Saturday, August 20, 2016

Curtis Granderson Chases Unwanted History One RBI at a Time

On Friday, the Mets' leaky bullpen turned a 1-1 tie into an 8-1 blowout loss in a matter of minutes.  Gone was Seth Lugo's valiant effort , in which he allowed one run in six and two-thirds innings while he was in the game and two additional runs after he was taken out of the game, no thanks to Jerry Blevins' craptastic performance.

The sole run for the Mets came in the second inning, when Curtis Granderson bashed and splashed his 20th home run of the season into McCovey Cove.  Obviously, Grandy's tater came with no one on base, something Mets fans have become accustomed to, as it was the 17th consecutive solo homer for Granderson this season.  And for those who would say that Granderson has so many solo shots because he's been used mostly as a leadoff hitter this season, you should be reminded that the only time Granderson is guaranteed to bat with no one on base as a No. 1 hitter is in inning No. 1 and that last year, he was used mostly as a leadoff hitter and still managed to knock eight balls out of the park with men on base.  Oh, and last night's four-base hit came as the Mets' sixth-place hitter, as did his previous solo homer two nights before that.

For the season, Granderson has 20 home runs and just 34 RBI.  You read that correctly, kids.  Thirty-four runs batted in for a 20-homer hitter.  And it's because of the paltry RBI figure that Granderson is chasing unwanted history.

The forever-smiling Curtis Granderson finally has something to frown about.  (Photo by Paul J. Bereswill)

Curtis Granderson is on pace to hit 27 homers and drive in 45 runs this season.  Only nine players in big league history have hit 20 or more homers while producing no more than 45 RBI in the same season.  But none of the players hit more than 22 home runs, as Chris Duncan (22 HR, 43 RBI in 2006) and Mark Reynolds (22 HR, 45 RBI in 2014) are tied for the most homers in a 45-RBI-or-fewer campaign.  With Granderson on pace for 27 homers, he stands a good chance to have the fewest runs batted in of any player with that home run total.  In fact, he could have fewer RBI than any player who hit at least 23 HR.

Here is the list of the fewest RBI recorded by players who hit 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 homers.

  • 23 HR, 48 RBI - Ruben Rivera (1999)
  • 24 HR, 51 RBI - Ken Phelps (1984)
  • 25 HR, 56 RBI - Fred Lynn (1988), Marcus Thames (2008), Luis Valbuena (2015)
  • 26 HR, 54 RBI - Ron Gant (2000), Joc Pederson (2015)
  • 27 HR, 56 RBI - Mark Bellhorn (2002)

Ruben Rivera is the only player in baseball history to hit 23 or more homers who failed to drive in 50 runs in that campaign.  Granderson, who has driven in 34 runs in the Mets' first 122 games, stands to join Rivera in this exclusive club while hitting more homers than Rivera and driving in fewer runs.  It should be noted that Rivera drove in his 34th run in 1999 on July 19 in his team's 92nd game of the season, while Granderson collected RBI No. 34 exactly one full month and 30 games later in his team's schedule.

With 20 homers and 34 RBI, Granderson has fewer then two runs batted in for every home run he has hit, or more precisely, 1.7 RBI/HR.  Only two other players with 20+ homers in a single season had RBI totals that failed to be at least twice the number of their home run output.  That gruesome twosome is:

  • Kevin Maas (1990) - 21 HR, 41 RBI
  • Chris Duncan (2006) - 22 HR, 43 RBI

Unlike Granderson, both Maas and Duncan needed just one additional RBI to have twice as many runs batted in as they had home runs.  They averaged 1.95 RBI/HR, compared to Granderson's 1.7 RBI/HR ratio, which means Granderson is on pace to shatter the mark for fewest RBI per home run among those players who hit 20 or more home runs.  But what if the bar was lowered from 20 HR to just reaching double digits in homers?  Surely, there should be many players who averaged fewer than 1.7 RBI per home run when they didn't hit too many homers to begin with, right?


In fact, here is the complete list of players who hit ten or more homers and failed to drive in 1.7 runs for every homer they hit:

  • Wayne Gross (1985) - 11 HR, 18 RBI (1.64 RBI/HR)
  • Russell Branyan (2008) - 12 HR, 20 RBI (1.67 RBI/HR)

That's it.  I'm sure Curtis Granderson is pleased to be in their company.

So let's look at one last thing before you start the process of buying Granderson a one-way plane ticket out of town.  Let's review all the names we've mentioned above.  I'm talking about Chris Duncan, Matt Reynolds, Ruben Rivera, Ken Phelps, Fred Lynn, Marcus Thames, Luis Valbuena, Ron Gant, Joc Pederson, Mark Bellhorn, Kevin Maas, Wayne Gross and Russell Branyan, for those of you whose attention span is smaller than the difference between Granderson's home run and RBI totals.

Those 13 players averaged just 343 at-bats in their RBI-starved seasons, with Pederson (480 AB) being the only one to surpass 450 at-bats.  Therefore, it could be reasonably argued that because most of them didn't come up to the plate as often as an everyday player, they had fewer RBI opportunities.  Granderson already has 424 at-bats this season.  Barring injury or benching, he's on pace to rack up 563 at-bats.  And yet he's still not driving in runs.

It makes you wonder if that paltry .123 batting average with runners in scoring position (10-for-81) and that almost inconceivable .050 mark in two-out/RISP situations (2-for-40) has something to do with Granderson's low RBI total with all those home runs.  (Spoiler alert:  It does.)

When the Mets signed Curtis Granderson as a free agent prior to the 2014 campaign, they expected him to be a run-producer.  Instead, he became the team's leadoff hitter.  In 2015, Granderson produced 70 RBI, with 64 of those runs driven in from the leadoff spot.  This year, he's not even halfway to his 2015 RBI total even though the season is more than three-quarters complete.  And now, he's not even in the leadoff spot where he could use the excuse that No. 1 hitters aren't expected to drive in runs.

It's not unusual for a big-time free agent signing to make history.  It is unusual, however, for one to chase the kind of unwanted history Curtis Granderson is approaching - history he's about to make one well-spaced RBI at a time.


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