An appreciation and dissection of Joe Carter, Eddie Murray, Don Mattingly and the RBI
I was watching an interview with Joe Carter and he was talking about how his job was to drive in runs, and that in his era his RBI totals were appreciated more than they are by the sport today. Carter also mentioned that a pitcher pitches differently to the 'big man' in the lineup when runners are on base as opposed to when not on base and the batter has to adjust to that so he can do his job of driving in runs.
So really two main points there, that RBI's platted have more value than leaving them there, and that the anchor in the lineup gets pitched to differently during RBI opportunities (RISP Runners in Scoring Position).
It is hard to separate those two facets though, because if the anchor is really pitched around more than the others then he has no chance to drive those runs in and his RBI totals will suffer as a result. The batter behind the anchor is a factor in this and the ability of the anchor himself is a factor. It is easy to see how many times the anchor was pitched around by seeing how many IBB the batter receives but that doesn't always tell the story as there are those 'unintentional intentional walks' that happen as well that go down in the books as just a walk.
They didn't really touch upon the most inherently unfair aspect of RBI totals which is some players simply have more men on base on in front of them when they come up, which has nothing to do with their skill or ability but will inflate their RBI totals making them LOOK better than another hitter.
With that in mind look at the key four year stretches for the three players in the title and their RBI totals:
Joe Carter 1990-1993: 463 RBI in 2,755 PA
Don Mattingly 1984-1987: 483 RBI in 2,761 PA
Eddie Murray 1982-1985: 455 RBI in 2,689 PA
Each of the three were MVP candidates(Murray and Mattingly top 5, Carter two top five and two top 20) so they were all recognized. They all look about equal for their 'job' of driving in runs.
If we dig a little deeper and look at how many plate appearances each had with RISP, how well they hit there, and how often they were pitched around:
Eddie Murray splits with RISP, Plate appearances, BA/OB%/SLG% and IBB
1982: PA 178, .326/.455/.630, 18 IBB
1983: PA 180, .333/.472/.496, 13 IBB
1984: PA 194, .310/.454/.570, 25 IBB
1985: PA 173, .370/.451/.717, 12 IBB
Don Mattingly splits with RISP
1984: PA 186, .400/.453/.587, 8 IBB
1985: PA 221, .313/.382/.460, 13 IBB
1986: PA 199, .309/,374/.570, 11 IBB
1987: PA 181, .322/.394/.658, 13 IBB
Joe Carter splits with RISP
1990 PA 231, .268/.364/.432, 18 IBB
1991 PA 222, .268/.356/.470, 12 IBB
1992 PA 215, .279/.336/.536, 4 IBB
1993 PA 223, .273/.345/.513, 5 IBB
Murray's hitting with RISP was staggering as his BA was like Tony Gwynn and his SLG% was Ruthian. Murray was the best of the three in doing their job of driving in runs, but since he had less opportunities with runners in front of him AND he got pitched around more than the other two, his RBI totals suffer as a result.
Murray also had a slow footed player in front of him that he drove in the most frequently while Mattingly had Henderson as the player he drove in most frequently(for three of the years). Carter had Alomar as his. So Murray was disadvantaged with the baserunning ability of the hitters ahead of him as well.
Carter clearly had more opportunities to drive runners in from RISP and he also had more that were on first base as well(which I didn't list here). Keep in mind that these just count the plate appearances with RISP and that some of those at bats had runners on second and third, but count as just one plate appearance.
We see that Murray got pitched around the most of the three as he had the most IBB. What we don't see are the times Murray got pitched around and got walked and had no chance to hit(we do see some of it in his elite OB%).
So in reality, while Carter's job was to drive in runs, and he did get a lot of RBI, he was well behind Murray and Mattingly in how well he hit there, and it was the sheer number of extra opportunities that allowed him to have as many RBI as the two superior hitters listed with him.
We all know that getting on base is of value too and that isn't listed here.
If we look at a more advanced measurement that accounts for the times each player FAILED to drive in a run with an out, as well as crediting their ability to get on base(and giving Murray some credit for getting pitched around and getting on), you see it a little better in Run Expectancy hitting with Men on Base(not just RISP).
Here is each of their Run Expectancy totals above average in those four years:
It is often said that Mattingly was the best hitter in his prime in that era, and that simply isn't true. Murray had a better prime that intersected with Mattingly's. Mattingly still had an elite prime worthy of HOF for his era.
I agree with Carter's claim that pitchers pitch differently to the anchor when guys are on base, but it is guys like Murray who answered better than anyone in the 80's to that challenge, not Carter despite Carter having more RBI than Murray in their primes.
Murray often gets lost as an elite hitter as many call him a compiler. He isn't a compiler(even though he did compile a number more impressive years aside from these). He had a better peak hitting than Mattingly in the 80's. Just as good as Brett and Schmidt too.
What to make of Joe Carter then? He did do his job that his team wanted him for. He was a key element for the building of his team's lineup. He just didn't do his job as well as the HOF hitters from his era...he just happened to have more runners on base in front of him and he didn't get pitched around as much so he can accumulate more RBI than them.
However, his 1,400+ career RBI are more telling of his contribution to the game than what his 19 WAR is showing. Lineup anchors don't grow on trees who can hit 30+ HR and plate runners.
I can find guys who can shag routine fly balls or ground balls and get all this extra credit for WAR because of their supposed defense ability that is often falsely given credit to them instead of the pitcher of the sheer number of Opportuntites they get.
So while Carter isn't HOF worthy, he had a skill set that is NOT properly recognized with WAR.