Are­nado driven to drive in runs for the Rock­ies

By Patrick Saun­ders, The Den­ver Post

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

RBIS have been used to help de­fine base­ball great­ness since be­fore Babe Ruth trot­ted around the bases. But in re­cent years, some re­spected base­ball writ­ers, with a much deeper un­der­stand­ing of base­ball statis­tics than me, have sought to di­min­ish RBIS as a defin­ing statis­tic.

Two years ago, Jeff Pas­san of Ya­hoo Sports wrote a col­umn ti­tled “10 De­grees: The hard truth about RBIS.”

If you are so in­clined, I sug­gest you read the knowl­edge­able Pas­san for a more de­tailed ar­gu­ment. But to sum it up, he wrote: “RBIS are a team-de­pen­dent statis­tic. They of­ten say as much about a sit­u­a­tion in which a hit­ter finds him­self as they do a hit­ter him­self.”

I was cu­ri­ous to see what Rock­ies third base­man Nolan Are­nado thought about the RBIS ar­gu­ment. He is, af­ter all, the ma­jors’ reign­ing RBIS king.

“I guess I kind of look at things the old­school way, look­ing at bat­ting av­er­age and home runs and RBIS,” Are­nado said Sat­ur­day. “And, of course, slug­ging (per­cent­age) and OPS (on-base per­cent­age, plus slug­ging) are re­ally im­por­tant stats. At least they are im­por­tant to me.

“I guess I have more op­por­tu­ni­ties than some other guys to drive in runs, so I don’t know, maybe the ar­gu­ment is true, maybe it’s not. But for me, the best hit­ters in the game drove in a lot of runs. And that’s how I want to be.”

Are­nado is a spe­cial player with a pro­found love and re­spect for the game. Even at age 26, he is fully aware of his place in base­ball his­tory. He doesn’t de­fine him­self by RBIS, but driv­ing home team­mates is cer­tainly at the top of his daily to-do list.

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “If I go 2-for-4, but in the two at-bats where I go ‘oh-fer’ there are men on sec­ond or men on third, I’m prob­a­bly not go­ing to go home very happy.

“So even though I had two hits, and I had a good day, and even though I’ll be able to sleep that night, I still won’t be happy. Be­cause I’ll feel like I didn’t pro- duce. It’s im­por­tant for me to pro­duce with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion. I take a lot of pride in that.”

En­ter­ing Sat­ur­day night’s game against the Mar­lins, Are­nado was bat­ting a ma­jor league-best .446 with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion. That av­er­age in­cluded 10 home runs, 13 dou­bles and three triples for a big league-best .884 slug­ging per­cent­age. With run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion and two outs, he was bat­ting .409 with 29 RBIS, also the best in base­ball.

“That’s im­por­tant to me,” Are­nado said. “Like I said, the best hit­ters in the game come through with a man on base.”

Are­nado, a le­git­i­mate Na­tional League MVP can­di­date, drove in two runs Fri­day night to reach 100 RBIS for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son, be­com­ing the first Na­tional League player to do that since Pitts­burgh Hall of Famer Wil­lie Stargell ac­com­plished the feat from 1971-73.

Now he has a chance to do some­thing that no other player has ever done: drive in at least 130 runs while also lead­ing his league in that statis­tic for three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons. Ten play­ers be­fore Are­nado drove in at least 130 runs in three straight years, but none of them led their league in each of those three sea­sons.

Those 10 play­ers? Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jim­mie Foxx, Sammy Sosa, Vern Stephens, Alex Ro­driguez, Juan Gon­za­lez, Ken Grif­fey Jr., David Or­tiz and Ryan Howard. That’s pretty good com­pany.

Ac­cord­ing to the Elias Sports Bu­reau, only three play­ers have ever led their league in RBIS three times in a row: Joe Med­wick (NL, 1936-38), Ge­orge Foster (NL, 1976-78) and Ce­cil Fielder (AL, 199092).

Are­nado’s bot­tom line: “I don’t know what other peo­ple think, but I think RBIS say a lot about a player.”

Patrick Saun­ders is the pres­i­dent of the Base­ball Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica: psaun­ders@den­ver­post.com or @psaun­der­sdp

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