The Nine Worst 100 RBI Seasons in MLB History

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

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.

Rank Season Name Team PA RBI AVG OBP SLG wRC+
9 1927 Glenn Wright Pirates 626 105 0.281 0.328 0.388 86
8 2006 Jeff Francoeur Braves 686 103 0.260 0.293 0.449 84
7 1983 Tony Armas Red Sox 613 107 0.218 0.254 0.453 84
6 1934 Ray Pepper Browns 598 101 0.298 0.333 0.399 82
5 1990 Joe Carter Padres 697 115 0.232 0.290 0.391 80
4 1993 Ruben Sierra Athletics 692 101 0.233 0.288 0.390 79
3 1999 Vinny Castilla Rockies 674 102 0.275 0.331 0.478 78
2 2004 Tony Batista Expos 650 110 0.241 0.272 0.455 77
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.

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11 responses

  1. 99% of me agrees with you. The remaining 1% remembers all the runners Brandon Inge stranded at third base with less than two out…

  2. If you are giving us the nine worst such seasons since 1901, why is the name of the article “The Nine Worst 100 RBI Seasons in MLB History”?

    1. 1901 is considered the start of the modern era as some rules were different from 1871-1900. Most consider that the place to start and there is less accurate data for those years, especially since RBI didn’t become an official stat until 1920.

  3. […] I’ve shown you why RBI can be misleading when comparing two players’ value and why having a lot of RBI doesn’t necessarily mean you had a good season. To catch up on these and other similar posts about baseball statistics, check out our new Stat […]

  4. […] the weekend, Neil Weinberg of New English D found The Nine Worst 100 RBI Seasons in MLB History. Without giving too much away, I encourage you to read ‘em all, […]

  5. […] the weekend, Neil Weinberg of New English D found The Nine Worst 100 RBI Seasons in MLB History. Without giving too much away, I encourage you to read ‘em all, […]

  6. […] How you can have a lot of RBI during a bad season […]

  7. […] have been a better player if he’d known that a couple of his 100-RBI seasons, you know, were actually pretty stinky? Sure, maybe education would have made Carter a better player … but maybe he was playing as […]

  8. […] have been a better player if he’d known that a couple of his 100-RBI seasons, you know, were actually pretty stinky? Sure, maybe education would have made Carter a better player … but maybe he was playing as […]

  9. […] equal opportunities to collect RBI. In fact, in some cases the the stars can align and hitters can rack up tons of RBI despite performing quite poorly, simply because they were given very favorable […]

  10. […] equal opportunities to collect RBI. In fact, in some cases the the stars can align and hitters can rack up tons of RBI despite performing quite poorly, simply because they were given very favorable […]

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