Baseball Is Complicated - Why Always Look For A Simple Answer?

Maybe I don’t know anything about baseball, or maybe I have missed a very fundamental part of a ‘simple’ statistic, but since Fire Joe Morgan was willing to take apart this article, I strongly suspect it’s not just me.

Maybe I simply expect too much from the official MLB.com site, but in my opinion, there are a few things wrong with a statistic like this.

From the Mets ‘mailbag’:

I enjoy reading your stories. You give straight answers to tough questions, and I look forward to your Mets mailbags. That being said, I have a comment about two recent stories dealing with Brian Schneider. Does the statistic "RBIs per 100 at-bats" really measure how valuable a hitter is? You have cited that stat in at least two stories comparing Brian Schneider to Paul Lo Duca.
Schneider is a strong defensive catcher, and a below-average hitter. The RBI as a stat is not nearly as telling about a player's ability to be a productive hitter as are on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, extra-base hits and even the vastly overrated batting average stat. I just feel that citing that statistic adds little, and is somewhat insulting to students of the game.
-- James K., no hometown given

I beg to differ, and I guess I'm obligated to explain my use of RBIs per 100 at-bats because yours is one of nine e-mails I've received that have questioned it. To me, it is a fundamental and quite legitimate means of measuring run production.
Computers have contributed to a current glut of statistics that, to a degree, distort the picture. We have so many now that we lose focus on what is most important. The objective of the game is to win, and to win a team must outscore its opponent. Nothing, therefore, is more important than runs -- both producing and preventing them.

Is this really where we are in measuring baseball? Are we looking for such a simple answer to ‘how good a player is’ that we now have narrowed it down to how many RBI’s they have in 100 at-bats? Anyone who has ever tried to explain the game of baseball to someone from another country knows how complicated this sport truly is. Why would we expect our analysis of individual players to be any different?

It’s statistics like this that award a pitcher a Cy Young award based solely on their win totals. Are we going to base our MVP now on number of RBI’s? And if you’re going to make up a statistic, can’t you use something like RBI’s in number of RBI chances instead of merely 100 AB’s?

Are RBI’s even that important? Are they a statistic even within a player’s control? What am I missing?

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