A glance at the Cubs’ RBI totals gives cause for a pause.
Anthony Rizzo is the team leader with 80, fourth in the National League through Sunday. The surprise follows, with Addison Russell, whose 66 RBI were tied for 14th in the NL, just three behind Kris Bryant, who was 11th with 69.
Bryant, who is hitting .285 with a .386 on-base percentage, .543 slugging percentage and .929 OPS, has established himself with a 5.7 fWAR that leads the NL. Russell, at .245/.332/.399/.731, has shown nice progress from his .696 OPS as a rookie last season but isn’t on the same offensive plane as Bryant.
So why are their RBI totals so similar?
The explanations dance around the reasons RBI aren’t included in modern metrics, such as runs created, base runs and weighted on-base average, which seek to measure individual offensive contribution.
RBI aren’t strictly individual achievements. They are affected by position in the batting order and the ability of teammates to get on base.
Bryant has made 162 plate appearances at No. 2, 275 at No. 3 and 45 at No. 5. Modern analysis, especially in ‘‘The Book’’ by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin, tells us No. 2 is one of the most important lineup positions and a good spot for a high-OBP, high-power hitter such as Bryant. But the first plate appearance for a No. 2 hitter never can have more than one runner on base.
Russell has moved around the lineup, with 210 plate appearances at No. 7, 68 at No. 8, 65 at No. 5, 64 at No. 6, seven at No. 9, three at No. 1 and two at No. 4.
Even though Russell’s 419 plate appearances are 63 fewer than Bryant’s 482, he has hit with more runners on base.
Bryant has made 115 plate appearances with runners in scoring position; Russell has made 135. Bryant has made seven plate appearances with runners on second and third and 10 with the bases loaded for a total of 17 with two runners in scoring position. Russell has made 11 with runners on second and third and 18 with the bases loaded for a total of 29 with two runners in scoring position.
In total, Russell has batted with 161 runners in scoring position to Bryant’s 132.
Opportunity is only part of the equation, of course, and Russell has fared well with runners in scoring position. His .261 batting average, .356 OBP, .461 SLG and .816 OPS all are improvements on his season totals.
Much of that is because of batting average on balls in play. Russell’s .338 BABiP with runners in scoring position far outranks his .304 BABiP for the season and his .274 BABiP with no one on base. Unusual BABiPs tend not to hold up from season to season. There’s an element of chance to hitting ’em where they ain’t.
That leaves Russell with an RBI total that’s built partly on a hitter doing his job but also partly on opportunity with an element of chance.
There’s ample reason to think Russell, 22, is on his way to being a solid hitter. But the RBI total alone doesn’t tell us he’s there yet.
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