Fantasy Baseball: Trying to Predict the Run Producers

A little-used statistic can help us see who best took advantage of their RBI chances in 2016.

Sabermatricians don't like RBI's as a stat, and for good reason. While the RBI signifies that a batter has done his job -- scoring a runner that had previously been on base -- it is also a stat that is based on luck and on the efforts of his teammates. It should not be used as an accurate gauge of a player's individual achievement.

That's because players who play on great offenses often have more runners on base when they come to the plate, thus making it easier for them to pile up the RBI's. But as with all traditional statistics, the RBI is not useless, and in fantasy baseball, the statistic is widely used and still very important. As fantasy owners, you must chase the RBI, as imperfect as it is. And in baseball, there are some players who do seem to pile them up on a regular basis.

Many times these RBI guys simply have more opportunities with runners on base to get the job done, and it is those players you want to target for your fantasy drafts this month.

Baseball Prospectus has a statistic called Others Batted In Percentage (OBI%). It's a calculation of the number of times a hitter successfully drove in a run per opportunity with runners on base, and it could be a way to target some middle-round run producers who don't necessarily show up on the season-ending RBI leaderboard. It can also help you prioritize some of your early-round selections, as well.

First, let's take a look at the players who came to the plate with the most opportunities, i.e., the most runners on base (minimum 300 plate appearances), in 2016.

Player Team Runners on Base
Albert Pujols Angels 525
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 502
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 490
Xander Bogaerts Red Sox 461
Addison Russell Cubs 461
Jose Abreu White Sox 459
Christian Yelich Marlins 453
Nolan Arenado Rockies 447
Kyle Seager Mariners 446
Carlos Correa Astros 446

This is essentially baseball's equivalent to wide receiver targets in the NFL. The players above had the most opportunities to score points for your fantasy team, and the most chances to drive in runs for their real-world baseball team. Next, a look at the actual RBI leaders (among qualified hitters).

Player Team RBI's
Nolan Arenado Rockies 133
David Ortiz Red Sox 127
Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 127
Albert Pujols Angels 119
Mookie Betts Red Sox 113
Hanley Ramirez Red Sox 111
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 109
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 108
Mark Trumbo Orioles 108
Matt Kemp Padres/Braves 108

Obviously, many of these players are on both lists and play for high-octane offenses, which is what you'd expect, and you're certainly targeting them for their run-scoring prowess. But let's take a look at Baseball Prospectus' OBI% numbers and see if there are any diamonds in the rough to mine (minimum 300 plate appearances).

Daniel MurphyNationals21.7
Jay BruceReds/Mets21.3
Coco CrispA's20.9
David OrtizRed Sox20.8
Yangervis SolartePadres20.8
Nolan ArenadoRockies20.5
Mookie BettsRed Sox20.0
Eric HosmerRoyals18.9
Nick HundleyRockies18.9
Ryan SchimpfPadres18.7

The list above is filled with some interesting names. Daniel Murphy had the best percentage in converting RBI opportunities last year, while, surprisingly, Jay Bruce was second and Coco Crisp was third. You can also see Yangervis Solarte, Eric Hosmer, Nick Hundley and Ryan Schimpf in last year's top 10, as well. These 10 players did the most with their RBI opportunities last season. Many couldn't help the fact they had fewer of their teammates on base when they came to the plate.

It's obviously wise to spend early-round picks on perennial RBI guys like Nolan Arenado (the National League leader last year) and Mookie Betts, but targeting some of the other players on the above list in later rounds could end up being quite profitable.

Now, instead of just looking at last year's OBI% numbers, a larger sample size of five years also yields some interesting names. Since 2012, Murphy, Arenado, Betts, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Carpenter, Ryan Braun, Jose Abreu, Adam Lind, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Kemp and Allen Craig (remember him?) have all appeared in the Top 20 of OBI%.

OBI% is not a predictive statistic. It's only value is to tell you who has made the most of the run scoring opportunities that were presented to them. But when names appear on this list multiple times, perhaps it is possible to say those players are "proven" run producers, meaning it could be more likely that they will continue to come through in RBI situations in the future.

It's a consideration to take into account when trying to decide between big-name RBI guys or middle round fliers to fill out your roster.