Fans and baseball insiders have long been enamored by the RBI statistic. While it is a team statistic which can be deceptive when used for evaluating players, it is easy to see why players are more interested in RBI than numbers such as slugging average or OPS. When a batter comes up with a runner in scoring position, he is not thinking about improving his wOBA, rather he is focused on getting the run home.
Fans like the RBI metric because it is concrete, something they can easily see while watching games. It doesn’t involve weighting offensive events or theoretical runs scored or anything abstract or complex.
...One of the most interesting names in the table is the much maligned Delmon Young. Among 234 qualifiers, he finished 23rd with a 17.1 OBI%. Your first reaction might be that it is all due to his 2010 season where he had a robust 20.4 OBI, but he also finished at 17.2 in 2011. If you want to go back another year, then it’s 18.8 in 2009. So, it does seem as if he has had a knack for getting runners home.
One reason for the high OBI% is that Young is a free swinger, who hits for a reasonably good average. One of the few benefits of not drawing walks is it gives a player more chances to drive in runs as walks don’t usually do the trick. Another explanation is that Young has hit a lot better over the course of his career with runners in scoring position (.793 OPS) compared to bases empty (.716).
It all adds up to Young being successful at getting runners home with his at bats. This doesn’t make up for his general propensity to make outs and not get on base or his poor defense. It might, however, justify his batting fifth all year behind two of the best hitters in the game. It didn’t work this year as his OBI% was only 13.5, but he does seem to have an “RBI ability”.