As many baseball fans begin to understand how misleading RBI can be, it's fascinating to look back through the years at a player's supposedly good season that wasn't actually so. Similar type articles typically cut the baseline off at 100 RBI, but I wanted to lower it down to 80 for this article, producing more comically bad seasons.
As for how I decided on the order, I used primarily Weighted On-Base Average(wOBA) and Weighted Runs Created Plus(wRC+). The latter is based off of wOBA, but is park and league adjusted and is similar to OPS+. The score of 100 represents league average and every point higher or lower represents a percentage point better or worse than league average.
Defense was not considered since I wanted to focus on offensive production. If I did, these rankings certainly would be different.
Bengie Molina (2007), San Francisco Giants
.276/.298/.433. 81 RBI
.314 wOBA, 84 wRC+
Brandon Inge (2009), Detroit Tigers
.230/.314/.406. 84 RBI
.315 wOBA, 85 wRC+
Andruw Jones (2007), Atlanta Braves
.222/.311/.413. 94 RBI
.314 wOBA, 85 wRC+
Jhonny Peralta (2010), Detroit Tigers/Cleveland Indians
.249/.311/.392, 81 RBI
.309 wOBA, 89 wRC+
Jose Guillen (2008), Kansas City Royals
.264/.300/.438, 97 RBI
.318 wOBA, 89 wRC+
Delmon Young (2007), Tampa Bay Devil Rays
.288/.316/.408, 93 RBI
.315 wOBA, 89 wRC+
Carlos Lee (2010), Houston Astros
.246/.291/.417, 89 RBI
.308 wOBA, 89 wRC+
Raul Ibanez (2011), Philadelphia Phillies
.245/.289/.419, 84 RBI
.306 wOBA, 90 wRC+
Bengie Molina (2009), San Francisco Giants
.265/.285/.442, 80 RBI
.308 wOBA 85 wRC+
The fifth spot was a tough decision. His 2007 self was just as bad, but I'm giving 2009's version the nod because it probably should have been even worse . He was never a walk machine, but walking just 2.5 percent, the lowest of his career, is absurd. Tack on a career worst in making contact and you have a bad combination. He was dead last among the 182 players with 450 plate appearances in walk to strikeout ratio.
His pure power wasn't quite what it was in 2007, but he helped offset it by hitting many more fly balls. Tack on a lower line drive rate and more infield pop ups, and his low .266 BABIP could actually have been lower.
Vernon Wells (2007), Toronto Blue Jays
.245/.304/.402, 80 RBI
.306 wOBA 82 wRC+
The year after signing a massive extension, is typically not the ideal time to have your worst season of your career up to that point. Coming off a terrific 2006 and just 28 years old, there weren't warning signs for such a drop off in 2007. But that's what happened. He maybe have been a bit unlucky—his .262 BABIP was his lowest in a single season (until 2011)—but looking deeper, that number isn't that preposterous. His line drive rate (16.8 percent) was underwhelming, he hit more fly balls than usual (43.9 percent), and almost 20 percent of the fly balls he did hit didn't even get to the outfield. That's a bad combination.
With those extra fly balls, you'd figure he'd hit a few more homers but that wasn't the case. Only half the amount from the previous year went over the fence.
Of the 58 outfielders with 500 plate appearances that year, his .306 wOBA was dead last.
Jhonny Peralta (2009), Cleveland Indians
.254/.316/.375, 83 RBI
.304 wOBA 81 wRC+
A precipitous drop in power killed his offensive value in 2009. From 2008, his offensive numbers dropped by 12 homers, 7 doubles, and 3 triples. While he had not been a consistent on-base threat at that point in his career, his .316 on-base percentage was his worst full-season mark to that point.
Among third basemen with 500 plate appearances, his .304 wOBA was third-worst among 23 qualified players.
Fortunately for him and his beleaguered fantasy owners, he came to the plate with 454 runners on base, tied for tenth highest in the league.
Pedro Feliz (2009), Philadelphia Phillies
.266/.308/.386, 82 RBI
.302 wOBA 79 wRC+
Even as a Phillies fan, I didn't realize Feliz eclipsed 80 RBI just two years ago. I remember low on-base percentage, some homers and good fielding in the last legs of his career. And that's exactly what he was in 2009. Thanks to less strikeouts and a higher BABIP(.281) than normal, his average was actually the second-highest of his career. However, his power was a shell of what is once was. He was no longer a 20 home run player to help offset his inability to get on base.
Remember Jhonny Peralta having the third-worst wOBA among third basemen in 2009? Well, Pedro Feliz is one of the two players he beat out. Feliz had the second-lowest mark of the group, beating out Emilio Bonifacio, who hit one homer all year.
He lasted one more season in the majors before completely falling off in 2010.
Aubrey Huff (2009) Detroit Tigers/Baltimore Orioles.
.241/.310/.384, 85 RBI
.297 wOBA 77 wRC+
Through his career, Huff has had a reputation for being up and down year to year, but 2009 was especially an albatross season for the veteran. In the the last year of a three-year, $20 million deal with the Orioles, he suffered through his worst season since 2001. In August, he was traded to Detroit and hit even worse (.567 OPS).
His .260 BABIP was unlucky, but his power also had fallen off a cliff. His .144 isolated slugging percentage was almost 100 points below the previous season's 32-homer campaign. Out of 31 first basemen who had at least 400 plate appearances, his .297 wOBA was dead last. His suspect defense at first base and below-average base running didn't help offset his poor offense.
Yet somehow, both managers refused to move him from the fourth or fifth spots in the lineup. 573 of his 597 plate appearances came in those two spots. Batting in those spots, he came to the plate with 406 base runners, 23rd most in the American League.