When the Tigers acquired Aubrey Huff from the Orioles on Monday, most Tigers fans around the internet seemed to like the deal. They reasoned that the Tigers had done well to acquire a much needed left-handed bat for a less than elite pitching prospect in Brett Jacobson, even if it was only for six weeks. However, fans differed in their degree of satisfaction with the trade.
One group of fans pointed to Huff's less than stellar .723 OPS as evidence of a sub-par season so far in 2009. Since Huff typically hits well late in the year (a .933 OPS in August and September the last two years), they were optimistic that he he might get hot down the stretch but the .723 OPS was still a concern.
Another group of fans countered that Huff was actually having a good year because his 72 RBI before last night was better than any Tiger including Miguel Cabrera. They argued that Huff was an RBI man who was able to accumulate a lot of RBI even with his low OPS because he hit better with men on base. It's true that he has hit a lot better with men on base this year: .9o6 OPS with men on base versus .556 with the bases empty. That probably explains his high RBI total this year but the question is whether he will maintain that pace with the Tigers
Some fans reasoned that Huff was better with men on base because he focused better in those situations. While I don't doubt that a player can be more focused in certain situation, a 63% increase in OPS with men on base seems too much to be explained by focus.
So, I went back to 2006-2008 to see if this propensity to hit better with men on base was a general trend for Huff. He did hit somewhat better with men on base in those years: .855 OPS with men on base versus .823 with the bases empty. That's a 4% difference which is slightly higher than the American League average of 2%. So, it's possible he has focused more with men on base but the 63% difference in 2009 so far is likely a fluke and we can not be expect it to be maintained.
Has Huff had a good year or bad year? While I doubt he can maintain his on base/bases empty split for the rest of the season, he has to be given credit for what he has done, fluke or no fluke. So, he hasn't had a great season but he has been better than his .723 OPS would indicate. On the downside, his very poor .259 OBP with the bases empty means that he is not doing a good job providing teammates with opportunities to drive in runs. The more important question is whether Huff can keep driving in runs at the same rate for the Tigers as he did for the Orioles. I would say it's unlikely unless he starts hitting better than his .723 overall OPS so far this season.
How does Huff compare to Miguel Cabrera who has a .952 OPS but the same number of RBI as Huff? Cabrera has not hit as well with runners on base this year: .928 with runners on base and .972 with the bases empty. So, while Cabrera has a .229 advantage in overall OPS, Huff has a slight lead in OPS with men on base. This would explain why they both have 72 RBI.
Looking at 2006-2008, Cabrera hit 10% better with runners on base (1.000) than with the bases empty (.905). If their OPS stays the same, I would expect Cabrera to easily exceed Huff in RBI by the end of the season.
In conclusion, I think Huff has been a good RBI man this year but I don't think it's because he has an extraordinary ability to hit with men on base. If he continues to post a .723 OPS, his RBI rate will likely slow. While RBI is a decent measure of past production, it is not as predictive of future production as a statistic like overall OPS which is not dependent on situations with limited sample sizes.
The data contained in this article were abstracted from ESPN.COM.