Posted by sean on March 5, 2015
One of the things I love about SABR is how dedicated (and borderline crazy) some of the researchers are and how their years and years of work can bear fruit in unexpected ways. (I'm sure I love it because I have more than a bit of that in me as well.) In next month's Baseball Research Journal, an article by Herm Krabbenhoft will show that Heinie Zimmerman had the highest RBI total in the 1912 NL, and when paired with his undisputed batting title and 14 home runs, he won the triple crown.
Now you might ask how can Herm Krabbenhoft, a retired scientist, have a better idea about 1912 RBI than the people there watching the games? There are multiple reasons.
The main reason is that RBIs were not an official stat until 1920, therefore the totals that you might have previously seen were retroactively computed--research done after the fact. David Neft, whose monumental research created the Macmillian Encyclopedia, had a team of researchers, many college students, to go through the daily files as produced by the league and microfilm accounts of the game to apply the rules of the day to the RBI totals. This work was substantial and certainly an improvement on what we had from Turkin and Thompson and others, but given the size of the task it could not be expected to be perfect. Neft's RBI total for Zimmerman was 99, third to Honus Wagner's 102.
In 2013, Herm undertook a project to research and catalog every RBI from the 1901-1919 season. This involved locating multiple contemporary and separately compiled accounts of each game (remember there used to be a half dozen or more papers covering the games with afternoon editions that served as the game day of its time), and then recreating the background of every run, who scored and how and who was at bat. He then applied the 1931 RBI rule and recompiled the player RBI totals. This work is still underway, but Herm has completed the 1912 NL and based on his research we now show Heinie Zimmerman with the 1912 Triple Crown.
For further reading on RBI discrepancies, please see our post from August 2014 on the subject.