RBI, What Is It Good For?

We are standing at the precipice of a Cuban Missile-like conflict that could ruin the game of baseball as we know it. I’m talking about these old-school math-nerds clamoring about the RBI. RBI stands for “runs batted in,” but it should stand for “R.eally B.ad I.nformation” if you ask me. According to RBI, Kyle Seager was a better player than Joe Mauer last season. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard since someone try to tell me Dan Fogelberg deserved a Grammy. Check out this explanation of RBI in section 10.04 of baseball’s official rule book:

A run batted in is a statistic credited to a batter whose action at bat causes one or more runs to score, as set forth in this Rule 10.04.
(a) The official scorer shall credit the batter with a run batted in for every run that scores
(1) unaided by an error and as part of a play begun by the batter’s safe hit (including the batter’s home run), sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, infield out or fielder’s choice, unless Rule 10.04(b) applies;
(2) by reason of the batter becoming a runner with the bases full (because of a base on balls, an award of first base for being touched by a pitched ball or for interference or obstruction); or
(3) when, before two are out, an error is made on a play on which a runner from third base ordinarily would score.
(b) The official scorer shall not credit a run batted in
(1) when the batter grounds into a force double play or a reverse-force double play; or
(2) when a fielder is charged with an error because the fielder muffs a throw at first base that would have completed a force double play.
The official scorer’s judgment must determine whether a run batted in shall be credited for a run that scores when a fielder holds the ball or throws to a wrong base. Ordinarily, if the runner keeps going, the official scorer should credit a run batted in; if the runner stops and takes off again when the runner notices the misplay, the official scorer should credit the run as scored on a fielder’s choice.

Sounds like a real snooze-fest, am I right?

Does this stat even make sense? It appears that you don’t even need to “bat” in a runner in order to receive a run batted in. If a player draws a bases-loaded walk, they get credited with an RBI even though the bat never left their shoulder. And what about on a double-play? A hitter gets no RBI for driving in a run after “batting” the ball. This stat is more convoluted than Delta’s boarding policy.

Hey sportswriters, get your head out of the rule book and actually WATCH a game.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

24 Responses to “RBI, What Is It Good For?”

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      In case it’s not clear (and it’s not), I almost never +1 anything on the interwebs. I have decided to use many years worth of +1 that I have stored in my inventory on this one post. Congratulations.

      +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

  1. Dan Rozenson says:

    BACK WHEN ALEXANDER CARTWRIGHT WAS PLAYING BASE BALL IN THE STREETS OF HOBOKEN IN 1846, WAS HE USING THIS “RBI” CRAP? HELL NO!!!

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  2. RMR says:

    This should be a regular FanGraphs post. Seriously.

    While I appreciated David Schoenfield’s recent article on WAR, it takes the wrong approach. This is the right one. People don’t change their worldview because a better one comes along. They change it because they realize they can no longer justify their current one. Ask a fan who likes the traditional metrics what an “RBI” or a “Win” is good for; ask them for the definition. Ask them what it measures about a player. Really, that’s the process most of us went through. We saw the ridiculousness and looked for better alternatives.

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    • MikeS says:

      But people will go to great lengths to justify their current world view no matter much evidence is presented refuting it’s validity.

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    • cass says:

      Yes. This should be in FanGraphs, not NotGraphs.

      Joe Posnanski used to write posts like this about OBP vs. AVG, though they tended to be much longer.

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  3. RBIS DONT TELL THE WHOLE STORY FOR GRITTY PLAYERS MIEGUL CAIRO#1 HUSTLE!!111!!1!!! GO YANKS

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  4. MattPfeffer says:

    The wonderful irony in these Jack Morris jock sniffing anti-sabr zombies is that they don’t reject statistics, they just use worse ones.

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  5. yaboynate says:

    The RBI, literally, has blood on it’s hands. Why isn’t anybody talking about this?

