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Have you ever watched a baseball game and heard the announcer refer to a player’s “ribeyes”? No, the announcer is not talking about the player’s post game meal plans. He is simply calling one of baseball’s most recorded statistics by one of its many nicknames.
Fans sometimes use the terms “ribeye” or “ribbey” when referring to the amount of runs a hitter is responsible for producing due to the spelling of its acronym, RBI.
RBI in baseball stands for Run Batted In. When a player’s at-bat results in a run(s) scored for his team, he receives an RBI. A player does not receive an RBI on a play where a run scores as a result of an error.
Let’s take a look at the history behind the statistic as well as how it is used in the game of baseball.
When Were RBIs First Recorded?
In the year 1920, Major League Baseball decided that its hitters should start getting credit for the runs that their at-bats produced. That is when the league decided to officially record RBIs.
While the stat had just become official, it was not new to the game. Longtime sports writer Ernie Lanigan had been recording RBIs unofficially since 1907.
Lanigan’s work before 1920 has now been made official by MLB, so players during that thirteen year gap have been credited for their RBIs during those seasons.
Criticism of RBI
As the analytics of the game increase in popularity, some have criticized baseball’s use of runs batted in as a critical statistic in evaluating a player’s productivity. Some say that it is a better evaluation of the quality of a lineup than an individual hitter.
After all, a player can only receive an RBI if there are players on-base during his at-bat. Better teams will have more people on-base; therefore, players in that lineup get more opportunities for RBIs. Players on bad teams get fewer opportunities to hit with men in scoring position.
RBI critics don’t necessarily believe that RBI numbers get inflated on good teams. After all, the player still must execute during an at-bat to receive a run batted in. They just believe that it unfairly elevates a player on a good team over a player on a bad team.
If faced with the same opportunities, some players on bad teams would be able to produce the same numbers. These critics believe that RBIs should still be recorded but left out of serious conversations for award recognition and Hall of Fame consideration.
In their eyes, statistical measurements such as hits, home runs, extra-base hits, etc. are more reliable indicators of an individual’s success because those statistics are not dependent upon the teammates surrounding the player.
Bill James, the brain behind SABRmetrics, is one of the founders of the criticism of RBI. He, like other critics, does not believe it to be an invalid statistic. He does acknowledge that it is not the most accurate predictor of a player’s productivity.
Still, others believe it to be an important indicator of a player’s ability to hit with men on-base. Despite the criticism, RBIs still remain a key statistical category in the game of baseball, and that does not look to change any time soon.
In summary, many baseball writers will still reference a player’s RBIs when voting for the Hall of Fame although General Managers will likely consult other stats such as On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage before looking at RBIs when making roster decisions.
The list of career leaders in RBIs is an impressive list of Hall of Fame players. Here are the top ten all-time leaders:
- Hank Aaron* – 2297
- Babe Ruth* – 2214
- Albert Pujols – 2135
- Alex Rodriguez – 2086
- Cap Anson* – 2075
- Barry Bonds – 1996
- Lou Gehrig* – 1995
- Stan Musial* – 1951
- Ty Cobb* – 1944
- Jimmie Foxx* – 1922
*denotes player has been inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame
As one can see, RBI has been a deciding factor in Hall of Fame voting. There are only three players on this top ten list that have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame: Albert Pujols because he is still active and Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez for their involvement in the steroid scandal.
This list does somewhat support RBI critics’ argument. Barry Bonds has the most home runs in MLB history, yet he ranks 6th on the list of career RBIs. Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. rank 6th and 7th all-time in home runs but do not crack the top ten on the RBI list.
The likely reason for this is that they simply didn’t have as many opportunities as guys like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Albert Pujols.
The single season RBI record list is interesting to analyze as there has not been a player after 1938 to crack the top ten.
- Hack Wilson – 191 (1930)
- Lou Gehrig – 185 (1931)
- Hank Greenberg – 184 (1937)
- Jimmie Foxx – 175 (1938)
- Lou Gehrig – 173 (1927)
- Lou Gehrig – 173 (1930)
- Chuck Klein – 170 (1930)
- Jimmie Foxx – 169 (1932)
- Hank Greenburg – 168 (1935)
- Babe Ruth – 168 (1921)
The closest modern-day player to the top ten is Boston Red Sox’s Manny Ramirez who ranks 14th on the list with 165 RBIs in 1999.
Two St. Louis Cardinals players hold the record for single-game RBIs. In 1924, Jim Bottomly went 6-6 with 12 RBIs, and Mark Whiten hit four home runs and collected 12 RBIs 69 years later in 1993.
Babe Ruth Controversy
Not only is there criticism about the reliability of RBIs, there are some questions over the validity of one of baseball’s greatest players and his RBI numbers.
As mentioned earlier, RBIs were kept unofficially by a sports writer named Ernie Lanigan from 1907-1919. Babe Ruth played six seasons until RBIs were official stats, and during those seasons, he was mainly a pitcher, rarely stepping up to the plate.
Herm Krabbenhoft of the Society for American Baseball Research cites a mathematical error that occurred when calculating Ruth’s RBIs from 1922-26. He also notes that this error went undetected for several years.
Also, during Ruth’s career, the MLB used three different stat keepers to track players’ numbers: Lanigan (19014-1919), Howe News Bureau (1920-1934), and Elias Sports Bureau (1935). From 1920-1934, Howe recorded American League stats while Elias recorded the National League’s.
MLB made the switch to Elias for all leagues in 1935. There are slight discrepancies in these two stat books over those fourteen years. Elias has Ruth as the American League RBI leader in four seasons while Howe lists him as the AL leader in six.
While the numbers are slightly off, the imbalance is not enough to question Ruth’s legacy in baseball. He still is and always will be one of the game’s best hitters.
Why doesn’t a player receive an RBI on plays that result in an error?
The goal of RBIs is to determine how often a player produces a run. When an error is made by the defense resulting in a run scored, statisticians deem that run was only scored because of the error that was made; therefore, the hitter is not credited with a run batted in.
If there is a defensive error, but the run would have scored despite the error, then the hitter still receives an RBI. For example, if there is a runner on third with no outs, and the hitter hits a ground ball to the short-stop who is playing back and makes a throwing error to first base, the hitter is still rewarded with an RBI. Even if there was no error, the run would have scored.
Is the plural form of the acronym RBI or RBIs?
This is often debated among some baseball fans. The conclusion is that either RBI or RBIs can be used as the plural form of the acronym. Some prefer RBI without the s because the R already stands for the plural word runs.
Can walks and hit-by-pitches produce RBIs?
Yes, a hitter can receive an RBI when he is walked or hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Players also receive RBIs on sacrifice flies that result in runs scored.
Does a player receive an RBI when he scores on a home run?
Yes, a player who hits a home run receives an RBI for each player that crosses home plate including himself. He also receives a tally in the runs scored category as well.
What are some other common nicknames for RBIs?
Other common nicknames for RBI include “ribeyes”, “ribbeys”, “ribs”, “steaks”, “runs driven in”, “plated runs”, and some other creative names that are less common. It can be noted that several of these nicknames refer to food.