Judging the Royals

Albert Pujols is now top 10 all time in RBIs, but does it matter?

Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols jsleezer@kcstar.com

Saturday night in the fifth inning of a 9-0 win over the Royals, Albert Pujols hit a home run, something the Angels DH had done 601 times before.

There was a runner on base when Pujols went deep, so the homer drove in two runs, and those two runs put Pujols in the top 10 all time when it comes to RBIs.

They’ve been playing the game a long time, so being top 10 in anything – broken bats, arguments with umpires or bubble gum chewed – is a pretty big deal.

But some people don’t feel that way about RBIs.

For them, RBIs measure your teammates’ ability to get on base and score more than your ability to drive them in. So according to this point of view, a guy with a lot of RBIs is just lucky to have such talented teammates.

It’s not the first time I’ve written about this, so if you want to skip today’s post and come back tomorrow, be my guest. But the audience is ever-changing, and you never know who read what, so I write about certain subjects once a year.

And today we’re going to reexamine why the people who play the game think RBIs matter.

Home runs

If you don’t think hitting a home run takes talent, you should watch regulation-non-big-league humans take batting practice.

Every once in a while the Royals will allow a celebrity of some sort to step up to the plate and take a few hacks. Generally speaking, the celebrity will have trouble making contact and, if they do, even more trouble hitting the ball out of the infield.

The Big Slick celebrities will take batting practice on Friday and, with a few exceptions, picking up the baseballs afterward will not require a lot of walking.

So if hitting a home run takes talent, at least 602 of Albert Pujols’ 1,865 RBIs required some skill; it’s hard to drive in a lot of runs without hitting a few homers along the way.

In 2016 every hitter with 100 RBIs had at least 20 homers.

In 2015 every hitter with 100 RBIs had at least 20 homers.

In 2014 every hitter with 100 RBIs had at least 20 homers.

The last time a hitter had 100 RBIs without 20 homers was in 2013. The hitter was Brandon Phillips; he had 103 RBIs and 18 home runs.

And not all these home runs were solo shots.

In 2016 Eric Hosmer drove in 104 runs and hit 25 homers. Because there were runners on base when Hosmer hit some of those home runs, the long ball accounted for 41 of Hosmer’s 104 RBIs.

So if 39 percent of Hosmer’s RBIs came from home runs, it would seem to make sense that a major portion of Hosmer’s RBIs were the result of skill – and we haven’t even talked about situational hitting.

If you’re going to drive in runs, it helps to be good at it.

Situational hitting

Kendrys Morales played in Kansas City for two years and, if you watched him play every night, you soon realized he was very good at driving in runs.

Some of Morales’ skill was obvious – he hit 52 home runs while playing for the Royals – his other RBI skills were a bit more subtle.

For starters, it’s pretty hard to drive in a run with a strikeout, so getting a ball in play when it matters – when the pitcher is throwing his best stuff to make sure you don’t get a ball in play – takes skill.

And getting the right kind of ball in play requires even more skill.

With a runner on third base and less than two outs, the hitter needs to look at the defense and figure out what kind of ball he needs to put in play. Infield back, a ground ball up the middle will do the trick; infield in, the hitter might need to get a fly ball to the outfield.

Morales excelled at this kind of situational hitting.

Some RBIs might be the product of luck – a pitcher with no plan throws the wrong pitch to a hitter with no plan – but the majority of RBIs take some kind of skill; even if it’s a skill we don’t recognize.

Appreciating greatness while it’s still happening

It’s easy to appreciate greatness in retrospect; by the end of someone’s career we realize what they’ve accomplished and how it ranks among the people that have gone before.

But every once in a while, we get to appreciate greatness while it’s still happening.

Barring something unforeseen, Albert Pujols is going to the Hall of Fame. Assuming Pujols is in the lineup, at 2:37 p.m. today, Royals fans will get one more look at one of the best hitters to ever play the game.

And if Royals fans are lucky, that great hitter will strike out every time he comes to the plate.

But if Pujols drives in yet another run, try to appreciate the skill it took to do so.