EXTRA! EXTRA! Jeter Has Best Year Yet!

Have you heard that Derek Jeter's having an off year? It's total horseshit! Derek Jeter is the sixth-best hitter in baseball this year. It's completely true!

All you have to do is use ESPN senior writer Jim Caple's all-inclusive stat for measuring how good a hitter is! What is that stat?


Runs remain the most important stat

Runs are that stat, asshole!!! [sound of a revving chainsaw]

Editor's note: Hot Stove U. is a six-week course devoted to higher learning, a series consisting of 30 need-to-know topics for 2010.

Dammit! I've been going to Hot Stove U. for three and a half years. Who's been cashing the $38,000-a-year tuition checks that I've been making out to "Hot Stove U." and mailing to "Hot Stove U. Money-Taking Office, RealcollegeandnotsomestupidESPNgimmickfeature-town, USA"? Oh my god. I've been conned. No wonder I've never gotten laid at Hot Stove U.'s fictional frat parties that I've never gone to!

TOPIC: WHY THE RUN IS THE MOST UNDERRATED STAT

Because it makes Jeter look awesome, duh! As of Sept. 12, Jeter (.693 OPS [!]) has scored more runs than Joey Votto (1.013), Josh Hamilton (1.049), and Jose Bautista (1.001). Suck a dick, Paul Konerko (.981), Jeter has 14 more runs than you! Adrian Gonzalez (.910) is worse at baseball than a pile of bent metal rods because Jeter has 17 more runs than he does.

The setup

If you love statistics (and what baseball fan doesn't?) this is the golden era. Never before have there been so many stats to reveal so much of what goes on in baseball. OPS, EqA, WHIP, Win Shares, VORP, PECOTA, Pythagorean expectation — if you want to measure anything in the game, anything at all, there's a stat for it.

Yet as statistics get ever more sophisticated, ever more precise and ever more complicated, I find myself relying more and more on the simplest and most underrated stat of all. The humble run.

If you love getting from one place to another, this is the golden era. Never before have there been so many kinds of cars. Big cars, red cars, fast cars, shiny cars.

Yet as cars become ever more comfortable, convenient, car-like, and just all-around good at their jobs, I find myself relying more and more on the most underrated form of transportation of all. The horse.

A horse is bad at what it does compared to a car. It's slower, it shits everywhere, it kicks people to death with its sharp hooves. But I love it. Cars are built by scientists, who are probably nerds — I don't trust nerds! Give me a horse any day.

You don't need an advanced degree in physics to calculate it. You don't need a membership in SABR to appreciate it. You don't need access to the Elias Sports Bureau to look it up.

It took me eight long years of graduate-level toil in Condensed Matter Physics at CalTech, but at long last, I've finished my dissertation: "OPS Stands For On-Base Plus Slugging: It's Those Two Numbers Added Together (That's What It Is I Finally Figured It Out)."

Often overlooked, the run is right there in front of your eyes, in a big bold number on every scoreboard from Little League to the majors. And yet, you probably can't name who led the league in runs last year. Or who holds the record for most runs in a season.

I'll tell you who's sixth in runs — Derek Jeter! Did you know that Derek Jeter has a .594 OPS on the road this year? SIXTH-BEST HITTER IN BASEBALL. I STAND BY THAT.

Heck, you can't even tell by looking at most boxscores how many runs a player has for the season. Most boxscores manage to update each player's season stats, accounting for his batting average as well as his doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and even his errors if he had any in that game. But not his run total. Why are we told how many RBIs a player has for the season but not how many runs? For that matter, why are we told how many triples a player has hit but not how many runs he has scored?

I'll tell you why. Because the run is the most neglected, underrated stat in baseball.

Again, as of Sept. 12, Mark Teixeira leads major league baseball in runs scored. He is 40th in VORP. FORTI-FUCKING-ETH. Martin Prado has one fewer run than Albert Pujols. The number of runs you score depends on the guys batting after you. My daughter knows that and she won't be born for another 25 years.

