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Doubling up runs with RBI

Posted by Andy on November 25, 2009

I got curious to see what players have had a lot of RBI without scoring all that many runs. Here is a list of players since 1901 to have more than double the number of RBI as compared to runs scored, ranked by most RBI in a season.

Rk Player RBI R Year Tm G PA AB H 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Vic Wertz 103 45 1960 BOS 131 487 443 125 22 19 .282 .335 .460 .796 *3
2 Terry Kennedy 98 47 1983 SDP 149 612 549 156 27 17 .284 .342 .434 .776 *2/3
3 Bengie Molina 95 46 2008 SFG 145 569 530 155 33 16 .292 .322 .445 .767 *2/D
4 Bengie Molina 81 38 2007 SFG 134 517 497 137 19 19 .276 .298 .433 .731 *2
5 Shanty Hogan 77 36 1932 NYG 140 529 502 144 18 8 .287 .323 .378 .702 *2
6 Earl Sheely 77 30 1931 BSN 147 586 538 147 15 1 .273 .319 .314 .633 *3
7 Bill Dickey 71 35 1941 NYY 109 397 348 99 15 7 .284 .371 .417 .788 *2
8 Larry McLean 71 27 1910 CIN 127 455 423 126 14 2 .298 .340 .378 .718 *2
9 Sherm Lollar 70 33 1957 CHW 101 403 351 90 11 11 .256 .342 .393 .736 *2
10 Danny Walton 66 32 1970 MIL 117 455 397 102 20 17 .257 .349 .441 .790 *7
11 Chief Meyers 62 25 1910 NYG 127 422 365 104 18 1 .285 .362 .342 .704 *2
12 Sid Bream 61 30 1992 ATL 125 426 372 97 25 10 .261 .340 .414 .754 *3
13 Spud Davis 60 28 1935 STL 102 354 315 100 24 1 .317 .386 .416 .802 *2/3
14 Jesus Flores 59 23 2008 WSN 90 324 301 77 18 8 .256 .296 .402 .698 *2
15 Chris Truby 59 28 2000 HOU 78 279 258 67 15 11 .260 .295 .477 .772 *5
16 Dan Meyer 59 28 1982 OAK 120 409 383 92 17 8 .240 .271 .363 .634 3D/975
17 Bob Oliver 59 23 1974 TOT 119 402 379 92 11 8 .243 .271 .340 .612 *35/9D7
18 John Bateman 59 23 1963 HOU 128 434 404 85 8 10 .210 .249 .334 .583 *2
19 Spud Davis 59 24 1936 STL 112 402 363 99 26 4 .273 .342 .388 .730 *2/5
20 Darrin Fletcher 57 28 1994 MON 94 325 285 74 18 10 .260 .314 .435 .749 *2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/23/2009.

 

 
It's unsurprising that none of these guys had big HR totals. If a player hits 30-40 HR, he automatically scores 30-40 runs and, when adding in other runs scored will usually get a pretty decent total.

What I found somewhat more surprising is how many of these guys are catchers. Of the top 20 seasons, 13 of them saw the guy play significant time at catcher.

I know what you're thinking---duh Andy, catchers are usually slow and slow players don't score as many runs. While it's true that catchers are slow, I wonder why their plodding path around the bases causes fewer runs to be scored. I don't think it's just because slower runners take the extra base less often and therefore score less often. I think it has more to do with where these guys bat in the lineup. The fastest guys on the team, as long as they are decent at getting on base, usually bat leadoff. The 2-5 hitters are usually good hitters and fairly rarely are very slow. But if a manger has a good hitter who is slow, I think he tends to put that guy in the 6th or 7th hole more often. That means that he has the weakest hitters in the lineup following him, and that means he scores fewer runs.

Here's what I'm trying to say by way of example. Let's imagine two identical hitters except that hitter A is an average runner (speed-wise) and hitter B is a slow runner. If they both bat 3rd in the same lineup over the course of 150 games, my guess is that hitter A would score 10-20 more runs. So maybe he finishes with 100 RBI and 80 runs scored, while hitter B finishes with 100 RBI and 60 runs scored. I don't think this is enough of a difference to account for the performances we see on the list above. But in reality, a manager wouldn't bat hitter B in the 3-hole unless he was an incredibly good hitter, like Mike Piazza. Instead, the decent but slow hitter bats 6th or 7th, has fewer RBI chances but scores MANY fewer runs.

