The Tale of Tommy Davis

A Google search for “Jason Bay + Run Producer” brings back 91,100 hits. Bay’s name and “RBI Guy” brings back 159,000 hits. “Jason Bay + good hitter” only brings back 160,000. The funny thing is that Bay has topped 105 RBI throughout his career only twice despite being a constant force in the middle of the Pirates’ and Red Sox’ lineups. He’s really not much of a “RBI Guy”. Which brings up another point — a warning, though: stop here if you don’t feel like reading another piece that discusses how RBI totals can fluctuate heavily (and sometimes amusingly) on a year-to-year basis.

For those who chose to read on, consider Tommy Davis. He has more than a few things in common with Bay. Both are left fielders, stand around 6’2”, and weigh around 200 pounds. Davis even played with the Mets at one point. In 1962, as a 23-year-old, Davis played his best season of ball. He hit 27 homers, held a line of .346/.374/.535, stole 18 bases, and had 153 RBI. Focus on that last statistic. 153 runs batted in. Since 1961, that ranks as the sixth most RBI in a single season and, until 1998, was the most. Since then, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez, and Alex Rodriguez have managed to pass Davis, including two seasons with more than 160.

There are about a dozen different fun tidbits to pull from Davis’ ensuring career. Here are the ones I enjoyed the most:

Davis had 153 RBI in 665 at-bats. Over the next two years, he racked up 1,148 at-bats and 174 RBI.

Davis never had reached the 100 RBI plateau, and never would do so again. In fact, he never reached 90 again.

In 1962, he spent the majority of his time batting fourth. This remains true through the 1968 season. In 1969, he spent most of his time hitting third rather than cleanup.

His teams kept him there in large part because of that huge RBI season. To be fair, he also had a .910 OPS that season, but his OPS in the immediate seasons afterwards: .816, .708, and .729 (after skipping an extremely short 1965 season for Davis).

Bay is a better hitter than Davis ever was, but if for no other reason than Bay’s health, hope a similar fate isn’t awaiting him.

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24 Responses to “The Tale of Tommy Davis”

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  1. John says:

    RBI mean nothing… slugging % is the best way to gauge the ability to ” drive in runs”

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  2. Marc says:

    Did I miss something? You could say the same exact thing about almost every player that plays professional baseball. X Player’s RBI totals can fluctuate from year to year. Why are you harping on Jason Bay?

    “Bay is a better hitter than Davis ever was, but if for no other reason than Bay’s health, hope a similar fate isn’t awaiting him.”

    Even though Bay is a good hitter, if he’s injured, he may not be able to drive in runs. Why does this need to be pointed out? I expect better analysis here.

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    • Justin says:

      I understand expecting better analysis here at Fangraphs, but why would you expect better from Anderson? This seems par for the course for him.

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    • Tim In Missouri says:

      Good point, Marc: “You could say the same exact thing about almost every player that plays professional baseball.” Just look at the model of power and consistency: Albert Pujols. His RBI totals have really fluctuated since ’04 because he doesn’t have high OnBase% guys in front of him.

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  3. Brent says:

    There are three special circumstances for Tommy Davis that have little relevance for Jason Bay. First, while his 1962 season was very good (OPS+ of 149), the RBIs also reflect the performance of the guys batting in front of him–Wills (130 R, 104 SB), Gilliam (.370 OBP), and Willie Davis (103 R, 32 SB). Second, T Davis’s apparent decline in 1963 (from .910 OPS to .816) was mostly the effects of the new strike zone; his OPS+ only dropped from 149 to 141. He then did have a genuinely disappointing season in 1964, but the third, and most important factor in his story was his ankle injury in early 1965, which cost him his speed and much of his value. Career-changing injuries can happen to anyone, but I don’t see any special relevance for Bay.

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    • R M says:

      Really? Citing the number of runs Willis and W Davis scored as a reason for Tommy Davis’ high RBI total? That’s just wrong. I do agree with you though, the connection between the two players is somewhat weak, if not non-existent.

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  4. sabes says:

    I agree with the other commenters. What kind of analysis is this? This article made it onto Fangraphs? Random Player A had an extremely high RBI season almost 50 years ago, so we better hope that the same thing doesn’t happen to Bay? Jeez.

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  5. Nick0rz says:

    I don’t get it? There’s no analysis here. You just brought up an old story and said hoped that the same thing doesn’t happen to Bay.

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  6. Mastication Is Natural says:

    This just in: RBIs aren’t a skill-based statistic, more at 11

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  7. kickbukt says:

    Opening an article by citing the number of results in a Google search is weak and tired.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    Wow, harsh words for RJ.

    I thought it was basically common knowledge that RBIs is often more of an indication of the guys hitting in front of you. To illustrate the point, I usually bring up Tommy Herr’s (hey, another Tommy) 85 season where he drove in 110 runs, with only 8 bombs and a .795 OPS.

