Here’s a trivia question question that may stump even the most ardent of baseball fans and historians: What’s an offensive feat measured over the course of a season that Wally Berger, Nate Colbert, and Sammy Sosa have accomplished and Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, and other immortals have not?
Answer: Colbert, Berger, and Sosa are among a small group of players who had a hand in at least 30 percent of their team’s runs in a season.
I call this stat Runs Accounted For (RAF) and it’s fairly easy to calculate. Just add a player’s RBI and run totals for a season, subtract home runs since those count double, and divide by the total number of runs his team scores. From there, multiply by 100 to get the percentage of runs a player accounts for.
To be clear, RAF proposes that a player has a hand in any run he bats in or scores himself. While this admittedly leads to some double counting among teammates, since one player can score on another man’s RBI, I think it’s a good way to make relative comparisons between players of different eras and compensate for those who played on worse teams than others.
RAF rates players, past and present, who were most-indispensable to helping their teams score runs. The stat also rewards good base running, an underrated offensive skill and correlates strongly to OPS, a combination of on-base and slugging percentage. In fact, I used the lists of OPS leaders to seek out possible candidates for here.
It quickly became apparent in calculating RAF that while many players have accounted for at least 25 percent of their team’s runs in a season, few have cracked 30 percent. I’m uncertain why this is. I know of 18 players who have done it a total of 29 times. They are as follows, in order of highest RAF:
|1||Ted Williams||1942||36.53%||141||137||36||Red Sox||93-59||761|
|3||Babe Ruth||1919||33.33%||103||114||29||Red Sox||66-71||564|
|11||Tris Speaker||1914||31.75%||101||90||4||Red Sox||91-62||589|
|24||Home Run Baker||1912||30.295%||116||130||10||Athletics||90-62||779|
Several greats never cracked 30 percent, including: Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Al Simmons, whose careers I examined year-by-year on Baseball-Reference. If anyone has a player they think qualifies, let me know, and if necessary, I’d be happy to add him here.
In general, RAF appears to favor three types of players:
- Lone guns on bad teams
- Speedy contact hitters with sizable RBI and run totals, but few home runs
- Those greats who would have shined no matter the era
The stat is less rewarding to a DiMaggio or a Gehrig, who had the misfortune — at least for our purposes here — to play on star-packed clubs. Gehrig may have the most runs ever accounted for in one season, with 301 in 1931, though that was just over 28 percent of the 1,067 his Yankees amassed. Most years, Ruth and Gehrig drove each others percentages down. Same thing for Foxx and Simmons, as well as Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer. Enos Slaughter and Musial each just missed accounting for 30 percent of the Cardinals’ runs in 1946.
Interestingly, Bonds accounted for more runs before he (probably) started using steroids in 1999. Bonds had a hand in more than 200 runs three times in his career: 1993, 1996 and 1998, one more reason he might have been better clean. The younger Bonds also won Gold Gloves which probably saved some runs, too.
Of the players who accounted for 30 percent or more of their teams’ runs at least once, I don’t know what’s more impressive: That Cobb accomplished the feat six times in a twelve-season stretch or that Ruth and Lajoie did it for multiple teams. More astonishing? Ted Williams’ 1942 season, where he accounted for 36.53 percent of Boston’s runs and won the Triple Crown, wasn’t enough for American League Most Valuable Player honors. The award went to Joe Gordon, who accounted for just 21.6 percent of the American League champion Yankees’ runs and didn’t even lead his team in the stat, finishing behind Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller.