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Runs Just Aren't An Underrated Stat

Yesterday, as part of ESPN's Hot Stove U series, which focuses on 30 "need-to-know" topics for the 2010 baseball season, Jim Caple wrote an article around the thesis that runs scored is the most underrated statistic in baseball. While Caple is a good writer and story teller, I just have a hard time taking this one too seriously.

He goes into some detail about how the main goal of baseball is to score runs, and therefore runs scored should be the most important statistic. But the main statistic that he compares runs to is RBIs, which is silly in its own right, and he fails to really acknowledge any of the other factors that go into scoring runs, such as placement in the batting order, the quality of the surrounding hitters in the lineup, and good old fashioned luck.

He seems to attempt to boil the value of players down to a single statistic, and the idea that the run is the best individual number to gauge a player's value just isn't realistic at this point given how context driven the number is, and the fact that it completely ignores defensive value, base running value (kind of), and positional adjustments.

Now personally, I believe that FanGraphs WAR is currently the best single statistic out there to judge a player's value, if that's what we're talking about. Runs aren't the worst statistic, but it just seems lazy to shrug your shoulders and say, "Hey, this is the best statistic I got."

Of the 20 players who scored the most runs in 2009, only 9 were among the top 20 in WAR: Pujols, Pedroia, Figgins, Utley, Zimmerman, Jeter, Fielder, H. Ramirez, and Tulowitzki.

Of those same top 20 runs scored leaders, every single one batted in the top three spots in the batting order and/or batted in one of the ten best offenses in baseball. Players who didn't have the benefit of batting in an elite offense but were elite players that are very underrated by runs scored, such as Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Franklin Gutierrez, and Derrek Lee, weren't even among the top 30 in runs scored.

Can we just stop trying to convince people that depending on counting stats like runs, wins, hits and RBI's is remotely productive to gauge a player's value, and move on to answering more important questions?

Author's Note: ESPN reached out to me to point out today's Hot Stove U article, a piece by Dave Cameron and Matt Klaasen of FanGraphs supporting FanGraphs WAR as the best bottom-line statistic available. This is certainly the piece that I was expecting to see from ESPN, and I appreciate the hat tip. But while I agree that ESPN should be supporting multiple angles of looking at every sport, it still disappoints me that angles like the one in the Caple piece are being argued.