‘Runs’ is a Bad Statistic

Runs scored is not a good individual statistic. It is often cited by announcers, given a prominent position in the box score, and even mentioned during MVP debates. A triple digit number under the ‘R’ column-header can propel a player from “deadweight” to “table setter.”

Fans and analysts assume that a player’s runs reflect his own skill. They reason that a player has to successfully get on base, and then he has to run well. However, it’s not an efficient way of measuring either of those things. First, as far as getting on base, it’s much better to measure that with… times on base. Second, a player does not have to run well in order to score a bunch of runs. A much larger factor is his team.

In 1910, Ed Lennox of the Brooklyn Dodgers scored 19 runs despite getting on base 136 times (including 3 homers, where he obviously brought himself in). That’s a miserable 14% clip. Somebody could conclude that he must have been as slow as molasses, but that isn’t true. He stole 7 bases and legged out 4 triples this season, and two seasons later he stole 19 bases with 10 triples. He might not have been a speed demon, but he move reasonably well. The bigger culprits were his teammates, who combined for -5 WAR (that’s a negative!). They had just 3 players with more than 35 RBIs. So, Ed Lennox was not to blame for getting on base without scoring, he was just a victim of circumstance.

OK, maybe Ed Lennox was pretty bad.

On the other side of the coin there is Al Simmons. In 1930, for the Athletics, he scored 152 runs in 251 times on base. Compared to the 14% clip of Lennox, his 61% is monumental. Simmons’ lifetime stolen base numbers in 20 seasons were 88-for-153 (57%), or in layman’s terms, not good. Simmons has his teammates to thank for his runs total. The two men directly behind him in the order, Jimmie Foxx and Bing Miller, drove in 156 and 100 runs respectively.

Should Al Simmons get credit due to his good fortune of being on the 1930 Athletics? Should Ed Lennox get blame for being unlucky enough to get stuck with the 1910 Dodgers? Of course not, on both fronts. Now, don’t get me wrong, on the team level, the game is all about scoring runs. Feel free to evaluate teams based on their runs scored. But don’t give 20% of the credit to a player who’s scored 20% of the runs. It is lineup dependent, teammate dependent, and opposition dependent. Don’t compare two players’ run totals and make a talent judgement between them.

Al Simmons, a Hall of Famer, had tremendous fortune in addition to his copious skills.

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