Is The Game Winning RBI Worth Reviving?
Keith Hernandez had 129 game winning RBIs from the years of 1980-1988, an all time record. Photo Credit- MLBreports.com

Is The Game Winning RBI Worth Reviving?

If the flaws were taken out of the Game Winning RBI, a stat that was used in baseball from 1980-1988, could it become a valuable baseball statistic?

john-pielli
John Pielli

From the years of 1980-1988, Major League Baseball used a statistic called the Game Winning RBI (run(s) batted in). This statistic was intended to define a player who consistently came up with the hit that put his respective team in the lead for good. It started out by defining what would be considered the offensive player of the game. According to Wikipedia, a game winning RBI is "the run batted in that is credited to the batter whose plate appearance is responsible for bringing his team ahead for the final time in the game."

While the premise of this statistic is positive, it came with so many flaws. Because the score of a baseball game changes multiple times over the course of a game, it may or may not be fair to give credit for the GWRBI to a player who happened to drive in the first run. Of course, if the team that was given a lead by a particular run batted in never relinquishes said lead, most would be in favor of crediting that player with the game winning RBI. But what happens when a player drives in a run, the team adds to the lead, and the opponent comes back to make the final score closer. In other words, the runs that were added to the score become the difference in the game. If that is the case, should the GWRBI go to the player that first gave the team the lead or should it go to the run batted in that was the decisive one in the final score?

Another issue with the statistic was the fact that there was no difference in an early GWRBI during a blowout game and a GWRBI that resulted in a clutch hit in a late game situation. The player that walked with the bases loaded in the first inning to put his team up 1-0 en route to a 16-0 victory is given the same credit as the player that came to the plate with two men on base down by two and hit a three run home run to win the game. Part of the reason the GWRBI became a stat was to determine the players that consistently come up with the big hit(s) at the most important times. It was an effort to try to define a player as "clutch." The two before mentioned strong negatives clearly watered down the stat and made it difficult to judge a player's performance in a big time situation. 

Is the Game Winning RBI Worth Reviving?

The question is, "Is the game winning RBI worth reviving?" Yes, it is. But the statistic cannot move forward the way it did in the 1980s. The 1980s version of the statistic is very much outdated, especially with all the advanced statistics that are available today. If it is ever used again, the two things mentioned before need to be changed. A GWRBI cannot be credited to a player who drives in the first run of a game that turns out to be a blowout. Also, if a GWRBI is warranted, it needs to go to the player that's RBI was the decisive lead change, not the run that provided the final margin or the run that was the difference in the game. Finally, the timing of the GWRBI should be defined with the importance on crediting a player with a clutch run batted in. 

A change is needed to redefine the statistic


Of course, with the use of advanced stats as well as changes in the way the game of baseball is played, many in the analytics community have devalued the importance of the run batted in. A player often benefits from having runners on base consistently and evidence shows that those who come up with runners on base more often generally finish the season with more runs batted in. While that is completely true, it also needs to be noted that not all players consistently come up with the big hit in the big spot. It takes some sort of clutch to come up with a big hit in an important spot. That spot just needs to be defined. 
What if we looked at some of the qualifications of the save statistic? A save goes to the last pitcher on a winning team that is not the starting pitcher. He has to record the final out and his team has to be leading by three runs or less. If applied to the GWRBI, it can go to a hitter who drives in the decisive run of a game in the seventh inning or later. So, this way, it only applies to games that are tied in the seventh inning or later. Finally, the margin of the final score has to matter as well, similar to that of a save. This writer proposes that for a player to get credit for a game winning RBI, his team cannot win a game by more than three runs. However, there is one exception. If a player happens to hit a grand slam that - by itself - is the final margin of victory, a player should be credited with a GWRBI. 
If the game winning run batted in statistic moves forward the way it was just described, it can become a useful tool to show which players have the tendency of getting the big hit with the game on the line. Of course, it would be just another tool, not the determining factor. The game has been moving forward with ways to show all types of analytics, but not enough attention has been put to intangibles. We need to start defining stats that are less tangible to show some of the things computers cannot see. Perhaps this could be a start.

VAVEL Logo