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How to Win: RBI

Runs Batted In are a tough category to prepare for. Like Runs Scored, they depend partly on the skills of the hitter you want to draft, but heavily on the context he plays in. With Runs, you wanted the hitters who sat at the top of their lineups, now you want the bashers driving those guys in. Unfortunately, we've got the same problem we had then: most of the best RBI guys are the best hitters in baseball. That means that the edge you get is going to be more on the margins. Unless you get some seriously good luck or short yourself in a another category (like speed), you probably aren't going to run away with this one, but that doesn't mean you can't win it....

2012's Top 12

1. Miguel Cabrera            139
2. Josh Hamilton            128
3. Chase Headley             115
4. Ryan Braun                   112
5. Edwin Encarnacion    110 
6. Josh Willingham        110
7. Prince Fielder               108
7. Alfonso Soriano          108
7. Adrian Gonzalez         108 
10. Billy Butler                  107
11. Curtis Granderson    106
12. Aramis Ramirez        105
12. Albert Pujols              105

On a list like this, you'd expect to see elite power hitters in elite lineups, and that's mostly what you get. Obviously, everyone on this list had a great year last year, but some of the names don't seem to come from baseball's top offenses. Willingham comes from the middling Twins, while Headley's Padres and Soriano's Cubs come from the bottom ranks of last year's offensive teams. So, apparently you can get some RBI's on mediocre offenses, but other than that, I don't see much from last year's leaders that can help us find true value.

RBI's Without Homers
Often, RBI's are connected to homers, but that means paying extra for the double-category production. These guys won't put too many balls over the fence, but they'll knock in some runs anyway. If you want some sneaky RBI value, try some of these hitters: Adrian Gonzalez (108 RBI's, 18 HR), Torii Hunter (92, 16), Miguel Montero (88, 15), Joe Mauer (85, 10), Starlin Castro (78, 14), Brandon Phillips (77, 18), Justin Morneau (77, 19), Jason Kipnis (76, 14), Chris Johnson (76, 15), Marco Scutaro (74, 7), Alexei Ramirez (73, 9), Alex Gordon (72, 14), Martin Prado (70, 10), Neil Walker (69, 14), Howie Kendrick (67, 8), Shin-Soo Choo (67,16), Michael Young (67, 8), Austin Jackson (66, 16). I didn't include everyone with more than 66 RBI's and fewer than 20 homers. Instead, I was looking simply for hitters that don't get a large part of their value from hitting home runs--or a lot of their price tag from a power reputation.

2B+3B Leaders
If you aren't putting the ball over the fence, you're still going to need some kind of power. Since doubles and triples usually bring in the same amount of runners (most or all of them),  I've just added the stats together. Here are the leaders:

1. Alex Gordon                 56
2. Aramis Ramirez          53
3. Albert Pujols                50
3. Aaron Hill                 50
5. Robinson Cano       49
5. Jose Reyes                49
7. Adrian Gonzalez         48
7. Martin Prado               48
9. Ian Kinsler                47
10. Ben Zobrist             46
11. Alex Rios                   45
11. Shin-Soo Choo           45
11. Nelson Cruz             45
12. Paul Goldschmidt 44
12. Joey Votto                44

The list continues on, and anyone with 35 or more doubles and triples is going to get some extra RBI's, on top of however many you might expect from his homers, lineup, and park. How good is Joey Votto, by the way? Forty-four doubles and triples in less than 400 AB--there's a reason you can't get him after the first round. Pujols, Kinsler, and Gonzalez, all disappointed to one degree or another--but they still batted runners in with extra-base hits.Knowing who smacks in extra-base hits is important, because you won't find that info listed with your fantasy stats. 

Of course, all the doubles and triples in the world aren't going to send many RBI's Jose Reyes's way, leading off as he does. That's why it's worth remembering a player's place in the lineup. 

Middle of the Order Hitters

A hitter in the right lineup slot can bring in a lot of runners, especially with a couple high-OBP hitters setting the table. Looking for a strong overall offense isn't so important when it comes to RBI's--you just need a decent hitter and runners on base. Without reiterating all the power-hitting superstars, here are some hitters likely to get some good RBI opportunities: Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks, Nick Swisher, Victor Martinez, Carlos Pena, Chris Carter, Howie Kendrick, Kevin Youkilis,Brandon Moss, Kendrys Morales, David Murphy, Colby Rasmus, Jason Kubel, Ryan Ludwick, Carlos Gomez, Garrett Jones, Yonder Alonso, Jayson Werth.

Remember that context is key, even when considering context. Remember to count a hitter's home park for or against him--but do it after the players around him. Everyone knows to get the hitters from Colorado and Texas, but consider Chicago (White Sox), Boston, Baltimore, Arizona, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and--surprisingly enough--Detroit, Minnesota, and Atlanta. 

Mid-Order Steals

Stolen bases are showing up everywhere in today's game, not just in the top couple spots in the lineup and the AL nine-hole. Sure there are elite power-speed players out there, but there aren't many to go around. That doesn't mean you can't squeeze some RBI's out of your speedsters. Check out these mid-order guys who steal a few bases: Shane Victorino, Starlin Castro, Alex Rios, Ian Desmond, Hanley Ramirez, B.J. Upton, and Michael Saunders. All the guys above managed  20 steals or more, but you don't need to get your steals in bulk to help yourself in RBI's. There are quite a few hitters who add 10-15 steals but bat in the middle of the lineup. Grabbing several of them can pad your steals total without compromising your Runs Batted In.

A Few Final Words

Finding RBI's can be as simple as spending extra dollars or higher draft picks on the best hitters, in the best lineups, and friendliest parks. It's not to say that getting elite players isn't key...it is, but it's not really a strategy. The trick to succeeding in RBI's and finishing near the top of the pack at the end of the year (or week to week, if that's how you roll) is to add a few extra RBI's in on as many players as you can. Finding those sneaky doubles hitters, and making sure your later draft picks are hitting behind someone with a good on-base percentage can add quite a few ribbies to your fantasy lineup.

As with Runs Scored, RBI's aren't a category you can really plan on winning. There's so much luck involved in the difference between a little success and a huge amount, that a single waiver-wire selection can change the whole game. The one thing you want to avoid most is to assume that RBI's are nothing but luck, short yourself in the kind of players you'll need, and end up--avoidably--in the cellar. You can't win RBI's on draft day, but you can definitely put yourself in position to compete in the category and do enough to keep your team near the top of the standings.

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