In defense of the RBI

I’ve been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research for about two years now, a baseball blogger for about three, and among the many things I’ve learned, certain topics raise the ire of fellow baseball researchers. Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Over-reliance on traditional counting stats like wins or batting average. Runs batted in.

I don’t know when the first attacks began on the RBI, a counting stat that dates to the late 19th century, though I get where some of the criticisms come from. It’s easier to drive in runs on teams that score a lot of them in good offensive eras. It’s one reason Hank Aaron had 86 RBIs and a 153 OPS+ on the 1968 Braves while Dante Bichette had 133 RBIs and a 102 OPS+ on the 1999 Rockies. By no advanced measure did Bichette have the superior season, he just was in the right place at the right time. The stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com suggests that if Aaron had played on the ’99 Rockies, he’d have had 43 home runs, 157 RBIs, and a .370 batting average.

But, as it is with Morris or sub-replacement level WAR players who manage to hit .320 (George Sisler in 1929 and Bob Dillinger in 1949, by the way), I think some of the criticisms with RBIs are unfounded. It may not be as important a stat as its proponents suggest, but it’s also not altogether meaningless or a complete fluke to drive in a run.

I quit Little League after sixth grade, though a couple years ago, I got the opportunity to play on a rec softball team. We weren’t very good, but in our year-end tournament, I came to bat with the bases loaded and our team down four runs. I’d struggled much of the year to grasp that in softball, the strike zone is measured by if a pitch hits an area around the plate, though by the time I came up in that final game, I’d righted course. Watching carefully, I smacked a triple and got us within one run. Granted, it was only a rec softball game, and we wound up losing shortly thereafter, but it felt good to come through in the clutch.

Clutch. I know at least one of my fellow bloggers despises the term, but I assume clutch situations exist in baseball. I assume players have to overcome their nerves under pressure, that their human insecurities don’t dissipate entirely with their first seven-figure contract. I assume it’s not a given that when a player comes up with the bases loaded for his offensive juggernaut of a team against some hurler fresh out of the Can-Am League, he’ll get an RBI or two. There are few, if any givens in baseball, same as life. It takes hard work and a certain degree of luck to succeed in any stressful situation. To do it consistently is one measure of success.

There is of course more than can be said in a short blog post. A more detailed study on the validity of the RBI stat might look at what percentage of base runners hitters drove in over the course of their careers, checking how well they did relative to their teams and seasons. I don’t know how to check this, short of pouring through Retrosheet.org box scores, and if such a study already exists, I’d like to see it.

For now, I’ll close by saying that Bill Buckner drove in 100 runs and had sub-replacement level WAR in his infamous 1986 season. Bichette did likewise in 1999, Ernie Banks in 1969 , along with thirteen other players in MLB history. In total, this feat has been accomplished the following 17 times:

Rk Player RBI WAR/pos Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR BB IBB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Dante Bichette 133 -2.8 1999 COL 151 659 593 104 177 38 2 34 54 3 84 6 6 .298 .354 .541 .895
2 Jorge Cantu 117 -0.3 2005 TBD 150 631 598 73 171 40 1 28 19 1 83 1 0 .286 .311 .497 .808
3 Joe Carter 115 -1.4 1990 SDP 162 697 634 79 147 27 1 24 48 18 93 22 6 .232 .290 .391 .681
4 George Bell 112 -0.5 1992 CHW 155 670 627 74 160 27 0 25 31 8 97 5 2 .255 .294 .418 .712
5 Joe Carter 107 -1.3 1996 TOR 157 682 625 84 158 35 7 30 44 2 106 7 6 .253 .306 .475 .782
6 Tony Armas 107 -1.4 1983 BOS 145 613 574 77 125 23 2 36 29 0 131 0 1 .218 .254 .453 .707
7 Ernie Banks 106 -0.3 1969 CHC 155 629 565 60 143 19 2 23 42 7 101 0 0 .253 .309 .416 .725
8 Tony Perez 105 -0.1 1980 BOS 151 635 585 73 161 31 3 25 41 11 93 1 0 .275 .320 .467 .786
9 Del Ennis 105 -0.3 1957 STL 136 538 490 61 140 24 3 24 37 3 50 1 3 .286 .332 .494 .826
10 Rico Brogna 102 -0.2 1999 PHI 157 679 619 90 172 29 4 24 54 7 132 8 5 .278 .336 .454 .790
11 Joe Carter 102 -1.2 1997 TOR 157 668 612 76 143 30 4 21 40 5 105 8 2 .234 .284 .399 .683
12 Bill Buckner 102 -0.5 1986 BOS 153 681 629 73 168 39 2 18 40 9 25 6 4 .267 .311 .421 .733
13 Eddie Robinson 102 -1.3 1953 PHA 156 685 615 64 152 28 4 22 63 56 1 2 .247 .322 .413 .735
14 Danny Tartabull 101 -0.2 1996 CHW 132 541 472 58 120 23 3 27 64 4 128 1 2 .254 .340 .487 .827
15 Ruben Sierra 101 -2.4 1993 OAK 158 692 630 77 147 23 5 22 52 16 97 25 5 .233 .288 .390 .678
16 Ray Pepper 101 -0.3 1934 SLB 148 598 564 71 168 24 6 7 29 67 1 4 .298 .333 .399 .732
17 Joe Pepitone 100 -0.6 1964 NYY 160 647 613 71 154 12 3 28 24 7 63 2 1 .251 .281 .418 .698


I’d suggest that all of these men offered at least some positive value for their teams.

