The Red Sox/Twins Marathon Reveals the Importance of the RBI
Scoffed at. Derided. Belittled. The RBI is an anachronism in modern-day baseball. Cast aside by the sabermatricians and analytical minds in the front offices of major league baseball organizations. Yet, it still shows up on your standard player bug for every bat. It remains a fixture when discussing possible MVPs. Refusing to go away despite a call from many that it join its illegitimate brother, “Pitcher Wins.” In a day and age where the home run reigns supreme and the best contact team in the majors strikes out almost 17% of the time, the RBI is as important as ever. The 17-inning marathon on June 18-19 between the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins proves it.
Two asides: this is not a crusade against sabermetrics, advanced statistics, or whatever you want to call them. This is a diatribe against those that belittle the RBI, the Run Batted In. Secondly, I despise the use of “RBIs” or “ribbie/ribbies,” but understand those that do. You are wrong, but I understand where you are coming from. It is an RBI. The plural of RBI is… RBI… or at most, Runs Batted In. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Advanced analytics is wholly correct that more runs will score over a full season if you concentrate on hitting home runs and swinging for extra base hits. It is also on the money when discussing the importance of Runs and how it is legitimately impossible to collect an RBI without someone scoring a Run.
The problem though is the RBI is a statistic specific to a point in time. It is the end result of the question, “did you get the run home?” That is one of the most important questions in baseball. But because we tend to swing our baseball pendulums from foul pole-to-foul pole, we constantly overcorrect. Instead of the Run Batted In statistic being correctly valued, it is now undervalued. As such, it leads to a dramatic drop in play as it relates to situational baseball. When teams fail at situational baseball, they lose games; the one thing every team is trying to avoid during every game.
The counterargument to all of this is theoretically correct; you will score more runs over the long haul by hitting multi-run home runs than giving up outs to score single runs. While that is correct in theory, in practice, it can lose your club single games. Lose enough single games and you do not make the playoffs. Or, make the playoffs–where single games decide the fate of the season–and well, ya know, sometimes that “(stuff) doesn’t work.” The best way to extricate luck out of the equation? Concentrate on driving in runs (the RBI) and situational baseball when one run can win and lose a game.
As situational baseball becomes a thing of the past (moving the runner over, sacrifice bunts, and flyballs with the infield in), the RBI grows in importance. Take the marathon game between the Red Sox and the Twins. The Red Sox lost this game–and their season-best six-game win streak–because they utterly failed at situational baseball; mainly, getting the runner in from third with fewer than two outs.
In the 10th
In the 14th
And finally in the 17th
The Red Sox went 0-for-4 with a runner on third base and fewer than two outs. That includes an 0-for-2 from Christian Vasquez who flew out to shallow right in his first attempt and popped out to the infield in his second chance. In fact, that first at-bat from Vasquez was the only time in extra innings where the Red Sox got the ball out of the infield in those four scenarios. With the infield in, and a chance to grab the lead, the Red Sox went 0-for-3 even getting the ball out of the infield.
Shallow fly to right by Vazquez, an infield pop-up by Vasquez on the first pitch, a three-pitch strikeout by J.D. Martinez, and a weak grounder to first by Rafael Devers on the first pitch. That is almost as bad as it gets for situational baseball. Four opportunities to pick up an RBI and four fails. In a situation where you can expect to score 65% of the time, the Red Sox went empty frame, empty frame, empty frame, and… empty frame.
How did the Twins win?
With a chance to walk-off in innings 9-16, not once did they get a runner to third with fewer than two outs. In the 17th inning, they finally got the opportunity
And went 1-for-1 to win the game.
The RBI is not the end all and be all of baseball statistics like it once was in the past. Admittedly, those in the past put too much weight into it. But in an effort to correctly place its value, we actually devalued it. To the point where teams are losing games because they cannot collect the simple RBI. When you spend all game trying to jack a home run and not worrying about striking out, it becomes much more difficult to make simple contact when you need to drive the run home and win the game while doing so.
Infield in? Lift the ball in the air. Infield back? Hit a grounder to anybody but third or the pitcher. Sure, advanced statistics and a deluge of extra base hits might win you more games over a longer period of time. But there is still something to be said for giving yourself up for a run and picking up an RBI. Because you never know when that one run–that one RBI–might make all the difference between your team winning and your team losing. And for all the advanced statistics out there, there is one statistic that has, does, and will always win supreme; the Team Win.