    That year he was 4th in PA (696), 3rd in doubles (38), 9th in triples (9), and 3rd in RBI (110). He tallied 56 Xbase hits, and had 125singles. Led the league in SF (13), and had 10 SH.

    So, basically when you hit after Coleman (107 Runs, 110 SB) and Smith McGee (.353, 113 R, 53 SB, 26 2b, 18 3b) you get to bat a lot with guys in scoring position, or soon will be after the 1st pitch. IIRC, Herr mastered the “ground ball to 2B with a runner on 3rd” perhaps even to the tune of getting 15-20 RBI from that alone. Throw in the 13 SF, and that’s where a career RBI number jumps way up (normally, an 80 RBI guy with good contact and defense).

    Bay is likely to have Reyes, Wright, and Beltran hit in front of him, and if everyone is healthy, that’s likely going to be a lot of runners on base. Reyes is the worst OBP of the bunch at .350. Bay is going to get A LOT of RBI opps, with the combined OBP, extra base hits, and speed of the guys hitting in front of him. He likely won’t need 35 HRs to do it either.

    Delgado nailed 100+ RBI 3 times hitting in the same slot Bay is lkely to bat. Bay is similar in terms of overall counting stats to the aged Delgado, so I don;t see any reason (other than poor health) for Bay not to drive in at least 100 runs. Injuries have the possibility to decimate any team, but if Reyes’s hamstring is a problem, Beltran;s knees, and David Wright being shy after beaned in the head, continue to be problems, it won’t be Bay’s fault, right?

    Not surprisingly, Clark was injured for much of 86, and the Cards top of the order suffered. Coleman hit 30 pts less in BA, McGee hit 100 pts less, and Herr hit 50 points less and drove in 50 (!) FEWER runs the following year. Clark played about 1/3 of the season (65 games). McGee also missed 40 games.

    Some things are just out of an individual player’s control and what goes on with the team DOES affect (sometimes drastically) an individual player’s counting numbers.

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  9. Craig says:

    It’s annoying that Cameron and RJ are bashing Bay left and right. Geez.

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    • It’s so annoying that he’s basically a DH.

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      • wrencis says:

        To be fair, he’s more than a DH. DH’s just pinch hit 4 times a game. Bay exerts the energy and incurs the wear (which is cumulative) of a position player.

        He does it poorly, but he does go out there and do it.

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      • I said “basically,” in my defense.

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      • wobatus says:

        That’s bs. UZR says he hasn’t been a good fielder for a while, but i) he played the field, and ii) Dewan’s system suggest he didn’t do it as badly as UZR suggests.

        As for this article, you could as easily say, “despite being on the hapless Pirates much of that time, Bay drove in over 100 runs 4 of the last 5 seasons.” RBI isn’t a skill separated from slugging, fair enough, but it seems like a criticism of Bay to suggest that despite being a middle of the order hitter he only passed 105 ribbies twice. So instead of making the point rbi doesn’t tell you much, it comes off as “Bay isn’t really that good at driving in runs?”

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  10. TheImpossibleMan says:

    I haven’t done a lick of research (though a google search for “Tommy Davis + stats” brings up 1,360,000 hits) but I’d be willing to bet Davis’ precipitous drop in OPS has a lot to do with entering the greatest pitching era the game has ever seen.

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  11. Dan says:

    Not for nothing, but I argued about a day or two ago that Bay may end up the best hitting (yes, “hitting”, not “RBI-driving-in” nor “run producing”) LF in Mets history.

    So the straw man isn’t even well placed, at least not in my book.

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  12. Pounder says:

    Tommy Davis was a hell of a ballplayer,he just had an incredible year in ’62.Then he was injured,knee I believe.Made a big error in the ’65 Series. Fun fact: he was in the Yankees spring training camp,sometime in the early ’70’s, but did not make the cut.

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    • Rough Carrigan says:

      I think you’re thinking of the two fly balls that Willie Davis, not Tommie dropped in game 2 of the 1966 world series.

      Tommy Davis seems like a terrible hacker when you look at his career stats. His walk totals are very low. I wonder if the league just realized they didn’t have to throw him any strikes.

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  13. Matt Weiner says:

    I think RJ warned us up front about what kind of post this was. Still, Google searches should usually be done with quotes around the phrases — “Jason Bay RBI guy” just gets you every page with Jason Bay, RBI, and the word “guy” on it. For comparison, “Mariano Rivera RBI guy” gets you 386,000 his. You want “‘Jason Bay” + ‘RBI guy.'”

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  14. bagofries says:

    Focus on that last statistic. 153 runs batted in. Since 1961, that ranks as the sixth most RBI in a single season and, until 1998, was the most.

    I thought Hack Wilson set, and still holds, the single-season record in 1930, with 191 RBI.

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  15. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Googling “Jason Bay” and “sex” gets one 149,000 hits. That’s 59K more hits than “run producer.” Jason you sly dog!

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