The proof

Can't wait.

Let me ask you something. When a game ends, how do they determine the winner?

Well, it's a complex formula whereby you multiply the median VORP for each team's 25-man roster by the starting pitcher's xFIP and take that product and subtract it from a rolling average of the starting nine's WAR (adjusted for era and ballpark of course) —

The team that had the most RBIs? The team that reached base the most often? The team with the lowest ERA? No. The only criterion for determining a winner is which team scored the most runs.

Ohhhhh. Oh fuck. I mean, oh fuck. I've been watching baseball all wrong. I legitimately did not know that, Jim Caple.

Hey, I'm not afraid to say it: I did not know what runs were. Live and learn, right guys?

That's why the run is such an underrated statistical measure of a player's value.

This is so fucking backwards. When we talk about a "good" baseball statistic, we're talking about a stat that gives you an accurate representation of how valuable that player is to his team's success. Many, many smart people have spent years and years figuring out good statistics. Runs — just plain runs — is a terrible statistic. There's so much goddamn noise in it it's like a fucking Boredoms record from 1986. Again, smart people have worked to develop stats that remove that noise so we don't have to just guess. Progress. Advancement of human knowledge. Cars.

Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, BABIP — those statistics and others are great but they merely reveal how well a player performs in areas that ultimately produce runs. Since that's the case, why not cut out the middle man and go right to the final product?

Aaaargh because runs scored is extremely dependent on opportunity, context, and luck. Here: if runs are so awesome, you make a super-duper all-star team of the top ten players in runs scored as of today, Sept. 12. Surprise! Four of your guys are Brandon Phillips (.334 OBP), Rickie Weeks, Martin Prado, and Derek Jeter (.290 OBP on the road!!!).

Also, it seems like you have no idea what BABIP is, do you, Jim Caple? That's totally understandable — it's not like you're a fucking senior writer for ESPN who is posing as a baseball statistics professor for Hot Stove U. writing an article about baseball statistics.

If a player scores a lot of runs, he almost always is doing most of those other things well.

He's almost certainly getting himself on base a lot and is probably pretty good at advancing himself around those bases (either with extra-base hits or stolen bases or both, in addition to receiving help from teammates).

Unless he is Michael Young (90 runs, .336 OBP) or Derek Jeter (96 runs, .366 SLG) or Brett Gardner (.379 SLG, more runs than Joe Mauer!). Michael Bourn (terrible) has more runs than Adrian Gonzalez (amazing).

I admit the run isn't a foolproof stat. Play on a team without any decent batters around you and your run total is going to suffer. Ichiro hit .352 with a league-leading 225 hits last season but scored a career-low 88 runs (even had he not missed 16 games, he still likely would have scored fewer than 100 runs). Much of that, obviously, was due to the anemic offense surrounding him in Seattle.

Yes, you're right that your whole article is bullshit. Well disproved, sir.

I can hear you now. Ichiro's season is the perfect example of why the RBI is more important than the run. Getting on base is only important if someone drives you in later.

This is now a guy who supports horses over cars arguing against a fictional guy who supports burros over horses. I'm seriously considering dropping out of Hot Stove U. The only other dude here in class is Chris Berman, and he keeps calling me Junior from Fire "Cup o'" Joe Morgan and then laughing for like 45 seconds before yelling something incoherent about Mike Alstott. What's that, Chris? Yes, thanks, I did know that nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills. Sorry, what was that? Yes, "Well-Dressed" Amani Toomer. Very good.

Save your breath. I am not saying RBIs aren't important.

They aren't great, actually. Do you know that? I'm worried that you don't know that.

I'm merely saying runs are undervalued compared to RBIs and other stats that get far more attention. After all, if a batter triples and then scores on a weak grounder to second base, who performed most of the heavy lifting, the guy who hit the triple or the guy who grounded out and got an RBI? Conversely, if a batter reaches first on a fielder's choice and scores on a triple, the player who tripled did most of the work. Considered in that way, runs versus RBIs can be a chicken or the egg equation.

