Modern baseball metrics usually don’t address runs batted in.
Things such as runs created, weighted runs created plus and weighted on-base average focus on individual contributions toward scoring. RBI are team-dependent. A hitter whose teammates don’t get on base often enough has an RBI handicap.
We’re seeing some of that this season with White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.
Now in his ninth season, Abreu has driven in 100 or more runs six times, including 123 in 2019 and 117 in 2021.
This season, he’s at 66 RBI. His only lower total was 60, which led the majors in the 60-game season in 2020.
At .310/.383/.450, Abreu’s .833 OPS isn’t far off his career OPS of .862. His 14 home runs are down for someone who has slugged 30 or more five times, including 30 last season.
Some of the RBI difference between 2021 and 2022 stems from the home-run gap. Last season, Abreu hit 16 bases-empty homers for 16 RBI in which he drove in only himself. This season, he has five bases-empty homers.
In 2021, Abreu hit 14 homers with runners on base, including two grand slams. Those homers drove in 36 runs. This season, nine homers have come with runners on base, with no grand slams and 21 RBI.
That’s a 26-RBI gap on homers, but it still leaves a considerable amount of distance between his 117 RBI last season and his 66 so far this season. That gap will close a bit down the stretch for Abreu, who had 659 plate appearances in 2021 and has 603 to date this season.
Some of the difference comes from Abreu hitting with more runners on base last season. The Sox’ .336 on-base percentage in 2021 has tailed off to .318 in 2022. Along with a drop by others, they’ve missed Tim Anderson (.338 OBP in 2021, .339 in 2022) high in the lineup as injuries have dropped him from 551 plate appearances last season to 351 so far this season.
Abreu hit with 451 runners on base last season. That has faded to 392 this season. The difference is smaller with runners in scoring position, where the Sox had 206 in Abreu’s plate appearances in 2021 and have had 189 in 2022.
If we look back to Abreu’s biggest RBI season — 2019 — we see something similar. He hit with 461 runners on base that season, 221 of them in scoring position.
Abreu steadily has climbed the Sox’ career leaderboard since he arrived from Cuba in 2014 and became an instant hit in the middle of the lineup.
His 854 RBI rank fifth on the Sox’ all-time list behind Frank Thomas (1,465), Paul Konerko (1,383), Luke Appling (1,116) and Harold Baines (981). Earlier this season, Abreu passed Minnie Mi?oso (808) and Eddie Collins (803) on the list.
Abreu is a long-established good hitter, and he’s having a good season with an OPS that ranks 20th in the majors. His RBI count is down, but a hitter can’t control how often his teammates reach base.