The 5 Worst 120+ RBI Seasons In MLB History
It’s no secret that analytic types have little regard for the RBI. I decided to see if I could dig up the five worst seasons by a hitter that totaled at least 120 RBI. To measure the quality of a player’s season, I took their OPS+ and compared it to the league average at that position. Of course, several of the players on this list were none too good on the bases or in the field, but I didn’t want to make this just about WAR. Without further ado, here is the list.
Honourable Mention: Ryan Howard 2008. By my calculation, this wasn’t the 6th worst season, but given how out of tune Howard’s perceived value was with his actual value, I thought it was worth mentioning. After a season in which the Philadelphia Phillies first baseman hit 48 home runs and drove in 146 runs, Howard finished 2nd in the NL MVP voting despite totaling only 1.7 WAR. Due to a pedestrian .339 OBP, his OPS+ was only 125, not much better than the average NL first baseman. While Howard performed better with men on base, he hit poorly in high leverage situations, and he managed a negative clutch score.
5. Joe Carter 1993. Carter posted a 112 OPS+ in 1993. The ’93 Toronto Blue Jays gave him a voluminous amount of RBI opportunities by featuring on-base machines such as John Olerud (.473!), Paul Molitor, and Roberto Alomar, two of which usually hit in front of Carter. His OPS was also 60 points higher with RISP. While I don’t to intend to pile too much sabermetric hate on Carter, it be-hooves me to mention his 1990 season with the San Diego Padres where he accumulated 115 RBI despite a .234/.290./.391 slash line and a 85 OPS+, a far cry from the .266/.333/.409 that MLB outfielders averaged that year (he still finished 17th in MVP voting). Carter did make his hits count in ’90, as he posted one of the best clutch scores of his career.
4. Jim Rice 1984. The Hall of Famer managed 122 RBI for the Boston Red Sox in ’84. However, he had only a 112 OPS+ in ’84, and his .323 OBP was lower than the average outfielder. On-base machines such as Wade Boggs, and the perpetually under-appreciated Dwight Evans helped supply Rice with base runners.
3. Preston Wilson 2000. Maybe Wilson was a hipster, because he was whiffing before it became popular. In 2000, he totaled 121 RBI and a 109 OPS+, just a shade above MLB outfielders who averaged a . While the Florida Marlins were not a good on-base team, Wilson had plenty of opportunities to drive in Luis Castillo and Cliff Floyd. Wilson came through in a good chunk of these situations, posting an .865 OPS with men on. He also led the MLB in strikeout rate for the second straight year at 27.7%, during a time when hitters struck out in less than 16% of their plate appearances.
2. Garret Anderson 2001. Anderson totalled 121 RBI, while posting a 104 OPS+, slightly lower than what MLB outfielders averaged that year. I’m not really sure how he did this, as numbers with men on were only a shade better. The Anaheim Angels weren’t a great on-base team, and neither did they steal lots of bases this year. I should also mention that Anderson somehow drove in 117 runs the previous year despite a 103 OPS+ and a terrible clutch score.
1. Dante Bichette. Pre-humidor Coors Field…yeah it was pretty crazy. Bichette had a couple of these seasons for the Colorado Rockies, so I figured I’d include them all, even though ’99 was the worst (or best) of them. In ’96 Bichette had 141 RBI with a 112 OPS+, just barely better than MLB outfielders’ average of 105. In ’98 and ’99 he had 122 and 133 RBI with OPS+ of 108 and 102, respectively. Larry Walker and Todd Helton certainly played their part and more. I said I wasn’t going to focus heavily on base running and defensive calculations, but the results are so absurd in Bichette’s case that I have to. Despite averaging 29 home runs and 132 RBI over those three years, Bichette totaled -1.4 WAR. In ’99 Bichette had 34 home runs, 133 RBI, and -2.3 WAR.
This isn’t the most serious or relevant research, but it’s interesting. Since it’s that time of year when baseball people debate who should win the Member of a Playoff Team with a Bunch of RBI Award, it’s neat to show some seasons where hitters racked up lots of RBI despite being pretty average.