Using RBIs to determine the value of a baseball player?

I don’t think I’ve seen this one before, so I’ll ask any baseball affecinados out there…

The other day I was thinking about how baseball announcers talk about how a certain baseball player has X number of RBIs (runs batted in) as if it is some measure of how good the baseball player is.

This bothers me because your RBIs are based largely on how well the people who batted BEFORE you did in getting on base and less on your ability. In other words, as a lead off batter, I hit a home run and I get 1 RBI (me). But the clean up batter who hits fourth and gets a grand slam (assuming everyone before him gets on base and the bases are loaded) gets 4 RBIs (i.e. 4x the value) for the same ‘level of effort’. Same goes for a simple single. As the lead off batter, I get 1 base. And the clean up batter who knocks me home gets the same base and an RBI for forcing me home.

Maybe it all works out evenly in the end to be roughly equal for everyone on the team, and certainly RBIs are what wins games, but I would think the true ‘value’ of players should be discussed in terms of the number of total bases they take a year (stolen, walked, or otherwise). Yes, I know it’s a ‘team’ sport, but I can’t help but think that someone out there in major league baseball is a great player who getting screwed and traded around alot because he gets on base more often but may not have a good RBI count because he is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Am I just a kook for thinking this?

That’s why they keep track of on-base percentage.

A player definitely gets a boost in the RBI department if those batting in front of him tend to be on base more often. But I don’t think the lead-off man gets screwed over too badly; the clean-up hitter often leads off the second inning (especially if his team is facing Pedro).

All in all, I think RBIs are a fairly good measurement of a player’s value to a team. What good are you if you’re getting on base a lot but never scoring? Obviously, though, it’s only one of many measurements that are used to evaluate a player.


There are only several thousand people who worry about such matters. Maybe more.

RBIs are popular and easy to understand. However, they are context specific statistics.

The quest for the Perfect Baseball Metric continues.

If you want to check out other info on ways to measure perfomance start with a site like

There are a lot of others that can help you in this quest.

You may also want to read John Thorn and Pete Palmer’s seminal work “The Hidden Game of Baseball”

RBIs are not necessarily evaluated in and of themselves. Position in the batting order is heavily considered, and influences the expectation one should have for RBI production. No one would judge a leadoff hitter poorly for not having 100 RBIs in a season. Likewise, the lower end of the batting order usually won’t be as productive. They are supposed to contribute in different ways; moving the runners over, stealing bases, taking a walk.

Now, if you are doing a direct comparison between, say, the 3-4-5 hitters amongst all teams, I think the RBI statistic is valuable to determine just how good or productive a year a particular player is having.

I think a more interesting statistic would be RBI/PRBI. IOW, how many runs you drove in as opposed to how many you could have driven in. Thus, someone playing on a team where the OBP was .180 wouldn’t be penalized for having 50 RBI, as opposed to someone where the OBP was, say, .320, and who had 60 RBI.

These days, basically the only stat they don’t keep is how many times you pick your nose in between a swing.

It most emphatically DOES NOT even out.

Aside from batting order position, there’s the efficiency of the other batters in one’s team’s offense as well as the home park conditions (runs are a lot easier to come by in Coors Field than Dodger Stadium, for example)

I’ve read the Palmer book, as well as the Baseball Prospectus. Heck, I’ve met a couple of guys who contributed to the Prospectus, including the founder.

(Got the better of him in a trade in my fantasy league once.) :smiley:

I recommend BobT’s cites, by the way.

As a measure of “run driving in ability”, Iampunha’s stat is an improvement. However, it should also be noted that weight must be given for the number of outs and the base that the runner is on, for this statistic: meaning that a runner driven in from third with no one out should not be worth the same as a runner driven in from first (or home: ie the batter himself) with two out.

Personally, I believe that a simple yet reasonably effective measure of hitting progress is on base percentage plus slugging percentage. However, even this statistic has limitations: it’s qualitative, not quantitative, is still subject to park and league effects, and it doesn’t address defense or baserunning.

Runs win games. It doesn’t matter if you score them by getting hitting a home run (rbi), getting walked home from third with the bases loaded (rbi), steal home (no rbi), or score on a wild pitch (no rbi). (Not to mention the other gillion ways to score) The team with the most rbis will probably win the game, but the team with the most runs always wins the game.

I once heard that a good way to evaluate a players offensive production was runs + rbis - hr. (so homers don’t get counted twice) This still favors a player who is surrounded by other good players or who plays half his games in Coors field so it is still not ideal.

Along that same line, you should also read “Bill James’ Baseball Abstract”, which was published annually between 1982-1988.

The arguments have been pretty well framed by the other posters. I concur with the recommendations of The Hidden Game of Baseball (though it’s out of print, and if you’re library doesn’t have it you’ll probably have to use Alibris or one of the other used book search services) and the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. More immediately, you can look at the following online discussions (interestingly, they all use Joe Carter as an example of a player who consistently had lots of RBIs while not being a very productive hitter by other measures):
[li]Keith Woolner does an excellent job of putting RBIs into context among other statistical measures of a player’s worth in “RBIs are meaningless???”, reproduced on the Stathead Consulting site.[/li][li]Tom Ruane analyzes what can be learned about a player’s ability to produce RBIs in his article on RBI Production.[/li][li]Stephen Tomlinson specifically addresses Joe Carter’s 1997 RBI production in his article “How Joe got 102 RBI in 1997”.[/li][/ul]