Baseball Rules: What is an RBI?


What is an RBI

A player earns an RBI, or run batted in, in baseball anytime a runner scores on a play where the hitter puts the ball in play, and an error does not enable the runner to score. There are several examples of baseball actions that can result in a runner scoring but not earn the batter an RBI:

  1. As previously stated, an error occurs that allows a runner to score
  2. the pitcher throws a wild pitch
  3. the catcher allows a passed ball
  4. the runner steals home
  5. fielder’s choice (maybe)

Although the batter does not get an RBI, the runner is credited for a run scored.

How important are RBIs when evaluating a player?

Now you are asking an existential question. Or perhaps the type of question that divides families as much as an Alabama / Auburn rivalry.

If you ever start having this conversation, it’s likely the phrase old-school stats may get mentioned. Newfangled evaluations don’t like many of the old-school statistics, of which RBI is one.

There is an important reason why: many of the recently developed evaluation metrics prefer to rely on situation-independent measurements. RBIs are entirely context-dependent. Where does the player bat in the lineup? How good is the overall team he is playing on? What are the ballpark factors for his home stadium where he’ll play up to 81 games in the regular season?

There are so many factors that can influence a player’s RBI total, and that can create issues when using them to determine the quality of a player. The only thing a hitter can control is whether he puts the ball in play, and the quality of that hit (i.e., single, double, triple, or home run). This assumption, of course, assumes that clutch performance is not a real thing.

Clutch performance was explored some in the book Curveball, and then further explored in the book Baseball’s Best Sluggers (note: these are affiliate links). In the latter, the authors develop their own formulas for determining the true RBI totals for hitters. They even speculate that there is indeed variation in clutch performance among players, though they did not have enough data to prove this.

Does a hitter earn an RBI on a fielder’s choice?

This one is a tricky question, and entirely depends on the judgment of the official scorer. The guidance is as follows:

If the runner advances only because a fielder throws the ball to a different base, then the run scored should be deemed a fielder’s choice and not an RBI. A good example is when a run scores on a double play. In this case, the defense makes a conscious effort to allow the run to score in order to record two outs.

The Baseball Scorecard puts it well:

If the runner keeps running without stopping after the ball is hit, credit an RBI. If the runner stops at a base and takes off again after noticing the misplay, credit the run as scored on a fielder’s choice

Except, that definition would seem to indicate that an RBI should be credited on a double play. Perhaps we can just amend that definition with a simple: except on a double play!

So, yes, whether an RBI is earned on a fielder’s choice is indeed tricky.

What is the plural of RBI?

Spelled out, it is runs batted in. Abbreviated, you will see it usually one of three ways: RBI, RBIs, or RBI’s. You may even see R.B.I., but that’s typically reserved for the old Nintendo game, or the newest version released in 2020.

Typically, publications will rely on style manuals to guide their writers on the appropriate plurality. And the two most commonly adopted style guides (AP Style Guide and SABR) agree that the plural form of RBI is RBIs.

How many RBIs does it take to lead the league?

This depends on the year and various factors. Most recently, people have asked many questions about whether the ball has been juiced in order to generate more offense, which in turn, could improve fan attendance and viewership.

To get an idea of RBI production, here is an infographic of RBIs from the last two decades:

Wesley Lyles

Wesley is a jack of all trades hobbyist. Though much of his spare time is spent playing board games (especially solo card games like Legendary), Hearthstone, Rocket League, and MLB The Show.e He also enjoys most sports, but pays way too much attention to baseball and football.

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