Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I am (along with the majority of this community) a staunch supporter of sabermetric analysis. When people first invented screwdrivers and wrenches nobody said "personally I enjoyed just having wooden clubs as our only tool." Similarly, I am of the opinion that sabermetric stats are more advanced tools for our metaphorical toolbox, this whole post is merely an examination in part for myself and really an attempt to play some devils advocate here at Amazin' Avenue. I just wanted to get all of that out of the way before I went any further.
With the rise of advanced baseball analysis baseball has changed significantly. This is not to say the whole baseball world has been flipped completely upside down (chicks dig the longball, and so do both baseball traditionalists and stat junkies), but there has been a significant change in the perception of certain aspects of the game. For example, prior to this revolution in baseball OBP was considered a lesser stat, it was rarely recorded in the box scores and baseball fans, analysts, and players alike were obsessed with batting average instead. Nowadays OBP has begun to receive its due credit. While some previously disregarded stats are on the rise some have taken a precipitous fall. The RBI was once a stat to be reckoned with. Players obtained significant contracts entirely based on the number and it is part of the sacred triple crown. However in the last few decades statistical evidence has proven that the RBI is much more luck based than anyone in baseball cared to admit. While the psychology of a "clutch at bat" may feel extant to the hitter, results seem to indicate that situational hitting is not as tangible as those in baseball would have you believe.
At this point you may be thinking "but revans, you said this would be a defense of the RBI, do you even know what a defense is?" or "this guy is really long winded" or even "why is Nets power forward Reggie Evans posting on this blog?" To the first point, I'll get to that, to the second, yup, sorry for partying, to the third, I wouldn't be if they had made the right decision and picked me for team USA.
Getting back to RBIs, first and most obviously "ribbies" is probably the most fun stat name to say. For some reason though, I don't think that constitutes a defense. Lets go back one week (I hear you groaning, cut it out, I'll get there) to a game I was watching that the Mets probably lost. The booth was talking about what a successful season Wright is having and as they were going over the numbers Ketih said something along the lines of the following "all of those numbers are great but for me it's all about the runs and RBIs." I immediately SMH (the S there is for shook. Can I use past tense in those abbreviations? Screw it. I'm doing it). I wanted to tell Keith that those stats don't matter, wOBA, WAR, UZR, are the capitalized stats that matter. Those are the ones that indicate how well a player is really performing, RBIs are good for nothing more than recording the number of time a player forces a run across the plate. And for some reason, phrasing it like that in my head caused some kind of shift. RBIs record the number of times a player forces a run across the plate... and that's an accomplishment! Don't misunderstand me, even if Mike Nickeas were leading the team in RBIs, I would not defend his roster spot, RBIs are not a solid indicator of future success, but they do record the accomplished feat of plating a physical tangible run. I began to look at RBIs as "Hoorays(HRYs)." Every time a run is scored I say "hooray(true story)" and the team RBI leaders make me say "hooray" the most. Ruben Tejada could be a much better "HRY" guy if he hit in the 3 hole, but as it stands he doesn't. He is still one of our better players and I don't want him hitting in a spot to get more "HRYs," it wouldn't help the team, but that does not mean I shouldn't be excited by other guys that are in a position to pick up ribbies (again. I love that word).
Once I started to look at RBIs this way it shifted my perception of some of the other stats marginalized by sabermetrics (Wins, runs) and I can now look at those stats as accomplishments to appreciate rather than impediments to the more significant stats. While these stats currently have a much stronger pull than they should, I feel that the momentum of statistical analysis is begging to push them out of the picture. Clearly there are better tools to analyze the game, but the statistics of yesteryear shouldn't be forgotten altogether.
Apologies for a long rambling post that probably makes little to no sense. Give me feedback in the poll below.