BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
For the Sun-Times
Practically since the time Henry Chadwick devised the box score in 1859, people have tried to compile, combine and analyze the data it contains to evaluate players and their contributions.
Some of the statistics derived last through the decades, while others fade away or are ignored, sometimes because of a flaw, and sometimes because better measures are devised.
Take “runs produced” and “Total Average,” stats you’ll rarely hear today, although Total Average is listed at Baseball-Reference.com.
Runs produced has been around since at least the 1960s. It’s an attempt to put top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-lineup hitters on equal footing by combining runs and RBI. Modern metrics usually don’t use runs or RBI because they reflect team context as much as individual performance – who hits ahead of you or behind you matters.
RP is a simple stat: runs plus RBI, minus home runs. Cubs leader Kris Bryant has 49 RBI and 44 runs. Subract his 12 home runs, and that’s 81 RP. Jose Abreu (44 RBI, 47 runs, 14 homers, 77 RP) leads the White Sox.
Why subtract home runs? The idea is to avoid crediting a hitter twice for the same run. However, other runs are double-credited. An Anthony Rizzo single that drives in Dexter Fowler and a Bryant solo homer each put one run on the board, but the RBI single puts two in the team RP column and the homer only one. Home runs are undervalued
Total Average is more sophisticated, launched in 1978 by longtime Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell. Once an annual staple in Inside Sports magazine, the TA formula is (total bases + hit by pitch + walks + steals)/(at-bats – hits + caught stealing + grounded into double play).
The National League average through Sunday’s games is .633, with the American League at .649. Rizzo leads the Cubs at 1.028, third in the NL behind the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (1.397) and the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt (1.286). Abreu leads the White Sox at .767, 29th in the AL.
The flaw is that it treats all bases as equal. A walk doesn’t have the same potential to advance runners as a single. A steal doesn’t put a runner on base, and it doesn’t advance other runners, but it’s treated the same as a hit.
When Boswell published his work in 1978, SABR pioneers already were developing stronger metrics with better weighting of events. Still, Boswell was on the mark when he pointed out that in 1977, Toby Harrah (.964 TA) was a more productive player than you’d think from his .263 BA, and Pete Rose (.789 TA) was a lesser force than his .311 BA suggests.
Today, we’d look at Harrah’s .872 OPS, 7.0 RC/G, .384 wOBA or 6.5 oWAR vs. Rose’s .809, 6.4, .359 and 3.9. But at the time, the wider public had yet to hear of SABR or its work. TA introduced a large audience to the notion there was more than batting average to determining baseball’s best hitters.