Mets slugger Pete Alonso makes the case for the RBI in this analytical era

NEW YORK – The sentence had not even been completed, and Pete Alonso reacted in such a way that made it clear that he could never agree.

The value of the RBI has been debated — and often diminished — in this analytical era of baseball, but Alonso isn’t having any of that discussion.

“Oh, absolutely (they matter),” Alonso said recently.

Alonso, the Mets’ rookie phenom who just set the team’s single-season home run record with No. 42 on Tuesday night, is one of 10 players in the 100-RBI club this year, accomplishing the feat last Saturday.

He entered Wednesday’s game against the Cubs with 101 RBIs, and this year will likely be the first of many in which the first baseman drives in at least 100 runs.

“I feel a lot of stats can overcomplicate things, but when you strip it down and actually look at it, RBIs, it’s like if there’s no RBIs or — I’m not trying to discredit anything else like guys getting on base and stuff like that, but driving in runs is an art,” Alonso told Yahoo Sports before a recent game against the Braves. “Hitting with guys on base is completely different than hitting with no one on base.”

Pete Alonso of the New York Mets in action against the Chicago Cubs during a game at Citi Field on August 27, 2019 in New York City. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The case against the RBI

The emphasis on analytics has changed the way fans, players and executives analyze the game, but that doesn’t mean there is a universal view.

For example, the pitcher win is a statistic that carries little weight to executives, but try telling that to pitchers. A starter can feel like he did his job if he left with a lead and his team wins, but feel he failed if he leaves with his team trailing.

There is not as much blowback against RBIs, but long gone are the days when the RBI champion was valued like the ERA leader. The casual fan probably knows who MLB’s home run leader is, but couldn’t tell you who’s driven in the most runs.

Part of that depreciation stems from there being more advanced ways to analyze a hitters’ value such as OPS and WRC+ (weighted runs created plus).

Those tools offer more of a glimpse into a particular player’s offensive value while not taking into account the play of his teammates.

The game’s best hitters are also no longer primarily hitting third and fourth with Ronald Acuña Jr. serving as a leadoff hitter, and Mike Trout and Aaron Judge hitting in the two hole. There are fewer opportunities to drive in runs in those positions.

Opportunity is another key word used to dismiss the value of an RBI since some players inherently are going to have more opportunities. A slugger like Alonso, hitting third or fourth, is going to drive in more runs than the No. 8 hitter.

Driving in runs is an art

Alonso recognizes that opportunity is in play, but it’s still up to the player to convert their chances. It takes a certain approach and ability to deliver in crucial at-bats to get those runs across when a runner is in scoring position.

Many pitchers will say how they bear down even more when a runner is at second or third base and just one hit away from scoring.

“I think RBIs is actually one of the most important stats, if not the most important because it shows what you do under pressure situations with guys on base,” Alonso said. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to score more runs than the other team. Without runs on the board, then you’re not going to win. It’s a matter of what can this guy do and I feel like it’s a measure of how you can perform.

“I understand, yes, there are more opportunities for some guys just based on where they hit in the lineup, but if guys are hitting with guys on, and driving in runs, that’s how you win games. It’s as simple as that.”

Alonso has a shot to lead the league in RBIs, ranking seventh entering Wednesday and trailing Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman by four.

It’s not a goal of his to end the year atop the leaderboard, but he says it would be “awesome” to do so.

Even if he doesn’t, Alonso will take pride in how many runs he drives in. That’s why hitting the century mark carried extra significance to the slugger.

“Every milestone means something,” Alonso said. “Yes, it’s great Individually, but the reason why I feel I’ve been able to do such a good job in driving in runs is because I’m focused on it every day, every at-bat means something.

“I want to make the most out of every opportunity.”

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