Ryan Howard Could Have One of the Worst 100 RBI Seasons Ever

On Saturday night’s broadcast of the Cardinals-Phillies game, Mike Schmidt said (paraphrasing) that you can’t get to 100 RBI and have a bad season. In the eighth inning, as if the baseball gods wanted to put on a live demonstration of teammates’ effect on a hitter’s RBI total, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley hit consecutive singles to lead off the inning. They then reached second and third base on a double-steal. Howard was later hit by a Randy Choate pitch, but he was in a great position to knock in two runs with a bloop single (which Marlon Byrd then did immediately afterward).

According to Baseball Prospectus, Howard has taken 288 plate appearances with runners on base, representing 54.4 percent of his total plate appearances. Howard’s rate of driving in other runners, however, is 15.5 percent, the 68th-highest rate (min. 300 PA), sandwiched between James Loney and Aaron Hill.

So we know that a hitter doesn’t have a great amount of control over his RBI total. A large portion of it is already decided by the base running skill and the on-base percentage of the batters in front of him, and that hitter’s position in the batting order. To go back to what Schmidt said, what are the worst 100 RBI seasons?

Howard has a .685 OPS and is on pace to finish with exactly 100 RBI. Here’s a list of sub-.700 OPS seasons with 100-plus RBI:

Player Year RBI OPS Age Tm Lg PA
Joe Carter 1997 102 .683 37 TOR AL 668
Ruben Sierra 1993 101 .678 27 OAK AL 692
Joe Carter 1990 115 .681 30 SDP NL 697
Joe Pepitone 1964 100 .698 23 NYY AL 647
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/23/2014.

Using adjusted OPS instead, here are 100 RBI seasons with an OPS+ of 90 or worse:

Player Year RBI OPS+ Age Tm Lg PA
Jeff Francoeur 2006 103 87 22 ATL NL 686
Tony Batista 2004 110 81 30 MON NL 650
Vinny Castilla 1999 102 84 31 COL NL 674
Joe Carter 1997 102 77 37 TOR AL 668
Ruben Sierra 1993 101 86 27 OAK AL 692
Joe Carter 1990 115 85 30 SDP NL 697
Tony Armas 1983 107 85 29 BOS AL 613
Ray Jablonski 1953 112 89 26 STL NL 638
Marv Owen 1936 105 85 30 DET AL 655
Ray Pepper 1934 101 83 28 SLB AL 598
Glenn Wright 1927 105 85 26 PIT NL 626
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/23/2014.

It hasn’t been done often. Howard — much to Schmidt’s chagrin — is on pace to have one of the worst 100 RBI seasons in baseball history.

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26 comments

  1. tom b

    August 25, 2014 09:07 AM

    always liked schmitty, bit he does himself no favors when he talks baseball. sounds amazingly or alarmingly like rube

    • tom a

      August 25, 2014 04:32 PM

      I love when Schmidt does broadcasts. He’s funny, well spoken, has good chemistry with T-Mac and offers great insights into the playing side of the game.

      So what if he isn’t a statistical analysis genius? I’d rather have a Hall of Famer in the booth than Dave Cameron. Even though I enjoy reading Fangraphs, it’d be dry to have someone telling me for the thousandth time that Ryan Howard is overpaid and one of the worst players in baseball compared to a guy who can tell me what it is liek to play and what goes through your head in certain situations. People just like to delude themselves into thinking they know more about baseball and could do an announcing job better than the people who do currently do it. Even when that person might be the best third basemen to ever play the game.

      Besides, I think Schmidt is looking at it from a different angle anyway. Not that Howard is having a good season in being one of the best in baseball, but in terms of results. Even if it’s not indicative of performance/talent/future production, I’m sure it does feel good to drive in that many runs.

  2. Richard

    August 25, 2014 09:35 AM

    And then.. and then… yesterday Schmidt, with the rest of the crew, was going on about Ben Revere. Would love for him to be presented with the idea that Jimmy Rollins, of the sub-.240 BA, is having a more valuable year at the plate (however slightly) than is Revere.

    Also, he was talking about Rollins walk-taking, on the one hand saying “58 really isn’t that much” (despite being top ten), but if he finishes the season around 75-80, yeah, that would be good, and he’d have an OBP around .350 or .360, and wow.

  3. Bob

    August 25, 2014 10:24 AM

    The Phillies still do not understand how modern FOs evaluate players. I’m convinced that the Phillies believe that a player who gets 100 RBIs, regardless of the circumstances, is extremely valuable.

