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"Feel free to compare and contrast..."

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I haven't taken a college exam in many years, but the title of this piece is a phrase I remember from many essay questions.  A recent blog by the notable baseball writer, Joe Posnanski, made me recall that phrase, particularly the "contrast" part.

Posnanski wrote about a radio interview with Theo Epstein, GM of the Red Sox.  I think we all could agree that Theo Epstein and Ed Wade have some contrasting views.  Sure, they both are GMs.  But they are contrasting ages, and I suspect that they contrast in their views on putting together a baseball team.  Posnanski picks up the Epstein interview as he defends J.D.Drew's performance this season.  The local radio sports guys say, yeah, Drew has a good OPS and everything, but that really isn't production, like RBIs and scoring runs.

Epstein's response is interesting:

That’s not true. With RBIs, yes. Based on his skill set, he’s always going to have underwhelming RBI totals. I couldn’t care less. When you’re putting together a winning team, that honestly doesn’t matter. When you have a player who takes a ton of walks, who doesn’t put the ball in play at an above average rate, and is a certain type of hitter, he’s not going to drive in a lot of runs. Runs scored, you couldn’t be more wrong. If you look at a rate basis, J.D. scores a ton of runs.

"And the reason he scores a ton of runs is because he does the single most important thing you can do in baseball as an offensive player. And that’s NOT MAKE OUTS. He doesn’t make outs. He’s always among our team leaders in on-base percentage, usually among the league leaders in on-base percentage. And he’s a really good base runner. So when he doesn’t make outs, and he gets himself on base, he scores runs — and he has some good hitters hitting behind him. Look at his runs scored on a rate basis with the Red Sox or throughout his career. It’s outstanding.

"You guys can talk about RBIs if you want, I just … we ignore them in the front office … and I think we’ve built some pretty good offensive clubs. If you want to talk about RBIs at all, talk about it as a percentage of opportunity but it’s just simply not a way or something we use to evaluate offensive players."

What Epstein says makes a lot of sense to me.  But as Posnanski says in his blog, this isn't necessarily the accepted view among many GMs and other baseball people.   Perhaps one way of looking at how lineups are built is to compare the Astros and Red Sox.

The Astros are next to last in the NL in taking walks (only the Padres are worse).  Even the Pirates have taken 48 more walks than the Astros.  The Astros' .320 OBP is 12th in the NL.   The Astros are also 12th in the NL in RBIs.  The Astros are above average in clutch hitting (4th in NL for batting average with RISP).  The Red Sox are 2d in the AL in OBP (.351) and 2d in walks (654).  The Red Sox are 3d in RBIs with 810.  Not counting pitchers, only 2 Astros (Berkman and Bourn) have an OBP as high as the team average OBP for the Red Sox.

There is something ironic about this result.  The Astros concentrate on acquiring clutch hitters, and they hit well in the clutch, but the team struggles to score runs and accumulate RBIs.  The Red Sox ignore RBIs when they build their team, but they end up with as premier team in accumulating RBIs and scoring runs.

OK, feel free to compare and contrast the philosophies of the front office.