produce”, but players whose production is limited only to the RBI. There are many ways to produce runs, and getting on base to get driven in by someone else is a big part of it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DNA+ says:

        …yes, of course. No one thinks just looking at RBI is a good idea.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Guest says:

          Go ask anyone in MLB (players and managers) and they will tell you that these guys on this list are more valuable to their team than wRC+ and wOBA indicate because of their high rbi totals respective to their triple slash. This means their offensive production came at times that benefited the team more often than the average player in the production of runs. That is called clutch. It is good because the score of the game is calculated in runs. Scoring more runs than the other team leads to wins and playoff appearances. That is what players and managers want. It is unfair to look at season to season data and say that clutch doesn’t correlate either when you guys chalk up the defensive stats fluctuating to small sample size. Don’t just say these guys don’t have skills and can’t repeat the performance. Congratulations to Phillips, Alvarez, Trumbo, Bruce, Craig for knocking in the runs.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>