So we all know baseball is not a game of clocks, it is based on a finite amount of outs, 27 to be exact. The most important thing in a game is to not make outs. Batting average gives you a look at how good a batter is at getting a hit, but that is not the only way to reach base. Batting average though doesn’t tell you the whole story, is a walk any different than a weak duck snort over the third baseman’s head? Both events end in the same outcome, a man on first, but if you only look at batting average the player who drew a walk didn’t bat according to batting average.
On Base Percentage (OBP) gives a batter credit for the most important thing in baseball, not making an out. Whether it is by hit, by walk, or by getting hit by a pitch. OBP measures a players ability to get on base. The book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, and later a movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill gave fans an unprecedented look inside a baseball front office and the novelty of OBP was brought to the national spotlight. There was a scene where Billy Beane was going over replacing lost free agents with scouts and would point over to Hills character (who was an amalgamation of different front office personalities) who would on cue respond to “why do we like this guy” with the quote “because he gets on base” It seems basic but underscores just how important it is to get on base.
OBP reads just like batting average but is obviously normally higher as it counts walks as something productive instead of something that didn’t happen. OBP treats every type of hit and walks equally, meaning that a player who goes 2-4 with two singles will have a .500 OBP but a player who goes 1-4 with a home run will have a .250 OBP. An average OBP is considered .320, with an excellent OBP being .390 and .290 is awful. An on-base percentage can be a predictor of future OBP after about 500 plate appearances, and as with really, any stat small sample sizes should be taken with a grain of salt.
Now let’s take a look at the leaderboards to give a little more context to on-base percentage. The all-time leader in on-base percentage with a minimum of two thousand at-bats is Ted Williams with a .482 OBP. on the other side of the coin, there is quite possibly the worst batter of all time, Bill Bergen a catcher with the Reds and the Brooklyn Superbas, who became the Dodgers in 1911. His career OBP was .194 and he had a career batting average of .170, it looks like he didn’t see a pitch he didn’t want to swing at. Barry Bonds is the leader since 1961 in OBP with a .444 mark, Barry also has the two highest single-season on-base percentage numbers with .609 in 2004 and .581 in 2004. He has actually four of the top ten single season on-base percentage marks, I guess that’s a side effect of getting intentionally walked a total of 688 times, even once with the bases loaded.
So that’s a quick look at on-base percentage, it is a better way to gauge a batter’s value than batting average but there are even better ways to gauge how valuable a hitter is and well look at that going forward. Thanks as always for reading and we will be running these pieces all week for what we are calling advanced stat week. Let us know what you would like to see me tackle or if you have any questions. You can ask or just follow us on twitter @SidedSox, and follow us on Facebook. You can also email us at SoxSided@Gmail.com.