An RBI Leader, But Not An Elite Hitter

From SABR member Sean Forman at The New York Times on August 14:

Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is once again at the top of the National League with the most runs batted in with 95. Since 2006, Howard has driven in 775 runs, 93 more than the closest player, Albert Pujols.

There’s no doubt that Howard’s at-bats lead to a lot of runs for the Phillies, but how much does this tell us about Howard and how much does this tell us about his teammates?

One goal of sabermetrics is to separate the effects of teammates from our evaluation of a player’s performance. Based on sabermetric stats, Howard does not appear to be the elite hitter that his R.B.I. totals imply. One quick (and mostly accurate) evaluation of offensive ability is O.P.S. (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), which combines a player’s ability to get on base (score runs) with his ability to move runners around the bases with power (drive in runs).

Among N.L. batters who have qualified for the batting title entering the weekend, Howard’s .831 O.P.S. was just 23rd in the league. Among N.L. first basemen, he ranked seventh, below average for the 12 qualifying players.

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Originally published: August 15, 2011. Last Updated: August 15, 2011.