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How to Win 2014: RBI

Runs Batted In are our third luck-heavy counting-stat category in a row, following on the heels of Wins and Run Scored. RBI contain the same two essential features: skill factors and luck factors, so we'll be examining the category based on both. Let the reader beware: much of what matters for scoring runs matters for driving them in--and that's not at all limited to hitting the ball over the fence and doing both at once. With that in mind (hint, be ready to check the How to Win article from a couple weeks ago), let's dive in to what it'll take to bring home the RBI crown.

Making Your Own Luck

Big-Picture Factors: Park and Lineup

Park factors and overall team offense play a huge part in how many runs any given player bats in. There's a reason one expects Robinson Cano's fantasy value to go down playing for the Mariners. You already read the more in-depth analysis (right?) that I did for Runs, and it's the same for RBI. Here's the condensed version:

The Rockies, Diamondbacks, Rangers, and Red Sox were all among the top teams in projected offensive output (by RS/Game) and play in the top hitter-friendly parks. Yes, these two factors have causal relationships on one another, but getting both at once is still well worthwhile.

The Angels, Blue Jays, Tigers, Giants, Cardinals, and Braves all look to be among the top offenses in their leagues. While the difference between AL and NL clubs looks very large at the macro-lineup level, a lot of that difference (all?) is thanks to those wonderful batting pitchers. Keep that in mind when it comes to NL players in the first-third lineup slots, but after that it shouldn't matter nearly as much.

Your Place in the World (or at Least the Batting Order)

Just as with Runs Scored, a hitter's slot in the lineup matters a lot for RBI. Fortunately, entirely different slots are useful here, so we get some original analysis.

This part of the teammate/order/luck factor is obvious enough: middle of the order hitters get more RBI chances, and therefore get more RBI. Adding to the obviousness of it all, this is where most of the best hitters bat anyway. So the key to RBI is to use early draft picks and high auction dollars on good hitters. Now, that is an efficient fantasy baseball economy.

Unfortunately, my last two sentences are about as true as they are tongue in cheek, but there is still a way to get less-obvious value and more RBI onto your roster.

The first thing you can do is to check out our list (again in the runs article) of high-OBP hitters that bat in leadoff or second, and take extra care to target the hitters behind them. However good the hitter is, he'll get a value boost from the guys batting ahead of them. It's why maybe you shouldn't be too excited about the RBI chances that Joey Votto or Chris Davis will get (check out MLBDepthCharts.com to see who might be hitting ahead of them...ugh), but you can be thrilled about what Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera will be able to do.

Here are some teams whose four through six hitters ought to enjoy their table-setters:

Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, Tigers, Angels, Rangers, and probably the A's.

Over in the NL, we've got the Braves, Padres (surprisingly enough), Rockies, Cardinals, Nationals, and probably the Dodgers and Brewers getting good OBP's out of their top two slots.

Of course, change the lineup around a lotand these lists might look different by the time the season starts. They will look different by the time it ends. So keep an eye on this stuff. It's also worth noting that having a good team offense and having good table-setters are very different things.

The second thing you can do is look for middle-of-the-road hitters in premium lineup slots. These guys won't have the name value or high cost of their superstar counterparts, but they ought to drive in more runs than similar players stuck farther back in the lineup. These hitters might even be in bad lineups, but stand a good chance to luck into whatever baserunners manage to happen.

Here are some decided non-stars who seem rosterable occupying prime four-through-six batting order real estate (most platoon players excluded):

C: Miguel MonteroEvan GattisJarrod SaltalamacchiaJonathan LucroyRussell MartinSalvador Perez

1B: Justin MorneauYonder AlonsoMatt AdamsAdam LaRocheCorey Hart, Mitch Moreland, James Loney

2B: Brandon PhillipsNeil Walker,  Jedd Gyorko

3B: Chris JohnsonJuan UribeDavid Freese

SS: Asdrubal CabreraJ.J. HardyXander Bogaerts

OF: Ryan Ludwick,  Chris Young, Marlon Byrd,   Carlos Quentin,   Michael Brantley,  Avisail Garcia, Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia,  Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera,  Josh Reddick

 Narrow that down to players on the teams listed above for good table-setters and you've got a target list of guys who ought to luck into more RBI's than a player of their caliber normally would:

Gattis, Johnson, Morneau, Uribe, Lucroy, Quentin, Alonso, Gyorko,* Adams, LaRoche, Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bogaerts, Loney, Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Freese, Reddick, Moreland

*Don't actually load up on Padres hoping for RBI. But one of them really might produce with Everth Cabrera and Will Venable setting the table.

You could narrow it down by park factor too (which would get rid of those incongruous Padres from the formula), but that seems to make it a bit too narrow to be useful.

Bringing the Skills to the Table

Hidden Power

Homer power is more than a little apparent. Doubles and triples, however, fly a little under the radar. Not much, but a little. And really, who do you think is driving in more runs, a guy with 35 doubles and 20 HR's, or a guy with 20 doubles and 20 HR's? Their stats may look the same on your fantasy baseball website (which can be useful when you offer trades), but the first guy will probably be knocking in way more runs. So go after those doubles hitters.

Thrity-eight players hit at least 35 doubles last year. Since you can go to Fangraphs.com or Baseball-Reference.com and see them for yourself, I'm not going to list them here. But I will mention those doubles hitters that don't hit home runs. Any that do will have been snatched up long before you could get to them.

And yes, 35 is arbitrary. But there has to be a cutoff somewhere. Just remember that when you're looking up a player's stats in the heat of the draft, look them up from a source that actually tells you how many extra-base hits he got.

Players with 35+ Doubles and Fewer than 20 HR's

40-55 Doubles: Matt Carpenter, Manny Machado, Jed Lowrie, Yadier Molina, Gerardo Parra, Dustin Pedroia, Saltalamacchia

35-39 Doubles: Brandon Belt, Alexei Ramirez, Daniel Murphy, Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, Jason Kipnis, Martin Prado, Ben Zobrist, Morneau, Jimmy Rollins, Joe Mauer, Jason Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera

 High Slugging Percentage, Low Homers

 Doubles are a specific, helpful aspect of slugging percentage, but the rate stat does a good job of encapsulating the ability to drive in runners too. Again, we'll list some heavy sluggers, but omit those with over 20 homers (or who would have gotten over 20 with more playing time).

 .460-.480 SLG: Carpenter, Molina, Mauer

 .440-.460: Jhonny Peralta, Chris Johnson, Allen Craig, Jonathan Lucroy, Jason Kipnis, Shane Victorino, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Nava, Starling Marte

 Aside from the fact that this list comprises essentially the entire Cardinals lineup, we can see that there are a some potential values at catcher and middle infield--which is good, because those aren't the usual sources of homers or of RBI.

 Some Final Thoughts

The above are ways to assist yourself on the margins. Marginal upgrades to each player in your lineup, mid- and late-round draft picks that will provide more help than their peers, that sort of thing. By far, though, the bulk of your team RBI will come from your top players, and this will be true for everyone in your league. Beware, then, of spending too much or too early on pitching, as it will have consequences in the RBI category.

As with Runs Scored, your RBI total in daily roto leagues will depend a lot on your in-season management: utilizing your bench slots, and probably streaming at bats. The more chances you have to hit, the more runs will come in. Sometimes, baseball is still simple.

Join us again next week: we'll swing back to the pitcher's mound for ERA.

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