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Fredi Gonzalez still thinks RBI is an important stat

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Talking up outfielder Hector Olivera, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez talked up the RBI stat while impugning fans of more advanced metrics. Via David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“And he’s driven in runs,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He leads the team in RBIs. I know in the stat-geek world RBI is not a big number, but it sure is. Because you can have all the on-base percentage you want, if you don’t have somebody driving anybody in, you’re not going to score runs.”

Olivera has 12 RBI, which does lead the Braves this spring. But it’s not a particularly elite number, as 32 hitters have more RBI than Olivera and 12 others are tied with him. Players with 12 RBI include such luminaries as Tyler Saladino, Pedro Florimon, and Bryan Holaday. Those with 13 or more include Jemile Weeks, Sam Travis, and Christian Walker.

We know spring training stats don’t mean a dang thing. Why is that? For one, the sample sizes are very small. The leader in at-bats so far this spring is Jarrett Parker with 69. That’s around one-tenth of a full season’s worth of at-bats. Todd Frazier, last year’s regular season leader in AB’s, got to 67 AB’s on April 22. It’s three weeks’ worth of playing time. Secondly, spring training stats are meaningless because pitchers often face subpar hitters and vice versa. Look at the at-bats and innings pitched leaderboards and look at how few names near the top are quality major leaguers. Teams are giving younger players and fringe players opportunities to prove themselves while taking it easy with the veterans. Or, as Giants manager Bruce Bochy calls it, “slow playing”.

Then there’s what’s wrong with the RBI stat itself: often, it tells you more about the quality of the hitters/runners in front of the player in question than about that player himself. A Red Sox lineup where Pablo Sandoval leads off and David Ortiz bats second will yield fewer RBI opportunities for Xander Bogaerts than a 1-2 of Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia because Sandoval and Ortiz run the bases extremely poorly and they don’t attempt to steal bases.

The Braves are hoping Olivera develops into a middle-of-the-order hitter, and that certainly may happen. They won’t be able to tell, though, just by looking at his spring training RBI total.

Gonzalez is signed with the Braves through 2016 and the club holds an option for the ’17 season.

Maddon: Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again for Angels this year

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again this season for the Los Angeles Angels after straining his right forearm in his second start, manager Joe Maddon says.

Ohtani likely will return to the Angels’ lineup as their designated hitter this week, Maddon said Tuesday night before the club opened a road series against the Seattle Mariners.

The Angels’ stance on Ohtani is unsurprising after the club announced he had strained the flexor pronator mass near the elbow of his pitching arm. The two-way star’s recovery from the strain requires him to abstain from throwing for four to six weeks, which covers most of the shortened 2020 season.

“I’m not anticipating him pitching at all this year,” Maddon said. “Any kind of throwing program is going to be very conservative.”

Ohtani was injured Sunday in the second inning of his second start since returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery in late 2018. Ohtani issued five walks during the 42-pitch inning against the Houston Astros, with his velocity dropping later in the frame.

The arm injury is another obstacle in Ohtani’s path to becoming the majors’ first true two-way player in decades. He made 10 mound starts as a rookie in 2018 before injuring his elbow, but he served as the Angels’ regular designated hitter last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani has pitched in only three games since June 2018, but the Angels still believe in Ohtani’s ability to be a two-way player, Maddon said.

“I’m seeing that he can,” Maddon said. “We’ve just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out. But I’ve seen it. He’s just such a high-end arm, and we’ve seen what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe it might get to the point where he may choose to do one thing over the other and express that to us. I know he likes to hit. In my mind’s eye, he’s still going to be able to do this.”

The veteran manager believes Ohtani will benefit from a full spring training and a normal season. Ohtani wasn’t throwing at full strength for a starter when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March because he wasn’t expected to pitch until May as he returned from surgery.

“Going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year, that’s what we need to see is some normalcy before you make that kind of determination,” Maddon said.

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