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bstar
bstar
9 years ago

Graham, you raise some interesting questions. I think I could at least point you in a direction that may provide some answers to this: “A more detailed study on the validity of the RBI stat might look at what percentage of base runners hitters drove in over the course of their careers, checking how well they did relative to their teams and seasons. I don’t know how to check this, short of pouring through Retrosheet.org box scores, and if such a study already exists, I’d like to see it.” There is a stat called OBI, or Others Batted In, available… Read more »

topper009
topper009
9 years ago
Reply to  bstar

Without looking I’ll assume Howard did better because Pujols walked more. ABs where the player walked should be removed from the opportunities category and then recalculate Pujols vs Howard. Unless you want to make the argument that the “run producers” isn’t up there to walk, like Andre Dawson apologists.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  topper009

You may be right about removing the walks, topper, but if Pujols did overtake Howard after subtracting these it wouldn’t be by much. For the years 2006-2009 Pujols only had 39 more walks than Howard, or about 10 per year. Before I get accused of blatant cherry-picking, I actually did this study after the 2009 season, so that’s why I chose those years. Here’s the actual numbers: PA_ROB=plate appearances with runners on base Player name PA_ROB OBI OBI% Ryan Howard 1,993 377 .1891 Albert Pujols 1,778 326 .1833 And no, I am not trying to prove that Howard was anywhere… Read more »

Hartvig
Hartvig
9 years ago
Reply to  bstar

Having grown up in a time when the triple crown line was pretty much the gold standard for fans and a lot of baseball executives alike- don’t forget the old Pete Rose chestnut “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs. Singles hitters drive Chevys.”- it took a while for me to come around to the SABR way of thinking. And I think that sometimes stats people go a little too far with some of the bromides (a strike out is just another out, batting average/RBI doesn’t matter, etc) when trying to refute some of the old beliefs. But according to the chart… Read more »

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Hartvig

Hartvig, Michael Young is at the top of the list of raw OBI, which is absolutely no better than total RBI. Unfortunately, unless you have a subscription, it won’t let you sort the tables by OBI%, which is the stat a lot of people further down in the thread claim they are waiting for. Here’s JA at @8: “So I’ll continue to hope that, while the concept of RBI may never fade from prominence, the raw counts of RBI may give way to some measure that captures both opportunity and performance.” This is exactly what OBI% does, it captures both… Read more »

Hartvig
Hartvig
9 years ago
Reply to  bstar

bstar- Sorry if I gave the impression that I was criticizing what you wrote or even OBI%- which I agree is at the very least as useful as RBI & probably more so. I think almost everyone on this site agrees with the notion that the more information you have the better picture you have of a players performance. Even though Ryan Braun managed to drive in 111 runs- the 4th most in the league- imagine how many he might have if Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee and Carlos Gomez hadn’t been burning thru outs like they were going out of… Read more »

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Hartvig

No, I didn’t take it that way. My response about the word “clutch” was more a reaction to the numerous comments below that brought up RBI totals and correlated them to clutch stats.

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Hartvig

I agree, Michael Young was the most clutch player last year.

DavidJ
DavidJ
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

I think Hartvig was saying that Michael Young wasn’t the most clutch player, despite what his RBI and OBI% might suggest.

Anyway, what’s your basis believing that Young was the most clutch?

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  DavidJ

I was teasing, as I agree with most here the definition of clutch is a hard one to pin down. the Rangers had a good lineup when healthy last year, but Cruz was out a lot, Hamilton was out a lot, Moreland was so-so at best. The Rangers needed someone to knock in some runs in the middle of the lineup and Young stepped up.

Thomas Court
Thomas Court
9 years ago

I think the RBI is a target for criticism is because it is one third of the Triple Crown equation. While it may be true that it would be more impressive for a player to lead the league in the fictional SABR Triple Crown categories of OBP, XBH and RC; the fact is: Nothing is going to happen that will fully eliminate the RBI from the forefront of the collective baseball consciousness. It is too far ingrained. What are we gonna do? Tell Carl Yazstremski, Frank Robinson and the living relatives of Triple Crown winners that their accomplishment is basically… Read more »

deal
9 years ago
Reply to  Thomas Court

I totally agree with Thomas’ first sentence here. The Reverence that is held outside of modern statistical thinking for the 3xCrown stats is a factor in the disdain for BOTH RBI and AVG in modern stat thinking. RBI unlike a Leverage Stat or a %RBI/Opp stat is also EASY to calculate. I don’t know how important this in a world where all the PCT can be calculated and retrieved quickly, however getting everyone in the world to understand it and use the same languaget is much more work. Besides, I don’t go to the ballpark so I can sit w/… Read more »

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago
Reply to  deal

The fact that GWRBI died a natural death suggests that people outside the saberist circle can understand how context-dependent an RBI-based stat is.

