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Giancarlo Stanton, team success, and RBIs

Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton leads the majors in RBIs, and that shows the value of not only hitting better in 2014, but also having better teammates this season.

Giancarlo Stanton's RBI total has benefited from having better teammates in front of him.
Giancarlo Stanton's RBI total has benefited from having better teammates in front of him.
Harry How

The Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton is having quietly monstrous month of May, and the one thing fans and writers are probably noticing is that it has included keeping him in the big league lead in RBIs, as Stanton leads all players with 45 RBIs on the seasoon. Now, you know here at Fish Stripes, we rarely discuss the RBI because it is a stat that tells so little about the player and so much more about his teammates.

But that fits right into the story of why the Marlins have improved their offense here in 2014. Part of the reason is the boom that Stanton has provided in a comeback season after a down 2013. Part of it is having players like Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia batting behind Stanton and continuing their hitting down the lineup. But a big part of the 2014 success is the play of the players hitting in front of Stanton, and that has led to the RBI bonanza he has had thus far. In essence, the fact that Stanton leads the league in RBIs is a testament not to individual play, but to team success and success at the top of the lineup in particular.

Individual RBI Success

The RBI stat itself measures both individual performance and team success, but we can help differentiate the two by subtracting one aspect of it off the bat. Stanton has hit 12 home runs and thus driven himself in 12 times. If we take out those 12 self-RBIs, we can remove some of his individual play and help to see a little more of an effect from his teammates.

Incidentally, Stanton is second in this statistic, behind only Miguel Cabrera. Fourth is Casey McGehee, who has ridden an abnormal hot streak with runners in scoring position to a huge RBI count early in the season.

Teammates On Base

Let's see how the top five players in the non-homer RBI categories have done in terms of having runners on base compared to the league average, as indicated by Baseball-Reference.

Player wOBA RBI-HR Runners on Base ROB+
Miguel Cabrera .389 34 112 102
Giancarlo Stanton .416 33 145 118
Brandon Moss .409 30 142 133
Casey McGehee .332 29 138 116
Michael Brantley .391 28 132 114

*ROB+ is akin to other "plus" metrics and is a measure of how many more runners on base a player has had compared to the league average, expressed on a scale where 100 is the average. Each point above or below is a percentage point.

The Marlins' two players on the list have benefited from having plenty of baserunners aboard, as both have gotten 16-18 percent extra baserunners on board compared to the average hitter with the same number of plate appearances. Of course, that may just be due to placement in the lineup, as Stanton and McGehee bat third and fourth respectively and should expect more baserunners than the average player. The cleanup man traditionally expects to see the most baserunners on base in any given lineup.

Contrast that with what Cabrera has done early in the season with essentially an average runners on base profile. A comparison of who primarily bats in front of Cabrera and Stanton could show the reason why this is the case. Here are the batting lines for the three players who played the most games in front of those two batters.

Tigers Games AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Ian Kinsler 43 .317 .350 .459 .354
Torii Hunter 24 .293 .327 .480 .352
Rajai Davis 17 .270 .324 .389 .317
Marlins Games AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Christian Yelich 41 .259 .337 .416 .334
Derek Dietrich 18 .250 .355 .462 .363
Marcell Ozuna 13 .261 .306 .436 .324

The numbers show that the Tigers had better hitters, but that their hitters at the top of the lineup are better at different things than Miami's. Kinsler and Hunter are adept at driving themselves in as well given their decent power, so it is possible that they are clearing the bags for Cabrera before he gets aboard. The power may be allowing Cabrera to get easier RBI opportunities as well, because the runners are further down the bags; Cabrera has about average rates of runners at second base but 44 percent more runners at third by the time he steps up to the plate.

in Stanton's case, Yelich and Dietrich get aboard more often than most of the Tigers' hitters, but Yelich in particular tends to not move himself very far due to weaker power. Stanton's advantage is that he has more runners on base to begin with, as he had more runners on first base than average and had average numbers at second and third base. That matches the concept that the players in front of him have been getting on base without as much power.

Last Season

You can see the effect of having better hitters for Stanton when you compare his numbers to last season. Last year, he drove in only 38 runs that did not include home runs in 502 plate appearances, which is barely above the number of similar runs he drove in this year. Stanton saw five percent fewer runners on base last year than the average hitter with the same number of plate appearances, which is a downside to having Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, and Donovan Solano batting in front of you regularly. The effect of poor teammates took a mammoth toll on his RBI totals, above and beyond what his relative lack of production did.

Stanton is having an excellent year so far, but it has nothing to do with his RBi total. Indeed, a large amount of that can be attributed to him having better teammates than he did in years past, leading to more runners on base and more opportunities to drive runners home. Sure, hitting better has something to do with it, but it explains the RBI total, not the other way around. For those of you who still use RBI to measure player performance, it's time to switch and realize that player (and team) performance explains RBIs a lot better.