Released over 20 years ago, RBI Baseball for the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System is unrivaled as the single best baseball video game ever created. The game has yet to meet its match in terms of sheer entertainment, user-friendly gameplay and longevity. Developed by Namco and published by Tengen, the game was licensed by the MLB Players Association, but not by Major League Baseball itself. Teams are referred to only by their city and team names are not referenced anywhere within the game.
For Red Sox fans, RBI Baseball is even better because “Boston’s” roster is absolutely stacked with both players who were good in real life and in the video game as well as guys who the game’s creators decided to make disproportionately awesome for whatever reason. (Most scholars theorize that Japan-based Namco’s self-loathing Yankees fans who were discouraged by the plight of the Bombers of the late-80s blessed the Boston team in RBI Baseball with otherworldly talent as a way to express their displeasure.)
In the spirit of the Baseball Prospectus “most comparable players” feature that is used to develop PECOTA projections, Fenway Pastoral is proud to present the definitive preview of the 2010 Boston Red Sox using RBI Baseball comparables.
Statistics following players are their totals as listed by RBI Baseball. (Namco mainly used individual players’ numbers from the 1986 season in doling out gameplay skill levels. There are some exceptions, including Tony Armas and Ellis Burks, as further explained below.)
Marty Barrett, 2B (RBI Stats: .286 AVG, 4 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Dustin Pedroia
Statistics do not do the player justice in either case. Barrett is a top-of-the-order guy who opposing players often underestimate when it comes to pitching with respect. Barrett’s RBI character routinely assaults all fields with line drives, shows deceptive speed on the base paths and pops out the occasional home run when no one seems to be looking. Leave a pitch over the plate and both RBI Barrett and Pedroia are capable of setting the table for a big inning.
Bill Buckner, 1B (.267, 18 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Mike Cameron
By 1986, Buckner had enjoyed an already long, accomplished career playing primarily in the National League–Buckner’s Major League debut was in 1969(!). Ignoring his real-life success and apocalyptic, soul-crushing failings as a real-life Red Sox, RBI Buckner is a serviceable part of the lineup, albeit unappreciated due to the presence of the more popular names (Boggs, Rice, Evans). Buckner’s not a bad guy to have in the lineup and the numbers indicate adequate, steady production. Still, there’s always a lingering feeling that maybe it won’t quite work out.
Wade Boggs, 3B (.357, 8 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Mike Lowell
His name and reputation demand respect when he steps to the plate as the third hitter in Boston’s stacked RBI lineup. But for as good as he is, the RBI version of Boggs hits an awful lot of singles and he’s only good for extra bases on pitches catching the fattest part of the plate. Against flamethrowers like Houston’s Nolan Ryan or New York’s Dwight Gooden, Boggs has a tendency to pop out to the infield unless the pitcher is still in the game in the fifth inning, by which time their fastballs top out at around 80-82 MPH.
Jim Rice, CF (.324, 20 HRs)
2010 Red Sox comp: Kevin Youkilis
Clean-up hitters are supposed to evoke TEH FEAR and both RBI Rice and Youkilis do to some extent (depending on the situation). But part of their value is derived from the potential damage the hitters on deck and in the hole can inflict. A seasoned RBI player uses Rice to make his opponent throw additional pitches, which tires their hurler and sets the table for a mistake pitch to the next guy.
Don Baylor, LF (.263, 31 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: David Ortiz
Baylor’s 30-plus home run power makes him a guy you can’t take for granted in the lineup when playing RBI Baseball. Players who make mistakes over the middle of the plate are routinely embarrassed by tape-measure home runs. But Baylor hit for a low average due to 111 strikeouts in 1986 and he was clearly on the tail end of a productive career. Yet the game’s creators at Namco largely chose to ignore all this when inputting his skill set into gameplay. As great as Ortiz has been, his reality is pretty much the same as he begins what could be his final season in Boston.
Dwight Evans, RF (.259, 26 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: J.D. Drew
Facing RBI Evans almost feels like an afterthought by the time he shows up in the sixth spot of the order. Namco blessed Evans with power that can translate to all fields and very few of his home runs are cheap. Like all but five of Drew’s home runs in 2009, Evans hits lots of dingers that have plenty of distance (i.e. home runs that sail over the bleachers in Tengen Stadium and into the dark nighttime sky). Even when RBI Evans doesn’t make solid contact, he is adept at maintaining a solid batting average on balls in play due to a sweet swing and good fly ball and line drive rates. What’s more, RBI Evans is good enough that opponents must respect the strike zone and he is often used to drive up pitch counts early in the game.
Rich Gedman, C (.274, 16 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Marco Scutaro
RBI Gedman cannot be trusted. His listed batting average is inflated based on his hitting abilities. But the lineup and defense has to be filled out at every position and he isn’t a total black hole at the plate. However, RBI players should be wary of expecting Gedman to carry a lineup in any given game. He is the equivalent of a stripper who is past her prime at the gentleman’s club that patrons tolerate in lieu of someone better—in Scutaro’s case, Jose Iglesias. Most of the time, a hit or two is all anyone really needs out of RBI Gedman.
Spike Owen, SS (.231, 1 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Jason Varitek
Owen’s purpose in the lineup is also that of a placeholder. His inclusion on the roster presents a key test that separates first-time RBI players from the pros. The first time an experienced, grizzled RBI vet sees Owen at the plate, he/she removes him for a pinch-hitter lest he ground out to the right side. By all accounts, Owen is a very nice guy off the field, though.
