Matthews, Abreu and RBIs

While visiting the Los Angeles Times to read the story about Manny Ramirez failing a drug test, I came across another article in the sports section about Gary Matthews Jr. Columnist Mike DiGiovanna wrote on Matthews being a productive bat in the lineup once given a chance to play with Vladimir Guerrero on the disabled list.

DiGiovanna wrote: “Matthews has started 15 of the team’s 26 games and entered Wednesday batting .288 with 12 runs batted in. He has as many RBIs in 59 at-bats as Bobby Abreu has in 96 at-bats.”

Since Matthews is owned in only 1.5 percent of ESPN leagues, is he a good candidate to pick up? Especially with Abreu rostered in 100 percent of ESPN leagues? Since they have such unequal playing time, let’s look at their rate stats (rather than fantasy stats) to discover their fantasy prospects. Here are the respective AVG/OBP/SLG marks for Matthews and Abreu in 2009:

M – .270/.314/.349
A – .343/.405/.394

Clearly, Abreu has been the better hitter so why is he doing so poor in RBI chances compared to Matthews? It is not by home runs, since neither player has hit one out so far. Here are their numbers when they come to the plate with men on base:

M – 30 PA 12 RBIs .346/.367/.500 (0.40 RBIs per plate appearance)
A – 50 PA 12 RBIs .375/.480/.450 (0.24 RBIs per plate appearance)

And here are their lifetime marks with men on base.

M -1758 PA 386 RBIs .259/.339/.416 (0.22 RBIs per plate appearance)
A – 3704 PA 976 RBIs .324/.433/.532 (0.26 RBIs per plate appearance)

So it’s not that Abreu is doing bad, it’s that Matthews has done a great job of converting his chances in 2009. But seven of his 12 RBIs came in two games. On May 1st, he had four RBIs, thanks mostly to a bases-loaded triple. On May 5th he had three RBIs, thanks to a two-run double and an infield single.

As you might guess, Matthews has an excellent clutch score this season. He is second on the Angels with a 0.63 mark. That would be the 11th-best mark in the majors if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Abreu is sixth on the team with a 0.06 mark. Both players have clutch scores all over the map throughout their careers.

What seems curious is manager Mike Sciscioa’s decision to move Matthews to second in the lineup. A player with a below-average on-base percentage combined with an above-average slugging with men on base seems like a better fit lower in the order.

With Garrett Anderson gone, someone has to take the role on the Angels of driving in runs while hurting those who come up behind him by not getting on base. That snark aside, the RBIs by Matthews are real and they help both the Angels and your fantasy team.

However, do not rush to add him to your lineup. Matthews has had a couple of timely hits with men on base. But history has proven that Abreu is more likely to contribute in these situations and to give those behind him a chance to drive in runs, too. And while Matthews has been a plus in RBIs this season, he has been average or worse in AVG, SB and HRs. And his .270 average comes despite a .347 BABIP, 46 points above his career mark.

Judging by his past performance, Matthews is much more likely to hurt you in those three categories going forward than he is to help you in RBIs.

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