Nate Colbert’s RBI Record: More
My friend David Shoebotham sent me the following, in email today. David is a sabermetric pioneer, as the inventor of Relative Batting Average (Baseball Research Journal, 1976; reprinted here: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/03/17/relative-batting-average-landmarks-of-sabermetrics-part-iii/).
I very much enjoyed the Bob Carroll article you reprinted in your blog. I remember it very well from when it first came out. And, yes, like you, I enjoyed Bob’s writing style.
Re-reading the article made me think a little – something I need to do more these days. Since a certain percentage of any team’s runs are not “batted in,” maybe it makes more sense to compare any given player’s RBIs to his team’s RBIs rather than just its runs scored.
Also, as I computed a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away?), the percentage runs that are batted in has gradually increased over time as fielder’s gloves and the interpretation of certain rules have evolved. The graph below shows that evolution for the National League from 1876 to the present. (The American League’s graph is very similar from 1901 to the present.) Amazing that in the beginning not even 2/3 of all runs were batted in. Ouch. Fielding without a glove was painful. And note the big jump around 1920. I think that’s about the time when gloves with webs between the thumb and forefinger became popular.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to look at players’ RBIs as a percentage of their team’s RBIs rather than their team’s runs. The results are shown below. Nate Colbert still tops the list, and as you can see he had almost a quarter of San Diego’s RBIs in 1972. I’ve identified 23 players whose RBI totals exceeded 20% of their team’s totals, including several from the pre-1920 Dead-Ball Era. (Since I did this on-the-run, so to speak, I don’t claim these results are at all complete.)
It’s obvious that players who have teammates who are good RBI men (think Ruth and Gehrig) and players who walk a lot are at a disadvantage in this kind of calculation. Also American League players since 1972 are at a disadvantage because of the Designated Hitter Rule.
Anyway, thanks for the article. It was fun.