Rockies star could become first in history to pace NL with three straight 130-RBI seasons
By Matt Kelly
Baseball has entered a new era in 2017, one in which the "Three True Outcomes" reign supreme and many teams are adopting the "three-run homer" aspect of Earl Weaver's philosophy.
Rockies star Nolan Arenado can clear the fence with the best of them; his 26th long ball of the season, which was hit with a 104.5-mph exit velocity and traveled a Statcast-projected 403 feet Friday at Marlins Park, confirmed that. But there's something still to be said for situational hitting, for putting the ball in play and moving runners closer to home plate, and Arenado is proving to be a real throwback in this regard. Fans who still love the RBI should look no further than Colorado's third baseman, who collected his 100th of the season in the Rockies' 6-3 loss Friday.
The century mark for RBIs is becoming an expectation for Arenado, and he's getting a vise-grip on the statistic that we've only seen a handful of times before. Arenado entered Friday with an eight-RBI lead over second-place Paul Goldschmidt in the National League, and his two-run blast against the Marlins put him in even better position to capture the league's RBI title for the third consecutive season. With 47 games left on the Rockies' calendar, Arenado also seems destined to tally at least 130 RBIs for the third straight year (130 in 2015, 133 in 2016).
That puts Arenado on the doorstep of some truly special history: He would become the first player in MLB history to drive in at least 130 runs while also leading his league in that statistic for three consecutive campaigns.
Ten players before Arenado had tallied at least 130 RBIs in three straight years, but none of them paced their leagues simultaneously in those three seasons. Those names: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Sammy Sosa, Vern Stephens, Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Griffey Jr., David Ortiz and Ryan Howard. That's a who's who of run producers in baseball lore, but none of them accomplished what Arenado is on pace to do. In fact, only three players have ever led their league in RBIs three times in a row, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Joe Medwick (NL, 1936-38), George Foster (NL, 1976-78) and Cecil Fielder (AL, 1990-92).
There's no doubt Arenado will play almost every game for the Rockies, health permitting, from here to the finish as the team battles for its first trip to the postseason since 2009. He also has Charlie Blackmon (.333 batting average, NL-most 155 hits) and 2016 batting champ DJ LeMahieu (.313 average) setting the table in front of him. He's averaged .89 RBIs per game in his first 112 games this season, meaning he'd only need to average a .64 RBIs-per-game rate if he played in each of the Rockies' last 47 contests to reach 130 RBIs. Goldschmidt, meanwhile, would need to average .83 RBIs per game down the stretch to do the same thing.
That leaves Arenado wiggle room to take some days off, or put up "0-fers" here and there, and still reach the 130-RBI benchmark and pace the Senior Circuit. But don't count on too many of those shutouts: Arenado's .446 average with runners in scoring position is the highest of 262 MLB hitters with at least 50 at-bats in those situations, and would be the highest of any player with at least 100 at-bats with runners in scoring position since Allen Craig batted .454 in 2013. Plus, we know he can bust out at any time, like he did in his seven-RBI masterpiece against the Padres on July 19.
One can be assured that Arenado won't sit back on his haunches the next time he comes up in a run-scoring situation. The MVP hopeful is always on the attack, putting roughly 40 percent of his swings with runners in scoring position in play, according to Statcast™. More than half of his RBIs have come on plays other than a home run.
Players are aiming for the fences more than ever, but Arenado has been content to keep rallies going in whatever way possible. As he does so, the Colorado star is lapping the field in run production one powerful swing at a time.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.