Jorge Cantu’s RBI streak ended recently, but it seems like ESPN analyst Keith Law does not care much for the streak in the first place (H/T Marlins Diehards).
“It doesn’t really tell us anything useful about the player’s performance, that’s the bottom line for me,” said Law, who argues that RBI, pitching wins and saves are the three most overvalued statistics in baseball. “I still look at the stats. But the RBI column, I just will not be there. About the most useful thing it tells you is how much a guy plays — the more you play, the more RBI you have — and it tells you how often the guy in front of him gets on base. Of course, if you want to know how often a guy gets on base, just look at their on-base percentage.”
You know I agree with that. And to the point that people think Cantu has a “knack” for hitting RBI (the so-called “RBI man” idea), Law had this to say:
“You slap anybody who says that,” Law said. “It is stupid. That whole thing just has to die. You know, the implication when somebody says that is when nobody is on base, this guy takes off for the at bat. I don’t think we’ve ever encountered a player who is consistently better with runners in scoring position. It’s true of almost every player.”
You heard it here, Keith Law says you can slap anyone who tells you that certain guys have a “knack” for RBI. To be fair, of course certain players are a bit better at getting RBI, particularly those who strike out and walk less and, as a result, put more balls in play or in the seats. But no player’s performance would be significantly better with runners on than with bases empty; hitting just does not change all that much mechanically (your thought process may be different, but the mechanics of achieving that thought process aren’t too different).
As right as Keith Law is, you hate to hear something like this as a retort:
Some Marlins take extreme exception to the thinking that the RBI is overrated.
“I think it’s the most important statistic,” said former Marlin Jeff Conine, who is now a special assistant to president David Samson.
Said bench coach Carlos Tosca: “This ain’t math. This is baseball.”
This can’t speak well for the franchise, can it?
To be fair, it was Jeff Conine and Carlos Tosca, both former players. I don’t think it should shock anyone that former players know very little about how to analyze statistics. It doesn’t surprise me in the least bit that they would presume RBI, a classic staple of baseball statistics, would be important to evaluating a player.
What I do think is that this is more evidence on the side of our organization being backwards in terms of sabermetrics and objective baseball analysis. Of course, neither Larry Beinfest nor Michael Hill said these comments, so nothing can be attributed to them. And given how Fredi Gonzalez has emphasized things like OBP (getting on base) and WHIP (keeping runners off base), it seems like the organization understands that much. But when a name like Jeff Conine, a name essentially synonymous with the Florida Marlins, says “RBI is the most important statistic in the game,” it makes you wonder how deep into the lair this kind of thought permeates.
Again, this presumes nothing of Beinfest or Hill, or even Dan Jennings or Jim Fleming or others who are at the core of the Marlins’ personnel movements. But I do want to know what kind of statistics they look at, and how they use these stats to evaluate players. Why hasn’t anyone who has contact with these people asked these questions? It would seem like this information would give us some idea about how the Marlins do so well despite such little resources year after year. You would think someone would try to cover this story at any angle other than “they have a great scouting staff (true)” or “they wave magic wands (I’m not privy to that information).”
There’s a story here, and I know that those guys are open to answering the questions. Someone has to ask them. I hope someone gets a chance to (wink wink).