The Commish Online                                                                                
Lee Producing Despite His Team
September 14, 2005

A reader posed the following question:

Hey Commish,

What percentage of Derek Lee's RBI were him knocking himself in?  How does this compare with the other top sluggers in his peer group?


It's an interesting question, and one that should be addressed at this time with Lee, Pujols, and Andruw Jones all having MVP-caliber years in the National League.  In terms of RBI and HR, Derek Lee hits .42 HR for every RBI he accumulates, the HIGHEST rate for any hitter with more than 55 extra base hits this year.  This means that either: 1) Derek Lee is doing most of the work himself on the Cubs, or 2) Derek Lee doesn't come through in the "clutch" enough.  Bill James, Rob Neyer, and other sabermetricians have already proven that "clutch hitting" does not really exist and fluctuates from player to player, year to year.  Further indicating that Lee's performance is that of a one man wrecking crew, he has only amassed 107 AB with runners in scoring position as of Wednesday.  For comparison: Andruw Jones has 169 similar AB and Pujols comes in at 125 AB.  Surprisingly, Andruw Jones has had a plethora of opportunities despite playing in a lineup full of rookies and a guy nearing 50.

In an effort to get a better gauge on the production of the elite swingers, I looked up a ratio of extra base hits/RBI among all hitters with 55 or more extra base hits.  I thought that a double or better should receive an RBI in most cases (unless Paul Konerko is on first), so it would be interesting to see the ratio of XBH to RBI.  A high ratio would indicate that the hitter is getting his hits, but there is no one on base to drive in.  Sure enough, of the top 20 hitters this year (most XBH), Derek Lee was first in the NL (and 2nd overall behind Brian Roberts) with a ratio of 0.900.  Not surprisingly, hitters from Baltimore, Chicago (NL), Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati top the list, while hitters from Boston, Texas, and New York (AL) can be found on the bottom.

What does this tell us about Derek Lee's performance this year?  It says that Lee is putting up numbers comparable to Pujols and Jones without as many opportunities.  I am not saying that Lee's name should be engraved on the MVP Award today, but he certainly shouldn't be discounted just because his team isn't in first place.  The Cubs haven't had consistent pitching and their hitting (as demonstrated) is largely dependent on one man.  Therefore, that man shouldn't get LESS credit just because his team is struggling.  I don't buy in to the fact that it's easier to put up numbers on a team out of any playoff race.  Either way, you still have to face major league pitching and without solid hitters around you, you will get fewer good pitches to hit and fewer baserunners to drive in.

Is Derek Lee the MVP then?  I'm not going that far, but don't forget about him when the voting begins.

Some data to peruse: