And no, I’m not talking about whether to refer to multiple runs batted in as “RBI”, or “RBIs” (I’ll be using the latter in this post). I’m talking about the meaning of the stat.
“RBIs don’t matter!”, say many believers in advanced metrics and Sabermetrics.
Those that disagree tend to favor, from what I’ve seen, all the more traditional statistics, like batting average, pitcher wins, and things of that sort.
But I tend to not lean 100% one way or the other. I don’t think RBIs are meaningless, but I also don’t think that they are a good metric to use to form an opinion on a player. I treat them for what they are: a measure of what happened.
Howard, as of writing this post, has 80 RBIs, and fourth in the National League. He’s hitting .222/.309/.379. He’s striking out at the 4th-highest rate in the NL (27.9%), and is in the bottom 16 in OPS (among qualified hitters). He chases pitches outside of the zone 33.9% of the time (21st highest), but only makes contact on 53% of those swings (3rd-lowest).
About the only thing he’s done well in 2014 is collect RBIs. Here’s why: he’s had 290 plate appearances with men on base (highest in the NL), and 172 plate appearances with men in scoring position (2nd highest in NL). His average in those situations isn’t abnormally higher than his season average. He just has more chances to knock guys in.
Conversely, Ben Revere has 15 RBIs, last in the NL, and 12 lower than the next highest. But he’s in contention for the NL batting title, has swiped 38 bags, and puts the ball in play at an extremely high rate. Why does he have so few RBIs? Because he’s only had 145 plate appearances with men on base, and just 74 with runners in scoring position. Both of those aren’t even enough to qualify for leaderboards.
So, while Revere can make contact with the best of them, the RBIs just don’t happen because of the lack of runners on base when he’s at bat.
And that is why he and Howard are proving that RBIs aren’t a good determinant of value on offense. Revere is far more valuable than Howard offensively this year, but Howard is far, far ahead of him in RBIs. Howard is on pace for one of the worst-hitting high-RBI seasons of all time. Revere is on pace for one of the lowest RBI seasons of a all time for a player with 175+ hits.
I get it, Ryan Howard is supposed to have tons of RBIs because he bats fourth, and Ben Revere shouldn’t because he’s a lead off hitter. And that is 100% correct. It also furthers my point that RBIs, especially in the cases of Revere and Howard–are simply a measure of what happened. Not a measure of value.