So I’ll continue to hope that, while the concept of RBI may never fade from prominence, the raw counts of RBI may give way to some measure that captures both opportunity and performance.

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I get the MLB-Extra Innings package, and I’ve noticed more and more broadcasts are putting up either OBA or OPS for each individual batter. So that’s a few steps in the right direction.

I’ve also heard many references to WAR (and its variants) during ESPN baseball shows.

Gonzo
Gonzo
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

They put up the OBP stat on screen here in Philly. But the announcers have never ever talked about it.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

Priceless quote from Jeffy “No Walk” Francoeur in his time with the Braves: “If on-base percentage were that important, they would put it up on the scoreboard.” At the time, they in fact DID post OBP on the big screen at Turner Field.

Paul E
Paul E
9 years ago
Reply to  Thomas Court

T C:
Love that “clutch”…..gotta get me some “clutch”. The term “clutch”, is, without question one of the most *&^-#$@!, nebulous, random, and vague points to ever evolve in the long history of forensic intercourse and communications. It’s right up there with “gamer” and “winner”. PLEEEEEEEEEZE !!! Can’t we all agree that objective measurement trumps the bull-shit subjective opinion of the less-informed? In the words of Uncle Goerge S., “opinions are like assholes-everyone’s got ’em and they all stink”.
God, sometimes other people suck 🙂 Hang in there; this, too, shall pass.

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul E

To quote Bill James once again: “When you reach into the BS dump, you’re not likely to pull out many diamonds”.

Sports people often go to “clutch”, “gamer”, etc… when the actual numbers contradict their opinions.

Paul E
Paul E
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

Lawrence:
I forgot about the “BS Dump” coined by James. The term is pretty damn utilitarian when you think about it. “BS Dump” is definitely a pretty good description of an illogical conclusion or argument.
If you ever watch MLB channel, you’ll see those guys bend over backwards to say nice things about guys like Juan Pierre or veteran #5 starters. Usually the comments are pretty unspecific: “brings leadership”, “been around the block”, he’s “been in winning locker rooms”, and, of course, “gamer” and “clutch”….aghhhh

John Nacca
John Nacca
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul E

Don’t forget…..”table setter”, and “innings eater”…..along with “veteran presence”, “gritty” and “valuable commodity”, as in “He will become a valuable commodity come the trade deadline”. If he is so valuable, how come certain guys play for a different team or two every year…if they are THAT valuable, why would a team give them up at all? I hate all announcers, simply because they really have nothing useful to say, they just have to fill dead air time….well, either that or just be as great as Vin Scully and broadcast games by yourself. EXAMPLE…was watching a preseason game, Angels and somebody,… Read more »

vivaeljason
vivaeljason
9 years ago

Of the three triple crown stats, I believe the RBI is the most important since driving in and scoring runs is, you know, the point of the game, but I fully concede that all three triple crown stats are relatively useless indicators of how productive a person is at the plate. After all, a guy who drives in 90 runs on a team that plays in a pitchers park and struggles to score runs consistently is likely to be more productive than a guy who drives in 120 in a bandbox on a team that scores 1,000. %RBI/Opp is, I… Read more »

no statistician but
no statistician but
9 years ago

If counting stats don’t matter, how can the results of calculations based on counting stats matter? Other questions: right now hits seem almost irrelevant, but bases on balls are very important. How is that? Strikeouts for pitchers seem heavily weighted, but strikeouts for batters, at least to some stat guys, don’t really matter. Why? Winning games seems almost irrelevant compared to getting a high WAR—note the recent Clemens discussion. Is the only relevance how to explain the discrepancy away?

Graham, your triple was great, and your skepticism is pretty good, too, at least in this post.

DavidJ
DavidJ
9 years ago

“right now hits seem almost irrelevant, but bases on balls are very important. How is that?”

Not sure where you’re getting that from. Every sabermetrician will tell you that a hit is more valuable than a walk.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  DavidJ

I can think of one instance when a walk would have been better than a hit. I have alresdy posted this in the recent past. On 7/4/49 the Yankees took a 3-2 lead over the Red Sox going into the top of the 9th. The Sox loaded the bases with one out. During the course of the inning threatening clouds moved in and darkened the Stadium. Lights could not be turned on because the AL rule at the time banned the use of lights during day games. As Al Zarilla was batting a swirl of wind raised a cloud of… Read more »

no statistician but
no statistician but
9 years ago
Reply to  DavidJ

To reply to David J: I was trying to be provocative, saying that, to some, hits seem almost irrelevant, BUT—batting average does get dissed by the stats masters regularly, and batting average measures hits I’ll tell you something that does matter: accurate, measured language, saying what you mean clearly, and while contributors here do quite well on the whole, someone who complains about the lax use of the word “clutch” in one sentence, then cries out to the deity that some people “suck” two sentences later, doesn’t to my mind aid the level of discourse. To Graham: If a triple… Read more »