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  6. Antonio bananas says:

    Using RBI and pitcher win is like saying “colored people”. It’s outdated and only tolerable if you’re 70 years old and just don’t know any different.

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  7. Mitchell says:

    This is outstanding.

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  8. bluejays49 says:

    YES!!!

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  9. tonysoprano says:

    Give me Kenny Williams’ RBI laden 2005 Champion White Sox over any Billy Beane Oakland A’s championless team. I give credit to the MIT nerds who came up with all these goofy ass stats. But these nerds, like most of you, probably never have played the game past little league level. None of what the Sabr’s are bringing to the table measures heart, brains and intensity to win. None of these nerds would know how to scout a player. But they can create spreadsheets with astonishing equations that is suppose to supersede what the human eye can see by actually watching these players play. That all said I give credit to you nerds for finding your niche in the game. Obviously Sabr is catching on and is here to stay. Most baseball organizations employ a Sabr nerd or two. But please don’t give credit to recent Champions that use a lot of Sabr stats. For every Sabr nerd on payroll there are still 5 times as money scouts out there at the high schools and small colleges measuring the really important stat: the actual human being.

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    • David says:

      I give credit to the PAC 12 athletes who actually swung the bats, but these athletes, like you, have probably never though about anything past a 4th grade level. None of what the regional scouts are bringing to the table measures anything with a large enough sample size to have any reliable meaning, none of these scouts would know how to reliably evaluate a player against his peers, but they can come back to meetings and talk about their gut reactions and radar guns that are supposed to supersede the information of a computer that unemotionally evaluates every single play. That said, I give credit to these athletes for actually playing the game. Obviously, there will always be those who are hostile to math and make statements like “stats can never measure things like heart, brains, and intensity to win”. Most baseball organizations still employ a scout or two, but please dont give credit to recent champions that ignore SABR stats. The only reason teams employ more scouts than SABR nerds is that scouting is much more labor intensive, but they dont measure the really important stats: runs created and saved

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    • David says:

      And Billy Beane was a 1st round draft pick and had a 5 year MLB career, one of the points of Moneyball, is that he wanted to avoid players like himself.

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    • nu buford when says:

      Tony is right.

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    • njd.aitken says:

      For the love of fucking god, stop capitalizing just the S in SABR, it’s a fucking eyesore.

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    • yaboynate says:

      As a professional money scout, I can attest that his ratio is correct – there are usually 5 of us per 1 SaBr nerd-dork. We do scout out the high schools and small, elite colleges for future money-makers, but we like to shy away from calling actual human beings statistics since, you know, Stalin and all.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        Well, you’re actually not turning people I to statistics. It’s their quantifiable performance. Stocks aren’t stats either, but what they do can be measured.

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  10. STRAWMAN HAS A POINT says:

    WHO THE FUCK HAS EVER AND I MEAN EVER SAID THAT KYLE SEAGER WAS A BETTER PLAYER THAN JOE MAUER LAST YEAR? STUPID STATS ARE ONLY STUPID IF YOU USE THEM THE WRONG WAY LIKE YOU DID IN THAT ARGUMENT. ALL THAT STAT TELLS ME IS KYLE SEAGER DROVE IN MORE RUNS THAN JOE MAUER. THAT IS IT. THAT’S LIKE LOOKING AT HOME RUNS AND SAYING MARK REYNOLDS IS A BETTER HITTER THAN JOE MAUER BECAUSE HE HIT MORE HOME RUNS. WHEN ALL THAT STAT IS TELLING ME IS THAT MARK REYNOLDS HIT MORE HOME RUNS THAN JOE MAUER. JESUS CHRIST.

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  11. leftyodoul says:

    This is neither obscure or humorous enough to be on NotGraphs. Additionally, it is not insightful or analytical enough to be on FanGraphs.

    While I do appreciate your posting of the criteria for determining an RBI, no new ground was covered. I clicked on this post hoping for something. A laugh, an insight, a non-sequitur. I leave disappointed.

    Mr. Cwik, please put more effort into your future posts.

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