Yesterday we took a look at a case study in RBI to help explain why it’s a misleading statistic. The idea here is that RBI is very dependent on your team and the context you’re in. Two identical hitters will accumulate much different RBI totals depending on how many runners on base ahead of them and which bases those runners occupy. You can read all about it here.
Today, I’d like to start highlighting some broader evidence of the problems with RBI as a stat. You’ve already seen how a better season can result in fewer RBI depending on how the team around you performs, now let’s take a look at The Nine Worst 100 RBI Seasons in MLB History. This list is meant to show you that you can have a very poor season and still accumulate 100 RBI, which is often considered a magic number by people who value RBI. The phrase “100 RBI guy” is something you might here an analyst like John Kruk say when commenting on a player’s value. I’m here to show you that 100 RBI does not necessarily mean the player had a very good season.
Below, we have The Nine worst seasons by wRC+ since 1901 in which the player drove in 100 or more runs. wRC+ is a statistic that measures how a player stacks up to other players in the league and it factors in park effects. It’s easy to interpret the number. A wRC+ of 100 is league average and every point above 100 is a percent better than average a percent below average is a 99 wRC+. For example, an 85 wRC+ is a player who is 15% worse than a league average player. 115 wRC+ is 15% better than league average. You can read all about wRC+ here.
|7||1983||Tony Armas||Red Sox||613||107||0.218||0.254||0.453||84|
|1||1997||Joe Carter||Blue Jays||668||102||0.234||0.284||0.399||72|
What you have here is a list of players who are “100 RBI guys” who were substantially worse than league average. Perhaps some comparisons might be help. Let’s find a couple of current MLB players who slot in around 70-85 wRC+. Brendan Ryan has a career 72 wRC+. Jason Nix is at 72. Ramon Santiago is 75. Willie Bloomquist is 78. Ruben Tejada is 83. I’m not saying any of the guys on this list are bad players, I’m saying they all had bad seasons in which they still had 100 or more RBI. They guys had Ramon Santiago seasons at the plate and drove in over 100 runs.
Do you really want to place so much stock in a statistic that says a guy who hits like Brendan Ryan is among the league’s best hitters? I don’t. RBI is very much a team dependent statistic and we shouldn’t use it to value individual players. Players can’t control the situations you put them into, they can only control what they do in those situations. As seen here, even players who don’t do very well can still add RBI to their resumes if they are put into situations with many runners on base.