Bill@TPA
9 years ago

“BUT—batting average does get dissed by the stats masters regularly, and batting average measures hits”

The problem is that batting average matters ONLY hits. It’d be worse to rely on a metric that measures only walks (which we have, BB%, but nobody uses it as the measure of a hitter’s worth). The reason OBP is so many miles better than batting average is not that walks are somehow better than hits, but that it accounts for both.

no statistician but
no statistician but
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill@TPA

I think you’re quoting me out of context a little. I was responding to a comment in reply to a statement I made that was deliberately provoking. All the same, there’s no such thing as an empty batting average.Some are fuller than others—even though BA hardly covers all the ground. My original statement was aimed not at walks and hits, by the way, but at the tenor of the commentary that plays up the one and plays down the other.

I’m a get-on-base guy, myself.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Bill@TPA

OBP itself is hardly a perfect stat and has its limitations as does BA. It gives the same value to a walk as it does to a home run. wOBA is far better. Player A 10 PA, 2BB, 2 singles Player B 10 PA, 1BB, 1 single, 1 doubles, 1 HR Both players have a .400 OBP. But Player B has 8 total bases while Player A has 4. OBP overinflates the value of guys who don’t hit well but walk a lot. This also inflates their OPS+. no stat, I agree also that BA has gotten dangerously glossed over… Read more »

Hank G.
Hank G.
9 years ago

“If counting stats don’t matter, how can the results of calculations based on counting stats matter?”

Counting stats matter, in context. If I tell you that Player X had 100 hits (no context) you know very little about the player. If I tell you that Player X had 100 hits in his whole career, or in 500 ABs, or 300 ABs, you know a lot more about Player X.

no statistician but
no statistician but
9 years ago
Reply to  Hank G.

Of course they matter. That was the point of the question. See other comments in this thread, though, that deny, or nearly so, the relevance of RBIs, or—in other threads, the relevance of wins for pitchers, batting average for hitters, and some others stats I’m not remembering. Sloppy thinking was my target.

Andy
Admin
9 years ago

Graham, you’re getting your ass kicked for this post on Twitter right now, a sure sign that you’ve made an impact!

Mike L
Mike L
9 years ago

Counting stats matter, even RBI. Yes, they are situation-dependent, and you can look deeper into them so as to get a more refined idea of total performance, but you can’t simply discard them. We mostly all agree that Joe Carter, with the amount of outs he made, doesn’t belong in the middle of the line-up. But to only focus on the outliers like Carter blurs the fact that stats are reflective, in the aggregate, of outcomes. Putting a guy like Carter, Bell, Armas anywhere near the middle of the order is a managerial mistake, but it doesn’t mean they didn’t… Read more »

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

All true, Mike. But I still see several fundamental problems with celebrating RBI; here’s just one: It creates the impression that there are “RBI guys” — a phrase we still hear often from announcers and managers. This term fosters the notion that there is a special run-driving-in ability possessed by some guys that goes beyond their general ability as hitters: “clutch.” And we know that is utter B.S. Yes, clutch situations exist. Yes, clutch performance exists — after the fact. But no, clutch ability does not exist — at least, not nearly at the level that most people think it… Read more »

Mike L
Mike L
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

John A, you aren’t wrong. I think that, with rare exceptions over very short periods of time, “clutch” is the type of thing announcers love to talk about with almost no grounding in fact. But, not to be heretical, the stats community also has to understand that people need visual and gut validation. Joe Carter comes to the plate with runners on, the catcher comes out to talk to the pitcher, the announcer solemnly intones “Carter is in a little slump, but he has 10 RBI in the last 13 games” and that’s drama.

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

John A.,

To paraphrase Bill James (as inevitably many of us do) I do believe that clutch ability exists; it’s just much much LESS important overall than a lot of people think it is.

It’s say 2% (if even that…) of a player’s overall performance, as opposed to say a third, or a quarter, or whatever % some mainstream writers/fans think is the difference between a “clutch” and “un-clutch” hitter.

Shping
Shping
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

Well said Lawrence. It’s always good to avoid extreme views in either direction.

Seems like clutch hitting is in some ways similar to home field advantage or batting order preferences/successes: they are somewhat measurable and seem to make a difference, but only slightly.

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Where to start? Micheal Young had a great year last year and is a very unique player. He plays all infield positions above average and is not an iron-glove.
Yes, clutch situations exist. Yes, clutch performance exists — after the fact. But no, clutch ability does not exist — at least, not nearly at the level that most people think it does, not at a level that would make it reasonable to make important strategic decisions based on assessments of “clutch” ability. hmmm?

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

For the record, Micheal Young played more games in the field than he did DH last year, 91 games in the field, 69 DH.

