This was supposed to be a comment on Lou Gehrig. I’d never done one on him and decided it was time. Turns out I changed my mind.

When it comes to Gehrig, one of the first things I notice about him is that he was an RBI machine. In years he played 120 or more games he had less than 100 RBIs exactly once, 1925, a year he played only 126 games. Between 1927 and 1937 his lowest total was 126 (1929) and his highest total the American League record 184 in 1931. I was going to write a lot about those kinds of numbers, but then I found a couple of spots where so-called experts went on an on about how useless RBIs were as a stat because they were essentially a team stat and that runs scored was a better judge of a player’s value.

Excuse me? Runs are a better judge of a player’s value and RBIs are downgraded as a team stat? Really?

Let me take a hypothetical players who for grins we’ll call Albert Pujols (catchy name, right?). And let’s give him a hypothetical season which we’ll call 2012 while he plays for a hypothetical team that we’ll call the Angels. Got all that? Our player scores 85 runs (his lowest total as a Major Leaguer). He hits 30 home runs (also his lowest total). I was unable to find how many times he scored on errors, steals of home (he stole 8 bases so I doubt home was one or it would have made big news), double plays, etc (which is why he’s a hypothetical player). I did find that the Angels scored 5% of their runs without an RBI so I gave our hypothetical Pujols four runs (5.25%) without benefit of RBI.

OK now that leaves him with 81 runs, 30 of which were scored when he put one over the fence. Now that leaves 51 runs unaccounted for, right? Which means that he scored 51 runs via someone else’s RBI. Now tell me again how RBI is a team stat and, apparently, runs scored isn’t. Almost every run scored is a team stat. Even a home run can be a team stat depending on the situation (“Gotta pitch to Ruth, Gehrig’s on deck.”). So you see my problem with downgrading the RBI, particularly in favor of a run. I realize that way back when there were a lot more errors you can make that argument, but 5%? Sorry, new stat geeks, I still think Ribby’s a stat to consider.

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2 Responses to “Ribby”

  1. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    “Let me take a hypothetical players who for grins we’ll call Albert Pujols (catchy name, right?)”

    Ha! I liked that line. “Albert Pujols”. Probably one of the LEAST catchy names for a great baseball star! The name doesn’t even grow on you, no matter HOW good he gets as a player. Even uncharismatic names like “Roger Bresnahan” become catchy after a while.

    Just curious, V, but where exactly did you read that RBI’s are a “useless stat”? What nonsense on their part. But I’d really like to read who said it and where?

    RBI’s are VERY important, in my opinion. One cannot underestimate their value. Naturally.

    I never had appreciated “runs scored” until I read “Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract”. I may have been ignorant, but until I read James’ writing about the value of runs scored in a season as a value for Hall Of Fame status or even as an indicator of a great season, I really had never thought about the value of “runs scored” as far as an individual player is concerned.

    I think that both RBI’s AND “Runs Scored” are, arguably, equally important in considering a player’s career.

    One more thing. The word “Ribby”. I’ve liked that word ever since I first heard Bill White using the term during Yankee broadcasts. Before that, I had never heard the term, but it’s one that I really like. Bill White was one of my favorites announcers, and highly underrated. I’d rather listen to an underrated Bill White any day over an overrated (in my opinion) Vin Scully.


    • verdun2 Says:

      I have to admit I overstated the case when I used the word “useless”, but there are a number of comments (mostly from “advanced stat” bloggers and writers who say that RBIs are overrated (and I just resisted the urge to type “vastly” in front of overrated).

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