What is an RBI in Baseball?

- September 3, 2023

Even a baseball fan with a beginning level of knowledge about the game can make sense out of much of a box score. After all, runs, hits, home runs, doubles, walks, and strikeouts are among the basics for understanding the game. But what about an RBI? What is an RBI in baseball?

An RBI is given to a batter whose contributions at the plate results in a run being scored. There are exceptions, with the most common being that a batter safe on error or who grounds into a double play will not be awarded an RBI.

While RBI certainly occur when outs are made, a hit scoring a run is the most common form for the RBI. 

Let’s examine the concept of RBI more closely.

What Is an RBI in Baseball?

In Summary

  • Measuring a player’s RBI total is a solid way to determine the value of the top sluggers on a team. Simply compare the RBI total to other top RBI totals on other teams.
  • RBI is not a great way to compare leadoff hitters or hitters at the bottom of the lineup, whose purpose is more to get on base for the sluggers to drive in.
  • There are more stats that can measure an offensive player’s effectiveness outside of the RBI, such as runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage, but when it comes to power hitters, home runs and RBI are great ways to measure value.

An RBI in baseball stands for “runs batted in” and is basically the number of runs a batter is involved in creating for his team. When they are part of a play that produces a run, this will count toward their RBI total.

Even when the batter makes an out, if a run scores while the ball is put in play, an RBI will be awarded. The exception is on a double play or safe on an error. An RBI is part of a Triple Crown, awarded to a player who leads the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI in a single season.

The Triple Crown is a rare feat, having only been accomplished 27 times combined in both leagues in the 132-year history of MLB.

What Is a Good RBI Total for a Player?

There is no universal number that is considered a good seasonal RBI total. Much of this depends on the part of the batting order you hit. A leadoff hitter’s main job is to get on base for players down the lineup to drive in.

Getting on base and stealing a base to get into scoring position makes the job of the next hitters easier to get an RBI. Generally, the top RBI men on the team will bat in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th positions in the batting order.

The batters in the middle of the order typically aim for 100 or more RBI, which would be an excellent season in that category. When determining a “good” RBI total, comparing players in similar parts of the batting order makes more sense. 

How Does RBI Work?

The RBI works in various ways, but all of them produce at least one run. Some of the most common ways to get an RBI are as follows:

  1. Hitting safely that produces one or more runs
  2. Hitting a sacrifice fly or ground ball
  3. Hitting a home run
  4. Walking or getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded

What Is the Importance of the RBI Statistic?

The RBI is a good indication of how productive a hitter is in terms of producing runs. It can also collectively give a good indication of the team as a whole. For example, if a team has several players with 100 or more RBI, they will likely have a better win-loss record than a team with no players with 100 RBI. The second team is probably scoring fewer runs overall, therefore losing more games.

Why RBI Might Not Be a Significant Statistic

A hitter can be extremely effective without a huge RBI total. The key is to take a player’s resume of statistics in its entirety. A case in point was in 2004 when Barry Bonds had 101 RBI, which was excellent but was even more remarkable when you consider he walked 232 times, 120 of them intentionally. Had he had the opportunity to swing that bat in those intentional passes, he could have added another 30 RBI to his total.

The position in the order might also influence the importance of the RBI. Generally, the man at the top of the order won’t bat with a lot of men on base, therefore lowering his RBI total compared to hitters in the 3rd through 6th spots in the lineup. Some batters are strictly looking to get on base via a walk or single to get the stage for others to knock in the runs.

When Don’t You Receive an RBI Despite Runs Scoring?

A batter is not given an RBI on a play where a run scores because of an error. The error could be a miscue in fielding or in throwing. This isn’t limited to a muffed ground ball. It can be any error, including a dropped fly ball or line drive. 

When a run scores because of grounding into a double play does not count as an RBI for the hitter. In addition, a runner stealing home gets credit for a run scored, but the batter doesn’t get an RBI on a play. A similar situation exists if a runner scores on a wild pitch passed ball or a balk.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Definition of RBI?

The definition of RBI in baseball is the number of runs that a player is responsible for from their at-bats. It’s a great way to measure overall productivity. However, the statistic must be taken into context, such as position in the batting order and how many RBI are produced compared to the number of opportunities.

The number of RBI a player can get in a single at-bat ranges from 0 to 4. If he doesn’t bring a run in, he gets 0 RBI. If he knocks a single player in, including himself in the case of a home run, he gets one RBI. If he hits a grand slam home run, four runs scored, all adding to his RBI total.

How Is RBI Different From OPS?

There is really no relationship between the two statistics. RBI tallies all the runs batted in for a hitter. OPS is a measure of overall offensive effectiveness that is computed by adding a batter’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Who Is the Single-Season RBI Leader?

Hack Wilson holds the record for most RBI in a season with 191, set in 1930. Second on the list is Lou Gehrig, with 185 in 1931. Gehrig also holds the 5th position with 173 in both 127 and 1930. Hank Greenberg (184 in 1937) and Jimmie Foxx (175 in 1935) round out the top five.

Who Is the Career Leader in RBI?

Hank Aaron holds the record with 2297 RBI while with the Braves and Brewers from 1954 through 1976. Albert Pujols is second with 2218, followed by Babe Ruth (2214), Alex Rodriguez (2086), and Cap Anson (2075).

Does a Home Run Count as an RBI?

A home run counts for at least one RBI and as many as four. If there is no runner on base, the batter gets one RBI, knocking in himself. If there is one runner on base, the batter gets two RBI. If there are two runners on base, the batter gets three RBI. If the bases are loaded, and the batter hits a home run, a grand slam is the result, and four RBI are awarded.

Does Walking in a Run Count as an RBI?

Yes, if a batter has a keen enough eye to draw a walk with the bases loaded, then he gets credit for an RBI. Since each runner advances a base on a walk, the runner at third is awarded home plate.
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