Evan Longoria Is The Run Producer | The Process Report

Evan Longoria Is The Run Producer

During one of the games this weekend, I didn’t note which, the Rays broadcast ran a poll question, asking which player would finish the season as the team’s leader in runs batted in. It’s a silly question, prompted because the Rays had five players within five ribbies entering Sunday’s game: B.J. Upton (42), Ben Zobrist (40), Matthew Joyce (40), Evan Longoria (37), and Johnny Damon (37).

Looking at a player’s RBI total should hold no weight—positive or negative—on a player’s value, however the counting version of the stat makes the total even less useful. Upton, at 285 at-bats, had five more RBI than Longoria, at 196 at-bats. If Longoria were able to simply make up that at-bat difference, it feels safe to wager that he would net more than five RBI, even if the lineup around him consisted of Jason Tyners and Chris Gomezes, as Longoria would knock himself in on a few home runs.

Opportunity is the crucial part ignored by counting stats. You can say a batter has 100 hits and it looks impressive, until you find out that those 100 hits came over 500 at-bats. The same with stolen bases—50 stolen bases in 100 attempts is horrific, but 50 alone looks fantastic—and just about any number out there. Context is vital and RBI misses the context boat by a wide margin.

Baseball Prospectus happens to track RBI opportunities, which allows for some in-team and league-wide comparisons. In the counting world, Upton is the man tagged as the Rays main run producer—the guy who clears the bases and puts tallies on the scoreboard. In the real world, where opportunities are considered, Upton is not the guy, nor is he the guy after the guy, or the guy after the guy after the guy, or even the guy after the guy after the guy after the guy. Instead, he is the sixth-best on the Rays in driving in baserunners other than himself.

Here is the chart, in descending order of OBI%–which tells you the percentage of baserunners that the player drove in of total opportunities. This stat does not include runs where the player plated himself (i.e. solo home runs don’t add value, and two-run shots only count as one run, etc.):

Player OBI%
Evan Longoria 19.2%
Ben Zobrist 17.5%
Matt Joyce 17.3%
Sam Fuld 16.0%
Casey Kotchman 15.8%
B.J. Upton 15.7%
Johnny Damon 15.1%
Sean Rodriguez 12.5%
John Jaso 12.2%
Elliot Johnson 11.8%
Kelly Shoppach 9.5%
Felipe Lopez 9.0%
Reid Brignac 8.3

Longoria not only leads the Rays, but his current OBI% would make the highest rate in his career, should it sustain. Anyone who questions Longoria’s role as a run-producer is either ignoring his missed time, or relies solely on counting statistics. Of course, the next barb against Longoria might be, “Well, Longoria has the benefit of driving more runners in from second and third, because Johnny Damon and Ben Zobrist are good table setters.”

Nope. Prospectus also tracks the runners batted in by base. It takes extra-base power to net runners from first, while contact ability can usually get the job done at second and third.  The best and worst at driving in runners from first (on a rate basis, mind you):

Evan Longoria: 13 percent
Sean Roriguez: 10.6 percent
Ben Zobrist: 10.2 percent

Felipe Lopez 3.6 percent
Sam Fuld: 3.2 percent
Reid Brignac: 0 percent

And second:

Sam Fuld: 26.1 percent
Evan Longoria: 21.1 percent
Matt Joyce: 20.3 percent

Kelly Shoppach: 8.8 percent
Elliot Johnson 6.9 percent
Sean Rodriguez: 3.2 percent

And third:

Johnny Damon: 48.2 percent
Elliot Johnson: 41.7 percent
Ben Zobrist: 39.4 percent

Reid Brignac: 28.6 percent
Kelly Shoppach: 22.2 percent
Felipe Lopez: 20 percent

For his part, Longoria finishes just sandwiched between B.J. Upton and Casey Kotchman in that category. No matter how you slice it up, Longoria is producing ribbies at the highest rate—while generating the toughest variety of run by driving in runners from first.

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