I knew this wouldn’t take very long. Our editor at the Take and my good friend, Clint Evans, is a bit of a traditionalist and former collegiate ballplayer. So when I mentioned RBI is a meaningless stat over a text, it sparked The Great RBI Debate. I also could do without saves, pitcher wins, errors and maybe even ERA and AVG. I’ll focus on RBI for this post and, before some of you get outraged and feel the need to punch your computer in the groin, allow me to explain myself.
I’m not trying to get all polarizing for the sake of being Skip Bayless here. When I say RBI is meaningless, I just mean it doesn’t tell us anything about an individual player’s value, skill, talent or anything else of importance. The only thing RBI tells us is who was at the plate when a run scored. It’s not some magical indicator of clutch or hitting prowess. It’s dependent on the ability of other players on the team to get on base and the timing in which they do so. My colleague states this…
Healthy players with more ability who have guys with a high OBP hitting in front of them will tend to have more RBI’s. This means you hit leadoff or 8th, you’re not likely to rack up RBI’s. Hit behind a player in the mold of Ricky Henderson and you’re going to look good.
Rickey Henderson, based on his own insane talent, could frequently be on third base with one or fewer outs by the time the number three hitter comes to the plate. If that hitter drives an easy out to left field and Henerson scores, what information does that give us? Sure, a run scored but an out was created. How much value did that hitter really produce?
We actually know the answer to that and I hope you like linear weights. Get to know RE24…
RE24 (runs above average by the 24 base/out states): RE24 is the difference in run expectancy (RE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher. Over the course of the season, each players’ RE24 for individual plays is added up to get his season total RE24.
RE24 renders RBI useless in that context. But back to Clint’s point about a leadoff or 8-hitter not racking up RBI because of their lineup spot, what does that tell us about their value? Nothing. Managers are still very set in their ways when it comes to lineup order even though studies have shown it’s not all that important unless you’re batting your pitcher second. Again, collecting RBI is based on opportunity and dependent on teammates.
If you want to know how your National League, 8-hole-hitting catcher compares to the others at the plate, wOBA (weighted On Base Average) will do a better job than an RBI total. Our minds could be wiped of traditional stats tonight and, I’m telling you, we wouldn’t miss RBI. Unless you count these awesome rap videos based on the RBI Baseball video game.