    As per this piece by Salisbury www.csnphilly.com/baseball-philadelphia-phillies/through-haze-phillies-plan-starting-show, it’s intimated that the reason the platoon with Ruf ended so soon was because the Phillies’ management wants to get Howard 100 RBIs to trade him in the offseason. Instead of getting months of data on Ruf’s viability as a major league starter or seeing Franco at 1B, the Phillies think that by Howard getting 100 RBIs he’ll magically become valuable in the eyes of other FOs. For some reason, the Phillies are hoping that other FOs will present the Phillies with a good offer for him and ignore the reams of data suggesting that the traditional value of Howard getting to 100 RBIs is illusory and that his other stats show a player in precipitous decline.

    Even if some AL teams see something of value in Howard, I can’t fathom that they’d pay more than 1-3 million per year for him – meaning Phils would have to eat the other 60 mm – and give them back one A ball prospect. I’d be surprised if they even got that much, which does not appear to me to be as valuable as evaluating players on the current roster.

    The Phillies continue to devalue data collection and analysis, which is important to the success of any business. It’s such backwards thinking to take away valuable ABs for Ruf or other players that need more data to be fully evaluated for, at most, a 5 mm savings and a single A player. Saving 5mm and getting a lottery ticket on an A ball hitter or seeing what Ruf or Franco can do? Easy choice for me. It would be best if the Phillies parted ways with RAJ at the end of the season and got in someone who better understands the modern game.

    • tom b

      August 25, 2014 11:48 AM

      personally i think the reasoning is more along the lines of convincing the fans that we’ll compete next year with rubes team. i believe the reason the phillies picked all college players in the draft was to try to hurry up and cover the fact that the farm system is so lousy. playing guys old for their league gives a better chance of having a good w/l record which rube thinks will fool everyone

  4. SOB

    August 25, 2014 10:51 AM

    Obviously I love Michael Jack as much as the rest of the over 30 crowd in the Delaware Valley, and the reason isn’t always just because of bare hand flips off of the green concrete at the Vet. In his retired years, Schmidt has become a very reasonable voice in the baseball world. He changed my mind about how negatively we should PED users on a whole. I don’t feel like he just blurts things like that out because he’s an “old school baseball guy”. I would bet that he’s just never been presented with the proper information to inform his decision. I would love to see someone get him as a guest on a podcast and share some of this information with him. He never struck me as a meathead athlete, and I think if he got the information in a non adversarial context, then he might become one of the converted. It would at least be fun to listen to.

    • Richard

      August 25, 2014 10:58 AM

      Agree with this, actually. I think Schmidt could be convertable – despite being close with Joe Morgan and Pete Rose!

    • tom b

      August 25, 2014 11:43 AM

      you’ve got fans on here that sound more intelligent on baseball matters and you’re defense is he hasn’t been presented with the correct information. sorry but that’s a lame excuse

      • Dan K.

        August 25, 2014 02:47 PM

        The vast majority of the SABR-inclined fandom are under the age of 40. Michael Jack almost certainly doesn’t have the same proclivity to use the internet as we do. Thus, his likelihood of finding the pertinent data is severely diminished. He is simply using old information because that is what he knows; SOB is suggesting that if he were presented with updated information he may change his opinion.

        After all, it was universally believed that the world was flat until evidence to the contrary was provided. People without access to the newest information can only make conclusions based on the information that they DO have.

      • SOB

        August 25, 2014 04:21 PM

        When he played, everyone told him whatever season he just finished was great because of his RBI totals. He won MVP awards based partly on his RBI totals. That sticks with a guy. He’s never been a GM, he manage in Clearwater for one year, and other than that, he’s either just popped up to do some hitting instruction, or just recently, broadcasting. Why would he research advanced statistical metrics? He’s not a fan of a specific team that he invests his entertainment dollars in. I think if someone took the metrics of his prime years and helped him understand the new depth of information available, he would be very receptive.

    • tom b

      August 25, 2014 11:44 AM

      should be looking at risp, a lot easier to drive in a run from 2nd base than 1st

    • MMM

      August 26, 2014 07:40 AM

      What does that say about the Phillies’ one-two hitters? At face value it sounds like Revere and Rollins are the best 1-2 combination in baseball. It is not like Utley has so many plate appearances compared to the rest of the league. But I am guessing it is the lineup stability that is the biggest factor.

  5. Greg

    August 25, 2014 11:47 AM

    Makes me nostalgic for the days of Rob Deer on my rotisserie league team…
    And I always finished last.

  6. CJ

    August 25, 2014 03:29 PM

    Schmidt’s not going to take up metrics just to impress The Internet. I don’t think he intends on putting much effort into his limited analyst duties. Would be cool if he did, but his post-playing career history shows he prefers playing golf and being Mike Schmidt.