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

Mike did you know that Gary and Joe Carter had almost identical career stats? Before someone jumps me about Gary being a catcher, Mike mentions Joe’s place in the middle of the order and not position. Joe and Gary were both in the middle of their lineups with virtually the same stats.

Mike L
Mike L
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

Timmy Pea, Carter and Carter were somewhat similar, although the Kid did moderately better in his slash lines an had an advantage in OPS+. But there are a couple of real differences. Gary Carter had a much higher level of production in his peak years, and I don’t think you can understate the influence of his postion-on his overall hitting totals. Catchers can hang around a lot longer than most positions because of their relative scarcity. Gary Carter’s age 33-38 years showed marked declines in production, which would have been expected, and are comparable to other catchers. Joe Carter’s last… Read more »

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

Well I was reacting to a statement about Joe being in the middle of the lineup, and not his position. Joe had many more doubles, and SB and Triples and HR than Gary. When Gary was with the Expos he could change a game with his arm, but that didn’t really last when he went to New York. 1 of 9 games Gary played was not at Catcher. I have no problem with Gary being in the HoF, and Joe not. I do have a problem with Joe not getting the respect he deserves for being a fine ball player.

Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

their raw numbers may be similar, but Gary was clearly the superior carter, even just on offense without taking position or defense into account at all. 115 OPS+ to Joe’s 105 for their careers. Rbat 146 to -1. Yes, that means Joe Carter’s batting runs created were pretty much exactly average for his career. Joe made a little bit up on the bases and by being good as not GIDP, but not enough to catch Gary for pure offense even ignoring their position. and position is *huge*. An OPS+ of 115 from a catcher puts Gary in the top 20… Read more »

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

I don’t understand how you can say that? Without taking into account position Joes numbers are much better. To my knowledge WAR and OPS+ are weighted against players of the same position. I’ll ask you again to explain how if both were 3rd basemen Gary would be better?

Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

OPS+ does not take position into account. Neither does Rbat in the WAR breakdown. They measure pure offense with the bat. If you think carter was “more clutch” because he had 100 rbi seasons, well, WPA disagrees. Gary has a 14.5 career WPA, while Joe has a 2.0. That’s saying that Joe was barely above average in his ability to help you win games, even accounting for exactly when he got his hits vs. outs, while Gary was significantly above average, IOW, he wasn’t significantly clutch in spite of some good seasonal rbi totals relative to his batting ability. Now,… Read more »

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

What happens to Gary and Joe’s similarity scores if you put them both at 3rd base? Just to be clear you’re telling me that WAR does not take into account a players position or how he fares against others at that position?

birtelcom
Editor
9 years ago

A stat is always just a partial picture of the world. If and when it is used in a manner that gives it the appropriate weight and context then and to that extent it is helpful; if and when it is used in a context that is misleading then and to that extent it is misleading. As long as we use a stat like RBI in contexts in which we recognize that it is heavily affected by, most obviously, the hitter’s spot in the lineup and the hitting prowess of the hitter’s teammates, there is nothing inherently wrong with the… Read more »

birtelcom
Editor
9 years ago

One disappointment to me of recent sabermetrics is that an early invention of Bill James, simple Runs Created, has not gotten much love. At its most basic and accessible, Runs Created is simply Total Bases multiplied by On Base Percentage. As a counting stat measuring hitting I don’t think that simple formula has ever been topped for a combination of simplicity, context-neutrality and balance between contact and slugging value. The formula can and has been tweaked in a thousand ways to improve its accuracy, but each such improvement also drifts away from the simplicity that is also a positive attribute… Read more »

Mike L
Mike L
9 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

I agree-I always liked the stat and was sorry it wasn’t more widely adopted.

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

I think it’s a matter of accessability; if B-R listed Runs Created on its main player pages, and not under “Advanced Batting”, I think it would be more widely used.

I also like Bill James “Wins Shares” a great deal, since it is based on actual team wins, and not some theoretical construct. Again, if Win Shares were more widely accessable (SERIOUS QUESTION: where do I go to get Wins Shares of current players?) I think it would be cited more often in the same way that WAR is starting to be used.

birtelcom
birtelcom
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

The only place I know of these days to get current season Win Shares is on the Bill James Online website (paid subscription). Bill has been adding Loss Shares to the Win Shares concept (making it more like WAR in some ways) and until he or somebody puts together a full database of Win Shares/Loss Shares, I suspect the stats will not be made widely available conisdering its sort of a work in progress at this point.

Hartvig
Hartvig
9 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

I know it would be incredibly involved but someday I would love to see some sort of a comparison using WAR to James’ top 100 ranking at each position using the same sort of criteria (career/3 best/5 consecutive/per game/period adjustment). I would imagine they would still be far more similar than the lists that James used to compare his to. Might have to do that myself someday if I have a lot of free time on my hands.

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago

Random hypothetical bet:

You go through the 2011 AL rosters and take the top RBI total at each position. I’ll go through what’s left and take the top OPS+ guy.

Even though you get Bautista and Ellsbury, I’ll bet my team still winds up with a better average in both OPS+ and OBP.

