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01/02/08 1:30 PM ET

Mailbag: The important statistics

MLB.com's Marty Noble answers Mets fans' questions

I enjoy reading your stories. You give straight answers to tough questions, and I look forward to your Mets mailbags. That being said, I have a comment about two recent stories dealing with Brian Schneider. Does the statistic "RBIs per 100 at-bats" really measure how valuable a hitter is? You have cited that stat in at least two stories comparing Brian Schneider to Paul Lo Duca.

Schneider is a strong defensive catcher, and a below-average hitter. The RBI as a stat is not nearly as telling about a player's ability to be a productive hitter as are on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, extra-base hits and even the vastly overrated batting average stat. I just feel that citing that statistic adds little, and is somewhat insulting to students of the game.
-- James K., no hometown given

I beg to differ, and I guess I'm obligated to explain my use of RBIs per 100 at-bats because yours is one of nine e-mails I've received that have questioned it. To me, it is a fundamental and quite legitimate means of measuring run production.

Computers have contributed to a current glut of statistics that, to a degree, distort the picture. We have so many now that we lose focus on what is most important. The objective of the game is to win, and to win a team must outscore its opponent. Nothing, therefore, is more important than runs -- both producing and preventing them.

Runs and RBI totals provide insufficient information because neither tells us how many opportunities a player has had to produce. And in the case of catchers, who are unlikely to play every day, the number of opportunities helps us understand how they produce.

Knowing the potential rates of production affords us a better sense of what a player does, particularly if the rates are compared, as they were in the two instances you cited.

RBIs per 100 at-bats measures run production as ERA -- earned runs per nine innings -- measures pitching. It's a quite legitimate means of determining who does what. I could have written "Schneider has driven in 153 runs in 1,187 at-bats in his last three seasons, and Lo Duca has driven in 160 in 1,402 at-bats in the same period" and left the math to the readers.

Instead, I wrote "Schneider's offensive production, while not eye-catching, is quite comparable to that of Lo Duca. Schneider has averaged 12.9 RBIs per 100 at-bats over the last three seasons. Lo Duca, playing the last two with the Mets' more productive batting order, averaged 11.4 RBIs per 100 at-bats from 2005-2007. Schneider, likely to bat eighth for the Mets, hit 20 home runs in 1,187 at-bats the last three seasons, Lo Duca 20 in 1,402. Neither played his home games in a park conducive to home run hitting."

I didn't use RBIs per 100 at-bats as the be-all, end-all measurement of the two catchers' production, but introduced it as a means of dispelling what I suspected was a misconception that Lo Duca's offense wouldn't be replaced.

Lo Duca was a better offensive player in his two seasons with the Mets than Schneider was in 2006 and '07 with the Nationals. But Schneider produced RBIs at a marginally higher rate than Lo Duca over a three-year period. That's all I was saying.

That Lo Duca might have had a higher on-base percentage or slugging percentage means less to me than the number of runs he produced. The next time a team wins a game because it produced a higher on-base mark and scored fewer runs than its opponent, please alert me.

OBP, OPS, et al, are the ingredients in the recipe for offense. Runs are the meal.

As you know, the Mets played .500 baseball through the second half of last season. I agree with general manager Omar Minaya in his refusal to overpay for starting pitching by trading the whole farm system. But as of right now, the Mets have essentially the same team they had last season, which suggests the Mets might play more .500 baseball in 2008. Is there a bright side to their future other than Citi Field? Or can the Mets win 95 games with the same team as last year?
-- Joseph C., New York

The Mets were slightly better than .500 in their second half, winning 42 of the final 81 games. And, if by "second half," you meant post-All-Star break, well, their record was 40-35 in that period. The troubling numbers were these: They lost 57 of their last 112 games; so they had a losing record for more than two-thirds of the season; and, of course, they lost 12 of their final 17.

