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Curtis Granderson's RBIs

Don Mattingly: the RBI percentage king. (AP)

As you know, Curtis Granderson leads the American League in RBIs with 95. Now, RBIs are contextual; no matter how good a season a batter is having, he can’t drive in runners that aren’t on base. That sounds obvious, but given the emphasis on RBIs in things like MVP voting, a lot of people don’t get it. There is normally a pretty good correlation between the RBI leaders and the batters who hit with the most runners on base. That’s the case with the number two RBI man in the AL, Adrian Gonzalez. He has batted with 389 runners on, the most in baseball, and driven in 74 of them. That works out to 19 percent, a very good number—in most seasons, the league average is about 14 percent.

Mr. Granderson has hit with the 16th-most runners this year, 338, and has knocked in 61 of them, or 18.1 percent. He’s hitting .268/.331/.573 with men on and .244/.299/.520 with runners in scoring position, which is actually worse than he’s doing with the bases empty (.293/.412/.612). Contrast that with Gonzalez, who is hitting .321/.380/.558 with the bases empty, .364/.427/.518 with men on, and .347/.425/.469 with runners in scoring position. Two outs and runners in scoring position? Gonzalez is hitting .339/.448/464, Granderson .203/.263/.373.

The guy I find really interesting is Michael Young of the Rangers. As I said, 14 percent is usually the average number of baserunners plated in a full season. The highest percentage recorded in a season of 400 or more plate appearances, 1950 to present, was 26.9 percent by George Brett in 1980. The highest percentage recorded by a Yankee came when Don Mattingly knocked in 22.4 percent during his MVP season of 1985. Young is currently this year’s major-league leader, with 21.8 percent, followed by Ryan Braun of the Brewers at 20.1 percent. Young is fifth on the RBI leaderboard with 85; he’s season 41 fewer baserunners than Gonzalez. If you give Gonzalez’s baserunners to Young and assume consistency, the latter would be tied with Granderson for the league lead.

This isn’t an argument about the MVP race, but just a reminder that when it comes to RBIs, a more nuanced approach is required; just looking at the raw counts doesn’t teach us anything at all.