Also, what if a guy triples four times in one game but never gets driven in by his teammates, while another guy reaches base four times on errors and gets driven in every single time? Then by the JCBOS(tHR)I [Jim Caple Best Offensive Statistic (the Humble Run) Index], the second batter is infinitely better than the first batter, like by a factor of 4 to 0. Science achieved! Can we get Caple's science jersey lifted to the rafters in the Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith Arena, the official arena of Hot Stove U. (seating capacity: zero)?

Nonetheless, scoring 100 runs is more difficult and impressive than driving in 100 runs. Look at it this way. When you bat, you have the potential to score one run and one run only. But you could possibly drive in as many as four runs. Players don't often bat with the bases loaded, but they bat with enough runners on base over the course of a season that they have the opportunity to drive in far more runs than they could possibly score.

The above four paragraphs or so constitute the most convoluted, self-contradictory, long-winded and fundamentally uninteresting argument intended to prove a completely wrongheaded conclusion I've ever read. And I used to write 10,000-word sports journalism metacommentary pieces like eight times a week.

But people don't notice if you score 100 runs. They're only impressed if you have 100 RBIs, in which case they vote you to the All-Star team and give you a five-year, $65 million contract.

Yes, guys who score a lot of runs never make any money. Johnny Damon played the last 10 seasons while being paid a single Alexander the Grape-flavored Otter Pop. Jimmy Rollins works at two different Barnes and Nobles in the off-season to pay the rent on the studio apartment he shares with Ichiro. Every night Carl Crawford comes by my place, and I give him old pizza crusts to gnaw on. You should see his eyes light up when I go stuffed crust.

The conclusion

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying all other stats are meaningless. Far from it. They are valuable and helpful when analyzing a player. As we saw in the case of Ichiro, stats can reveal a player's value when he has the misfortune of rotting on base due to mediocre teammates, or batting low in the order (the exact same batter would likely score fewer runs batting seventh than leadoff). Like all other statistics, you must look at the run in the proper context.

You just admitted that the stat you think is "most important" changes drastically based on batting order alone. Seriously, by the time you got to this point in the piece, didn't you at least think about closing that document window, clicking "Don't Save," and just shutting your computer down for a good three or eight hours? I mean, you could have taken a nap, maybe a shit and a shower, eaten a nectarine or some low-fat granola...really clear your head and reassess your whole life. Walk around the neighborhood. Play with your kids if you have them, or make some if you don't.

Then come back to the computer and be like, "Wait a minute. Runs just aren't that good a statistic. I'm going to write to my editor and take back this whole thing." [long, pregnant pause] "Should I become a painter? Yes. Yes I think I should become a painter."

"Or I could keep writing this article oh fuck here it comes — "

What I am saying is that the run is a very simple

yep

and highly underrated

nope

tool for measuring a player's value. Runs determine which team wins and which team loses a game.

Why don't we really cut out the middle man and just assign every offensive player an offensive win or loss? Every Yankee this year, from A-Rod to Colin Curtis, gets 88 wins or whatever they have at the time. Every Royal gets fucked. You say runs determine which team wins? I say wins determine which team wins!

Runs also quickly show you which players are truly helping a team win, without forcing you to reach for a calculator.

You know what? Fuck it. I really figured it out. The only stat that really matters isn't runs, it isn't wins...it's championships, motherfucker! From now on, we decide how good a hitter you are based on how many rings you have. PERIOD. Anything more specific than that is for dorks, yo.

By the way, Albert Pujols led the majors in runs last season. It was the fourth season he's done that. No other active player has done it more than once.

Yeah, great, cool. You think Pujols is so great? How many rings he got? One? Brosius has three, baby. He's three times the hitter Pujols is. And hold up — Jeets has five. Daaaaaaamn son, we come full circle. Suck on that, Pujols! What, you want to throw other numbers at me? Get away from me, ninja! I don't have time to reach for a damn calculator! Junior OUT.