The acquisitions of Schneider, Ryan Church, Matt Wise and Brian Stokes and the departures of Tom Glavine, Lo Duca, Shawn Green, Lastings Milledge, Guillermo Mota, Jose Valentin, David Newhan, Aaron Sele and Brian Lawrence make them a different team. So do the experience of losing the division race in the last week of the season, the probable return of Duaner Sanchez and the likelihood that Pedro Martinez will be part of the team dynamic for most, if not all, of the 2008 season.

All that change doesn't constitute improvement to me. And I believe the Phillies and Braves have improved. So I suspect the '08 Mets will be hard pressed to win 95 games and/or the division championship.

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Why get rid of Milledge? He was such a threat on the base paths. If you do trade him, why trade him within the division?
-- Connor R., Longwood, Fla.

Milledge didn't appear to be that much of a threat as a baserunner. He is fast, but he's hardly a burner, nothing akin to Carlos Gomez, Jose Reyes or Endy Chavez. He may blossom with the Nationals, but off what he demonstrated with the Mets, he wasn't likely to steal 30 bases or hit 25 home runs. He is more likely to bat .300 and play quality center field, a position not available to him if he remained with the Mets. Trading Milledge to the Nationals was what the Mets needed to do to address two needs -- acquiring a defense-oriented catcher (Schneider) and a left-handed-hitting outfielder (Church).

C'mon, Marty. Jerry Koosman must be considered for the Hall of Fame, given what we are witnessing today. He must be considered.
-- Ray, Matawan, N.J.

I'm not quite sure if you're referring to something specific that I've written about Koosman or just making a general comment. I wish there were a place for Koosman in the Hall. He's a personal favorite. When he was healthy, he was as effective as almost any Hall of Fame pitcher and nastier than most of them. It my time covering the game since the early 1970s, Koosman, Mel Stottlemyre, Jack Morris, Ron Guidry, Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat and Tommy John are the starting pitchers, now retired but not in the Hall, who are at the top of the list.

His record -- 209 losses against 222 victories -- worked against his candidacy. Too many losses. Injuries in the early Seventies denied him the wherewithal to overcome the Mets' inadequate offense. But he won big games in 1969 and '73. And he was such a force in 1968 and '69. He came back to win 21 games for a weak Mets team in 1976 and 20 games for the Twins three years later.

But he's off the ballot now, and not likely to be elected by the Veterans Committee.

Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Morris are popular answers to the question, "Which pitcher would you choose to start a must-win game?" Koosman wouldn't be a bad choice, either.

I saw a few weeks back that the Mets' first game of 2008 was changed to March 31. Now, the schedule says it's April 1. What day do the Mets really start their season?
-- Anthony S., Dumont, N.J.

The Mets begin their season March 31 at 4:10 p.m. ET at Dolphin Stadium. Our schedule says that. The opening home game at Shea Stadium this season is April 8 against the Phillies, at 1:10 p.m.

Why not trade for Scott Kazmir? He would be a low-budget improvement to the rotation without giving up all of the future.
-- Joe F., Apalachin, N.Y.

Why would a team want to trade a proven ace of its staff? It's not like Omar Minaya could just give the Rays a shout and say, "We're ready to take Kazmir off your hands because you want to help us."

I'm certain you'd be surprised how few clubs are in a hurry to help the Mets make a big trade. Kazmir would be a nice acquisition. But it's highly unlikely the Mets could deal for another club's primary starting pitcher without creating a void on their roster -- even if that club wanted to deal.

How can Aaron Heilman not be given a real shot as starter? He pitched a one-hitter. At least it'll stop him from wondering. And if it works? Remember, what good is relief if you're down by six or seven runs all the time?
-- Charles F., Brooklyn, N.Y.

That one-hitter didn't make Heilman a lock to produce a 15-victory season as a starter. And making him a starter would affect one game in five. Losing him as a reliever might affect three or four games in 10. Chances are Heilman working as a starter wouldn't prevent being "down by six or seven runs all the time."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.