Posted Under: Stat of the Week
This week’s statistic on-base percentage (OBP) has gained huge amounts of fame recently from the production of the Oscar-nominated film “Moneyball” and rightfully so. OBP is a statistic any baseball fan should have in their arsenal when talking about and comparing different players. The reason for the importance of OBP was recently explained in a Bill James article on Grantland about the Hall of Fame chances of Dwight Evans, where James wrote that “On-base percentage is much more closely tied to scoring runs (and to winning games) than is batting average, and in the 21st century all baseball people know this.” The reason why OBP is more important than a statistic like Batting Average was covered at the end of my first post, but simply put the more times a player can get on base by hit, walk or hit by pitch over the course of a season, the more opportunities his team will have during the season to drive him in.
One of the first general managers I remember hearing about valuing OBP was former Yankees General Manager and current Yankees Special adviser Gene Michael. Jack Curry wrote an excellent article on Derek Jeter’s pursuit of his 3000th hit in which Curry referenced the effect Wade Boggs had on Jeter’s career and the strategy Michael and Manager Buck Showalter employed to return the Yankees to the top of MLB after 13 seasons of not reaching the postseason (1982-1994). The strategy seemed simple at the time, which was to sign players who extended at-bats and valued OBP, which made the signing of Wade Boggs in 1993 a no-brainer as Jeter said “Boggsy never gave an at-bat away.” Jeter and Boggs would soon go on to defeat the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 World Series and the Yankees would win the World Series 4 out of 5 years from 1996-2000, largely helped by an exceptional pitching staff and bullpen, but also because the Yankees hitters did not give up at-bats and valued the worth of a grinding out a walk to helping the team win.
Historically, Ted Williams holds the highest career OBP in MLB history at .482 over 19 seasons and the closest any player is to that mark today include Todd Helton and Albert Pujols who both have a career OBP of .421. To put Williams’ remarkable feat in perspective, last year Miguel Cabrera had the highest OBP of any player at a career-high .448 and since 2005 the highest OBP a player had in a season was Chipper Jones in 2008 with an OBP of .470. An interesting notion is that 17 out of the 20 players with the all-time highest career OBP batted lefty (Mickey Mantle was the only switch hitter of the group), so if you want your kid to have a shot at making the big leagues, might not be a bad idea to get them to hit lefty at a young age. Thursday I’ll conduct some more player analysis and throw in some more advanced statistics in relation to OBP such as wOBA but until then use OBP as a measuring stick for the effectiveness and value of a hitter to their team.