Dave V.
Dave V.
9 years ago

@16 JA – 2011 NL rosters as well? 😉

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago
Reply to  Dave V.

Absolutely.

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago
Reply to  Dave V.

Dave — You don’t think I’d offer this “bet” before I ran the numbers, do you? 🙂

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

And here are the teams assembled by the method I described @16: 2011 AL Top RBI guy at each position: Pos / Player / OPS+ / OBP 2 / Alex Avila* / 143 / .389 3 / Adrian Gonzalez* / 155 / .410 4 / Robinson Cano* / 129 / .349 5 / Adrian Beltre / 129 / .331 6 / Asdrubal Cabrera# / 119 / .332 DH / Michael Young / 124 / .380 OF / Jose Bautista / 181 / .447 OF / Jacoby Ellsbury* / 146 / .376 OF / Curtis Granderson* / 138 / .364 AVERAGE… Read more »

Dave V.
Dave V.
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

heheh, I had a feeling you might have ran them for those parameters, JA 🙂 Actually, it’s interesting looking at who gets stacked up vs. each other in this battle. The first thing that came to my mind was that “I’d rather have the AL RBI team in the field”. I did a check and the AL RBI team has a 2.3 dWAR, as opposed to a 1.8 dWAR for the AL OPS+ team. So I figured I might as well check overall WAR totals for each team as well. The AL RBI team again wins out, as they have… Read more »

Paul E
Paul E
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

JA: How about those defending world champion Cards currently with 4 OPS leaders by position? I believe Carlos Beltran, right now, is channelling his inner Henry Aaron. Aaron said he was a better hitter in his late thirties than at any point in his career and it was just a matter of staying on the field for 140 games instead of 155 – 162 games. Beltran has, apparently, figured “it” out and just refuses to have poor at bats. He is about to join the 300-300 club and will possibly finish with 1500 Runs scored/1500 RBI and 1000 BB’s. I’m… Read more »

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul E

I wouldn’t say Beltran has figured anything out — he hit very well last year, with a 153 OPS+, something that apparently escaped much notice. In 2009, he missed half the year, but when he played, he batted .325 with a .415 OBP and 144 OPS+.

Beltran has really had just one down year, in 2005, when I think he struggled to adjust his self-image to the expectations of the massive contract he’d just signed. Otherwise, he’s been outstanding, and is knocking on the door of Cooperstown (or at least whatever rustic town is chosen for the Hall of Merit).

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago

Graham, you asked “I don’t know when the first attacks began on the RBI”. Well, back in the early/mid-eighties, the fans of the Chicago NL team pointed out that their #1 and #2 hitters got far less RBI chances than their #3/#4/#5 hitters, and this wasn’t fair to them. Am I referring to Mel Hall and Ryne Sandberg? NO!! – I am talking about Ned Williamson and George Gore of the _1880s_ Chicago White Stockings (as they were called back then), their first two hitters. So mainstream fans were pointing out the deficiencies of the RBI, right from the very… Read more »

DavidJ
DavidJ
9 years ago

The RBI isn’t meaningless; I suppose it’s better than nothing. But there are much better ways of measuring “clutch,” or whatever else it is people look to RBI to tell them. Now that we have stats like WPA and RE24 that do a much more accurate job of measuring the win and run-scoring impact of each plate appearance, I just don’t see much use for the RBI for anything other than trivia.

Paul E
Paul E
9 years ago

How about OPS+/Total Bases/BB’s as the new Triple Crown stats or the more obvious OBA/SLG/Runs Created?

I’m 54 years old and read a lot of literature as a youngster and it was all about Batting Average and the World Series – pretty feakin’ short sighted. Can you imagine if Topps trading card had the three faces of the leaders for the above stats in lieu of BA HR RBI? You’d be, like, “Who are these guys”?

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul E

Or substituting wRC+ for OPS+ and wOBA for OBP? These two linear-weighted stats are clearly superior to the non-linear-weighted ones.

Artie Z
Artie Z
9 years ago
Reply to  Paul E

I think the average fan would have recognized those leaders just fine. The 1960s list of the OPS+/TBs/BBs list looks like the following: NL: OPS+ Fr. Robinson (3) Aaron (1) Mays (2) Dick Allen (2) McCovey (2) TBs: Aaron (5) Mays (2) D. Allen (1) F. Alou (1) Billy Williams (1) BBs: Ashburn (1) Eddie Mathews (3) Santo (4) Joe Morgan (1) Wynn (1) AL: OPS+ Mantle (4) Bob Allison (1) Yaz (3) Fr. Robinson (1) Reggie Jackson (1) TBs: Mantle (1) Maris (1) Colavito (1) Oliva (1) D. Stuart (1) Versalles (1) Fr. Robinson (1) Yaz (1) Fr. Howard… Read more »

Thomas Court
Thomas Court
9 years ago

Mentioning Joe Carter on a site like this is like someone walking into a vegan convention wearing a fur coat while eating a Five Guys double burger.