  7. sean

    August 25, 2014 03:58 PM

    Was listening to Rob Cherry and Hollis Thomas on Saturday with my dad (he listens to it, I can’t stand it). Cherry literally argued with a caller saying Howard was having a better season then Byrd due to Howard having more RBI’s and Byrd leaving more people on base. People listen to these”knowledgeable” sports personalities everyday for opinions like these…………
    The RBI is not going away any time soon with warped, uneducated people like this pretending its the 1960’s

    • Chris

      August 25, 2014 05:08 PM

      -
      -14

      New age people who de-value the RBI are ones who have never played the sport. Granted, Howard has not been good this year, but what made him so valuable is that he was always great at driving runners in. Even in 2012, when he hit .212, he hit. 320 with RISP.

      Driving run is a skill. If its so easy to drive runners in, why do the same people lead the league in RBIs over 162 games? But I do agree that judging a player solely on RBIs is not a good way to value a player. But if a player can drive runners home at a higher clip than his normal BA, you have a very valuable player.

      • Chris

        August 25, 2014 06:37 PM

        And if I had to pick between Howard or Revere to be on the team next year, I would still take Howard 10x out of 10.

        To the author of this article, can you write an article showing how Revere’s year might be the worst of any hitter who led the league in hitting? The hate Howard gets compared to Revere is mind boggling. Revere might be the worst starting CF I have ever seen.

      • JRFarmer

        August 25, 2014 07:31 PM

        Methinks Chris is a BIG Joe Morgan fan.

      • agam22

        August 25, 2014 09:37 PM

        The difference in hate you speak of is probably related to the more than $23 million difference in their salaries. Revere has his problems, but at less than $2 million a year he justifies his presence. Howard doesn’t come remotely close.

        Also Howard’s improved BA with runners in scoring position is probably less about an ability to drive in runs and more about less frequent shifting and pitchers generally throwing more fastballs when there are men on base.

    • Andrew M

      August 28, 2014 03:43 AM

      While Byrd might be having the “better” season, Howard is driving in runs at a better clip than the aforementioned Byrd(15.4% to 13.9%) for all the knowledgeable people who post on here. Oh Brown by the way is at 17.9% so while I would like a higher BA and more homeruns I’ll always take the guy that drives in the runs at a better rate cause that’s how you win games.

      • ASK

        August 28, 2014 07:22 AM

        Well, no. If you want to measure “how you win” by one hitting statistic, it has to be OBP. While Brown and Howard may drive in a higher percentage of base runners than Byrd, Byrd has been much more valuable than those two because of his ability to get on base. Crediting just the guy who drives in the runs ignores the key component of those runners getting on base in the first place. Why are RBI’s more of “why you win” than runs scored?

      • Andrew M

        August 28, 2014 10:24 AM

        @ASK
        I agree that OBP is a good measure also and if people don’t get on ahead of you then you can’t drive then in and you will probably lose(unless everyone is going to hit solo homeruns at a historic rate). However Byrd’s OBP % is ONLY .317 to Howard’s .312, brown’s is a paltry .280, so while he has been able to create more RBI opportunity for others behind him better than Brown, its a push with Howard.

      • ASK

        August 28, 2014 02:23 PM

        @ Andrew M,

        Wow, you’re right. I haven’t followed it closely lately, but I see that Howard has increased his OBP from the sub-.300 level as recently as 8/15 while Byrd’s has dropped to .317. As such, on OBP alone their seasons are similar. However, Byrd’s SLG is .468 vs. .382 for Howard (up from .370 on 8/15), so despite the RBI’s, I still think Byrd has been the better offensive performer. Brown is clearly 3rd in this group.

  8. Todd B

    August 26, 2014 01:28 AM

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for this. In my mind Rico Brogna was the poster child for “bad player who got a lot of RBIs just because he hit cleanup.” After seeing your list I looked up his stats and much to my surprise his OPS was .765 and .790 in ’98 and ’99.

    It seems that Sandberg is giving Howard the benefit of the Burrell… that is hoping that he’ll find his groove next year and be rewarded for his patience. For me, I’m happy to see Howard play only because maybe he’ll cost us a few games and we’ll get a better draft pick.

    Here’s hoping.

    Todd

    • Bill Baer

      August 26, 2014 01:30 AM

      Yeah, Brogna was definitely another high-RBI, low-production player. If you compare his offense to the league average — offense was much higher back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s as opposed to the 2011-14 era — his numbers are pretty much in line with Howard’s over the last few years.

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