Runs are not an important statistic… just ask Johnny Damon
Recently, ESPN’s Jim Caple penned a fairly questionable piece in which he labeled the run the “most neglected, underrated stat in baseball.” Caple’s argument was, essentially, that runs are the most important factor in actual games and that all other stats basically “reveal how well a player performs in areas that ultimately produce runs.” Therefore, the run – not WAR, OPS, etc. – is, according to Caple, the most telling number in terms of tangible offensive value.
Caple, of course, fails to realize and outline the manner in which lineup context, in particular, as opposed to individual production, can ultimately influence run totals. For example, Jimmy Rollins, who served as Philadelphia’s lead-off hitter in 145 games last season, scored 100 runs – more than players such as Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Kevin Youkilis, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Pablo Sandoval, etc. – despite hitting just .250/.296/.423. Clearly, hitting in front of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth had more to do with Rollins’ 100-run season than anything he did on his own. Thus, the argument Caple puts forth is not a very convincing one, and, at its core, is just highly unreasonable.
If run totals actually mattered with regards to player production – they are not meaningless, rather, they are incidental – then perhaps former Yankee and current free agent outfielder, Johnny Damon, would have found a new organization to call home by now. In late-October, Scott Boras talked up his soon-to-be free agent client by alluding to his run totals, as Damon has scored 410 runs while with the Yankees since 2006. However, as we have seen since then, calling upon a strict counting stat, such as runs, in order to illustrate a player’s overall value is a losing argument. Club officials and team executives presumably know this and have chosen to evaluate players through the examination of other forms of more nuanced data. Scott Boras, on the other hand, has learned this the hard way, as he has yet to pick up the pieces and find an effective selling point/message for Damon since his initial run-based argument.
In the end, although stats like home runs, rbis, runs, stolen bases, and so on and so forth are much easier to obtain and comprehend than some of the newer statistics available, that does not mean that they are the most accurate measures of a player’s worth. Understanding and assessing value in any realm, including baseball, is a complex affair. Therefore, while Jim Caple might disagree, complex explanations are often needed to address complex issues.
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