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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.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.