The birth, life and death of the Game-Winning RBI

From SABR member Larry Granillo at Baseball Prospectus on February 15, 2012:

In 1980, the Elias Sports Bureau – baseball’s statistical keepers – quietly introduced a new statistic into the sport’s vernacular: the game-winning RBI. The introduction was so quiet, in fact, that I can’t find a single article mentioning the new statistic in 1980. Instead, it just suddenly appeared in box scores that spring, innocently tracking players’ ability to hit in the clutch. Or so Elias hoped.

The phrase “game-winning rbi” invokes images of big hits, players coming through in the clutch to put their team ahead for good. A two-run double in the bottom of the eighth to make it 3-2, a tenth-inning leadoff home run, even a bases-loaded sacrifice fly… The problem with statistics, though, is that they need a rigid definition to be useful; a vague “I know it when I see it” just won’t do. The game-winning RBI was defined in Rule 1004-a as “the RBI that gives a club the lead it never relinquishes.”

It sounds simple enough, but therein lies the problem. As any of a thousand different articles complaining about the statistic would tell you, that simple definition means that an early-inning bloop single can be just as much of a game-winning RBI as a two-out, ninth-inning grand slam. As one 1989 article put it, “the GWRBI went to the player who drove in the run that put his team ahead for good. That might be a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 10-9 victory or a weak grounder in the top of the first in a 13-0 blowout.”

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Originally published: February 15, 2012. Last Updated: February 15, 2012.