That's my guess--anybody have a different theory?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 at 7:01 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

8 Responses to “Doubling up runs with RBI”

  1. Just a thought, but it goes along with your theory that it depends on where guys bat in the lineup. Only Bob Oliver on this list played in the AL after 1973 when he accomplished this "feat". It probably helps a lot to have the pitcher batting behind you.

    I don't know if this matters or not, but even the most durable catchers need a fair amount of time off. I'd imagine that in addition to getting more games off than players at other positions, they probably also leave games early more often than at other positions. That may not sound like it matters much, but if these guys were generally very durable starting catchers - as it appears many of them were - perhaps they got their rest in the form of late inning substitutions. That would mean that while they spent most of their at bats with the pitcher hitting behind them (since they were the starters), their replacements would have had the benefit of having a pinch hitter filling the 9 hole in many occasions.

    It seems logical that to get this kind of combination you need relatively good "on base" guys in front of you in the lineup and relatively poor hitters behind you. Spending the vast majority of your at bats with pitchers hitting behind you is a good way to get it done.

  2. How often were these guys pulled for pinch runners? In the late innings of a close game, a catcher is often allowed to hit but is often pulled for a pinch-runner if he reaches.

  3. DavidRF already mentioned my thought, and it definitely plays some role. I checked on Bengie Molina who appears high on the list twice. In 2007, he was removed for a pinch-runner eight times and four of those guys (there's that word again) scored. In 2008, he was removed for a pinch-runner 15 times and six of them scored. While it might not seem like a lot, if he had scored even half of those runs himself, he would not have made this list either year. If nothing else, particularly in 2008, Bengie apparently got on base a lot in the late innings of close games.

  4. It's worth noting the obvious, in that most of these guys were terrible at getting on base (a third of of them couldn't even vault past the Bowa Barrier).

  5. I'm sure Bill James brought up Terry Kennedy's numbers in one of the old Abstracts. Also, you might want to look at Smoky Burgess, 1965. He doesn't make the list, since he didn't have that many RBI, but he had 24 RBI and scored only 2 runs. He also had only 89 PA in 80 games, so I'm guessing he did a lot of pinch-hitting and was lifted for a pinch-runner when he got on base.

  6. Found it! The 1984 Abstract, the section on catchers, starting on page 192, James' comment on Terry Kennedy begins, "Has there ever been a regular player before who drove in twice as many runs as he scored? I don't know of one.... Kennedy didn't score any runs because the people behind him didn't hit...." Then, after a paragraph about Doug Gwosdz, he writes, "Late note - found one. Vic Wertz in 1960 scored 45 runs and drove in 103."

    I bet you could go through the old abstracts and find hundreds of facts that James sweated over that nowadays are a couple of clicks away at PI and other sites.

  7. Nice catch with the pinch-running.

    As far as the PI goes, Gerry, I'm sure you're right. Of course, James probably found tons of other things that weren't quite what he was looking for when he did all his manual searching. The PI is like any computer--it only finds exactly what you tell it to find and is therefore far more elegant but much less artful.

    I wonder what tools James uses today. I would think he has access to his own searchable database, but one wonders to what extent he might still prefer manual searching and analysis. I'm sure the Red Sox have spent plenty on computerized systems.

  8. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    I have nothing much to add except that the Vic Wertz season is unbelievable, and I can't believe I never noticed it before (that I recall).

    Actually, Wertz often drove in a lot more runs than he scored. For his career he had 1.36 RBI per run. Only 29 other players since 1893 had a ratio of at least 1.35 (min 3000 PA). Oddly, Gabby Hartnett had 1 more RBI than Wertz, with the same number of R, to be the RBI leader among that cohort. (Has there been a post on this before? It seems familiar now.)

    BTW, am I correct that while we can search for particular ratios, we cannot sort by the ratio? Or am I missing something? I'm too lazy to throw the numbers in Excel but eyeballing it, it appears the all-time champeen is the notoriously slow Ernie Lombardi at 1.65 RBI per R for his career. He doesn't appear on the single-season list above, but he had seasons of 85/43 and 51/19 (!).

    My god, the season he scored 19 runs, he hit 10 HR. He was on base via hit/BB/HBP 99 times and scored 9 runs.