Womack: In defense of the RBI

From SABR member Graham Womack at High Heat Stats on April 19, 2012:

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 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.

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This page was last updated April 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm MST.

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