Thomas Court
Thomas Court
9 years ago
Reply to  Thomas Court

(slaps forehead) I should have said PETA convention.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Thomas Court

Very similar to my mention of Ryan Howard @1, Thomas.

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago

Graham this is an outstanding post, one of the best posts I’ve ever read here. Very well thought out!

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

I’ll be looking for your follow-up.

MadDog
MadDog
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

One “stat” I’d be interested in seeing is RBI in the context of batting outs. In my mind, the main knock against Joe Carter was the huge number of outs he made while generating his production. Yes, good number of RBI, but with the number of outs he used up, he was reducing chances for RBI for those behind him in the lineup (e.g. Olerud).

BTW, while I don’t believe there are hitters who can consistently elevate their game in the clutch, I can accept that there are hitters who disappear. Ed Sprague, perhaps?

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
9 years ago
Reply to  MadDog

Well, that would level the field somewhat, but that still wouldn’t account for the total number of RBI oppurtunities (runners on base).

I think the whole concept of “clutch” players is built anecdotally, from a few big game-winning hits (or defensive plays) that really stand out in people’s memories. I am not sure if this can ever be captured statistically, in the way we here would like to.

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

I would agree with your description of clutch, it being a perception rather than a fact. It’s hard to pin down, and made even more confusing when your main interest in baseball is fantasy leagues as opposed to following your team, everyday, into the playoffs and hoping they win the WS. You have to view clutch hitting as a pyramid. As the season goes by you climb the pyramid. One super clutch hit in September is worth 12 in April. And when Joe Carter hits a HR to win the series, it’s worth a thousand clutch hits in April. It’s… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Graham:
I think it would be a good idea to list the oWARS. It was really an excellent post of yours, the many responses made this a really great learning experience.

Neil L.
Neil L.
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Graham, I’m pleased for you that this blog has legs. Every time I think the threads are dead, somebody new weighs in. Well done.

Your blogs in HHS seem to be heavyweights that draw a lot of crossfire which has to be taken as a compliment.

Hank G.
Hank G.
9 years ago

“Hank Aaron had 86 RBIs and a 153 OPS+ on the 1968 Braves while Dante Bichette had 133 RBIs and a 102 OPS+ on the 1999 Rockies.”

I think that says pretty much everything that needs to be said about how seriously RBIs should be considered.

Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan
9 years ago

Graham, have you considered that most of these guys negative WAR comes from defense and positional adjustment. Very few of these seasons are considered below replacement purely from an offensive standpoint, even after adjusting for position (and every one of these guys played low value positions with a significant negative Rpos). The famed Dante Bichette 1999 season is only below replacement because of his -34 TZ fielding runs. B-R puts his oWAR (which includes a -9 run positional adjustment) at +0.3. Looking at the sabr-hated Joe Carter’s three seasons on your list, in only one, 1997, does he have a… Read more »

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago

Zambrano pitched a great game tonight, but got the loss. He walked zero, but had no hits himself. The guy is back.

kds
kds
9 years ago

The reason RBI should not be taken seriously is very simple, they add almost nothing to what we know already. Let’s start with Hack Wilson 1930. He had a great year with the bat, even after accounting for the extremely high offensive context that season. .356/.454/.723, 56 HR, 423 TB. Woody English mostly batted 2nd for that team, 100 walks and more than 200 hits, after subtracting his HR he was on base more than 300 times. Kiki Cuyler mostly batted 3rd, (Rogers Hornsby was injured most of the year), he was on base, minus HR, almost 300 times, and… Read more »

Neil L.
Neil L.
9 years ago
Reply to  kds

Great writing, kds. With me, you are preaching to the choir!

You have clearly, logically and compellingly laid out the case against the RBI.

Your very last phrase is the key and I wonder why a “positive” word like tradition is such a negative thing when it comes to abandoning or at least re-understanding the RBI?

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  kds

kds, very well written. With that said, Baseball Prospectus has a stat that comes to different conclusions about Howard/Pujols in 2008. This stat is called OBI, or Others Batted In. I will copy from my @1 post above to describe it: “OBI is equal to RBI-HR. The main point of the stat is to measure a player’s percentage of runners he drives in with a runner on first, second, and/or third. If you include driving yourself in with a home run, you would have to penalize yourself a failed opportunity to drive yourself in everytime you don’t hit a home… Read more »

Fireworks
Fireworks
9 years ago

Love these discussions. Graham, I think the real key thing is not that saber-types *hate* RBIs as much as they hate RBI totals being the (sole) basis of a narrative about a player’s value. When you listen to talking heads on MLBN, ESPN, FOX, or a local telecast, these guys often do have valuable insights. It’s their commentary about guys being “run-producers” and the other accolades they proffer using simple counting stats and simple rate stats like batting average without accounting for opportunity or park effects that bothers saber-types. In the end, when it comes to batting average, there are… Read more »

Neil L.
Neil L.
9 years ago
Reply to  Fireworks

Fireworks, just wanted to chime in to say how much I liked your lucid, well-written comment.

