Saturday Rockpile: Solving the RBI problem

Lisa Blumenfeld

Is RBI really a useless stat?

Is the RBI really a useless stat? I've struggled with this question several times, but since it is a slow day I thought it might be a good idea to see if anyone in the Purple Row community feels like being solutions-oriented.

I won't re-hash too many of the arguments here -- that can be done to your heart's desire in the comments section -- so I'll just do a quick overview of some options and let the discussion take its course.

It is true that an RBI is a mostly useless stat that oftentimes only measures a number of opportunities a particular player had, which isn't necessarily indicative of any skill. But, unless I am mistaken, counting RBI still helps to measure parts of the game that are not encapsulated by any other stat.

The first kind of example that comes to my mind is the sacrifice fly (or sacrifice-for-a-run ground-out) because I think being able to "shorten up" and take a contact approach knowing that putting the ball in play is more important that getting a hit, is a skill that should be noticed.

I have suggested before an RBI% stat that simply measures the percentage of RBI opportunities the player converts, thereby mitigating the luck factors and focusing merely on how many times a player executed properly regardless of how many opportunities he was given to do so.

This isn't perfect, of course, and others who are much smarter (and better at math) than me have suggested an RBI Rate stat that assigns values and creates a formula to try to measure run-production. Here is a quote from one of those people to help explain:

Hitting a HR with the bases empty > Double with a man on 1st > Single with a man on 2nd > Sac Fly with a man on 3rd

It incorporates similar principals to slugging % which is a great way showing why a .330 average from Robinson Cano is better than a .330 average from Ichiro Suzuki

I do not like the idea of getting rid of the RBI generated by a solo HR. Hitting a HR is the most valuable thing a hitter can do. Perhaps something as simple as this...

Scoring the runner from home (i.e. the batter himself) - 4 pts
Scoring the runner from 1st - 3 pts
Scoring the runner from 2nd - 2 pts
Scoring the runner from 3rd - 1 pt

The summation of that total divided by plate appearances = run generation %/factor/whatever

So basically a solo HR would be 4 pts, a sac fly would be 1pt and a grand slam would be 10 pts (4+3+2+1). Dividing by plate appearances makes it comparable across players.

Unfortunately I don't think this solves the main problem with RBIs which is normalizing opportunities across players. Oh well, perhaps an MIT kid will eventually solve this."  -Dutch1008

So is there a solution? I'm not entirely sold by many of the sabermetric stats that are better predictive tools but only tell you what "should" happen and not what actually did. Maybe I'm wrong about that. What do you guys think?


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