Dave Henderson, OF (.265, 15 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Adrian Beltre
After playing for the Seattle Mariners for six years, Henderson was traded to the Red Sox (along with Owen) in the summer of 1986 and went on to hit some absolutely gigantic home runs for Boston in the ALCS and World Series. It’s worth a try.
Ellis Burks, OF (.272, 20 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Casey Kelly
Namco jumped the gun by including Burks on this Red Sox team. Burks’ listed stats are actually from the 1987 season, although he was a well-known prospect after being selected by Boston with the 20th pick in the 1983 draft. Having already put in several years in the minors, perhaps RBI Baseball included Burks on the team as an interesting alternative off the bench. It was either Burks or a guy like Steve Lyons (1 HR in 275 PA in 1986). Another first-round pick (30th overall in 2008), Kelly fits the bill as Burks’ comp. It is already widely assumed that Kelly will be pitching in Boston by the end of the season. Unless he tanks the first half of the season in the minors, a spot start for Kelly in mid-summer figures to be a bit more anticipated than one by Paul Byrd.
Tony Armas, OF (1984 totals: .264, 43 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Bill Hall
Finding a comp for Armas on the 2010 Red Sox is complicated by the fact that his statistics on the RBI team are from the 1984 season rather than the 1986 season. Instead of listing him with 11-home-run power (his actual total from ’86), he is blessed with the ridiculous power he exhibited in 1984, when he banged out 43 home runs. Savvy players insert him into the lineup for Gedman or Owen during the first trip through the lineup because he hits towering home runs out of the ballpark at least half of the time his bat makes contact with a pitch. But even for a vintage video game, his power is exaggerated. Armas’ cartoonish ability to hit moonshots is somewhat balanced off by his status as a bench player. It is possible that the game’s creators were ahead of their time in recognizing just how poor his peripheral statistics were: In the process of hitting those 43 dongs in 1984, Armas also struck out a league-high 156 times while drawing just 32 walks. Bearing all this in mind, Bill Hall is the only logical choice as his 2010 Sox comp. Despite a K% and an OBP that is a mess, the 2010 Sox are banking on a return to the power production from several years ago (2006 in Hall’s case) much like the RBI creators conveniently ignored Armas’ actual 1986 statistics in favor of the sexier ’84 campaign. Moreover, the Sox plan to use Hall as a super-utility player similar to the way RBI gamers are able use Armas, who can be plugged into any of the defensive positions with no consequence due to the limitations of the gameplay. (All RBI fielders would record the same UZR if some nerd decided to actually keep track of such data.)
Marc Sullivan, C (.193, 1 HR)
2010 Red Sox comp: Tug Hulett
There isn’t much to say about Sullivan. No one ever uses him unless they want to pinch-hit for a pitcher and all the other bench options have already been exhausted. If Sullivan ever enters an RBI game, it probably means trouble.
Roger Clemens (2.48 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Josh Beckett
Consistency and an unbeatable mixture of high-velocity fastballs and filthy change-ups make RBI Clemens the team’s workhorse. But Clemens’ 101-MPH fastball fizzles out by the fifth inning if players use it too much early in the game. The Texas Con Man’s reputation as a vigorous Clydesdale can be overblown at times and players too often forget that his left-handed counterpart is probably just as good or better.
Bruce Hurst (2.99 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Jon Lester
Speed, movement, stamina. RBI Hurst has it all—yet he’s overshadowed by the more recognizable Clemens, who is generally considered by gamers as the Red Sox ace. As the dilemma of RBI Hurst versus RBI Clemens shows, identifying a top-tier pitching staff’s “No. 1 Starter” is an exercise in splitting hairs that even dimwitted media members have begun to abandon when it comes to Lester and Beckett in 2010.
Calvin Schiraldi (1.41 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Jonathan Papelbon
Disturbingly, the real life comparisons between these two relievers do not end with Papelbon’s meltdown in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS. Schiraldi’s infamous collapse happened on a much larger scale, but his 1986 campaign was nevertheless Papelbon-esque up until the biggest moment of the season– a 3.67 K/BB rate in the regular season and some huge outs in the ALCS. From an RBI gameplay perspective, bringing in Schiraldi is the only prudent move once both Clemens and Hurst have been taken to the brink. RBI Schiraldi has just enough to get three outs, but players tempt fate by asking him to get four or more outs.
Bob Stanley (1.81 ERA)
2010 Red Sox comp: Tim Wakefield
The game has gone into extra innings and attrition has set in. There’s no one else left and any remaining innings in the game must be eaten, for better or for worse. Stanley was pretty good three or four years before the game came out. But with a fastball that tops out at 82 MPH, RBI Stanley’s stuff isn’t going to fool too many people on most days. Still, against a less experienced RBI opponent, a player may be able to begin the game with Stanley on the mound and save Clemens and Hurst for higher-leverage innings later in the game. RBI Stanley’s low-70s change-up is his best pitch when used properly and thrown with pinpoint accuracy on the corners. (One note: Stanley never had an ERA below 2.60, which he posted in 1978 pitching 141 innings primarily out of the bullpen in the process of finishing seventh in Cy Young balloting.)