With respect to baseball talking heads (read color commentators) I think they are paid for soundbites and cliches even if they are not accurate. RBI is one of those “safe” stats that can be thrown out there for a player in a soundbite between pitches even if it doesn’t support the comment being made such as “clutch hitter” or “run-producer”.

John Autin
Editor
9 years ago
Reply to  Neil L.

I don’t think there are any major TV jobs yet that would allow someone to do a brand of analysis that was essentially saberist. I’m sure that some of the guys we hear every week are saberists at heart, but serving a mass audience requires them to speak a certain language.

MikeD
MikeD
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

That’s probably true. They’re not going to bring up sabermetrics because they would have to explain it to the part of the audience — and no doubt still the majority of the audience — who is not familiar with sabermetrics, or just doesn’t buy into the concept. Yet things are changing. David Cone serves as a commentator on the Yankees’ YES Network and he has been talking about sabermetrics going back to at least 2010, reguarly referencing sites like B-R and Fangraphs. YES seems to be allowing him to expand his sabermetric interest, giving him a few minutes to explain… Read more »

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  MikeD

Jon “Boog” Sciambi, former Braves play-by-play man, is a sabermetrician at heart and has written stuff for Baseball Prospectus and has been known to comment on there from time to time. On top of this, he’s a first-rate announcer, as he created broadcasting gold with partner Joe Simpson doing Braves games. Their chemistry, along with Sciambi’s intimate knowledge of both new metrics and history of the game, made watching Atlanta games on TV a daily treat. Unfortunately, Sciambi went on to greener pastures at ESPN, where he has been hideously underutilized. Boog, I speak for virtually all Braves fans: We… Read more »

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Fireworks

Name a couple of guys with the .250/.425/500 and 100 RBI from last year? Just curious.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  Timmy Pea

It looks like Jason Giambi in 1993 came the closest:
.250 BA
.412 OBP
.527 SLG
107 RBI

Timmy Pea
Timmy Pea
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Kinsler had a year like that also last year. My point was 250/425/500 and 100 is pretty extreme.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

No one’s ever had a season of BA=.425. Move it up to .260, and only Max Bishop of the 1930 A’s shows up at.252/.426/.408 with only 38 RBI, but 128 walks.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Eeesh. Part of my post got deleted. Sorry for the mess.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

What I meant to say was that no player has ever hit .250 or less with an OBP of .425 or greater. Move the BA up to .260, and Bishop’s season is the only one in MLB history of .260 or less and an OBP greater than .425.

Wow, 8 straight 100+ walk seasons for Bishop and 36+ career WAR in only 12 seasons. Nice career.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Reply to #97:

Bishop has 1156 career BB and 1216 H for a BB/H ratio of .951. That is the highest for all players with more than 3000 PA.

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Thanks Richard. It looks like only two other players in MLB history have 8 consecutive seasons of 100+ walks:

Bobby Abreu ’99-’06
Frank Thomas ’91-’98
Max Bishop ’26-’33

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  Graham

Another reply to #97. Bishop is the only player with a season of more R than H (min. 250 PA). In 1930 he had 117 R and 111 H.

John Williams
John Williams
9 years ago

As a young Cubs fan; I always wished we never traded a young, “great” player like Joe Carter. With time I learned he was beefy, but airy. Him being on the above list three times is an example. I call it the bologna factor. Something tasted great as a kid, but later in life you learn it was just overprocessed junk food. Joe Carter is my bologna player, what are yours?

no statistician but
no statistician but
9 years ago

One last try and I’m done: Can we go at this from the opposite perspective, just to see where we get? We’re going to, whether or no. Statistics measure things after the fact. We’ll stick with hitting here, and let’s start before the fact with the batter’s duty, to use an old fashioned term, when he steps into the batters’s box, remembering always that scoring runs and therefore winning the game are the overriding goals. Statistics don’t come into it. If the base are empty, his major, if not his only duty is to to get on base (and to… Read more »

Neil L.
Neil L.
9 years ago

No stat, you are indeed a statistician! 🙂

Can I frame this comment in gold? May I link to it in future forums where RBI and the value of outs are discussed?

Well done.

no statistician but
no statistician but
9 years ago
Reply to  Neil L.

Neil:

I have a brother named Neal and a son-in-law named Niels. Now I have a publicity agent named Neil.

Sure, link it where you like, all royalties to the NSB Get Out of Jail Free fund.

The gold frame isn’t my style, though.

Thanks.

Neil L.
Neil L.
9 years ago

Wow, no stat. All the different spellings of Neil. I am a big suck-up, but that being said I’ve been told one of my character strengths is I’m an encourager. (Is that a word?)

All suck-up tendancies aside, the quality of writing in here, no stat, including your comment, is very high.

Keep on truckin’, I mean postin’.

Fireworks
Fireworks
9 years ago

JA there’s “Clubhouse Confidential”. Also, Cone mostly relies upon advanced stats to back up his points when he does Yanks broadcasts.

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