De-emphasizing OBP

In the Detroit News Tiger notebook, Tom Gage points out that the Royals had a better OBP than the Tigers in May. I disagree with Gage’s take on the situation. Instead of opining that this is a glaring indication that despite the Tigers success there are still opportunities for improvement, Gage uses this information to downplay the relevancy of the statisitic.

Yes, you can get buy with a sub average OBP if you slug the bejesus out of the ball and allow a run a game less than every other team in the league. As long as you keep up those other paces, a weak OBP probably won’t be a problem. But really, do we expect to keep up those stats at the rate they are going now?

Jim Leyland also downplays OBP’s significance

“I’m not saying on-base percentage isn’t important,” manager Jim Leyland said. “It’s definitely important. But my question about a guy when I hear he has a great on-base percentage is whether he scores runs.

“If a guy walks, but can’t steal a base, can’t score on a double, can’t score on a sacrifice fly and can’t go on contact with a man on third and the infield in, that’s not good. So there’s a lot more that goes into it than merely getting on base a lot.”

So a good OBP is useless unless you’re fast?

Lost in that is the fact that with a higher on base percentage, you are making fewer outs – which is a good thing. The fewer outs you make, the more men you send to the plate, the more scoring chances you have, the more the pitcher has to work…

I have to say I’m a little discouraged to read comments like these.

24 Comments

  1. Rob

    May 23, 2006 at 7:01 am

    I thought (and posted) almost the exact same thing when I read that article. I love the success the team is having this year, but Leyland is way off on a few issues (batting Ramon Santiago leadoff?????).

  2. Nick

    May 23, 2006 at 7:17 am

    As long as the pitching holds up it doesn’t really matter, but we are 8th in runs scored for a reason. Leyland is right, there is more to it than just getting on base alot, but getting on base alot is a good start.

    If a guy grounds out, but can steal a base, can score on a double, etc…, does it even matter?

  3. Mike F

    May 23, 2006 at 7:33 am

    Bobby Higginson had a great OBP. Maybe we should bring him back.

  4. Dave

    May 23, 2006 at 7:51 am

    Agree with the consensus (not Gage or Leyland). I’m a professional statistician, and I did a study on what statistic is most correlated with runs scored at the team level over the last 100 years. Guess what…. its OBP.

  5. Dave T.

    May 23, 2006 at 8:09 am

    A good OBP is part of the total package. Leyland downplays everything…I bet he would downplay anything short of winning the World Series…2 years in a row!
    Leyland is right…but a bit out of context, you need to be able to play Defense, and run the bases correctly, and hit for power…but it is true you can’t score runs if you can’t get on base, and a team which made up of players less likely to make outs will have an advantage in scoring runs…but it takes more than being able to score runs to win, which I think is Leyland’s major point.

  6. Rob

    May 23, 2006 at 8:24 am

    Yes, pitching, defense, hitting…they are all important for winning. Unfortunately Jim Leyland has shown little indication that he understands what role OBP plays in scoring runs. He has said so himself.

    “I’m not big on OBP as much as other people,” he said. “I’m big on slugging percentage.”

    http://detroit.tigers.mlb.com/.....8;c_id=det

  7. Joey

    May 23, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Mike, your post is hilarious.

    Hasn’t Leyland earned the right to look at baseball anyway he wants? The guy is a good manager and as long as his team keeps winning I couldn’t care what his baseball philosophy is. Getting caught stealing is the key to a team’s success? Okay Jim whatever you say! I think Dave is right about Leyland just liking to run against the grain a bit

    Obviously OBP is very important, and I would feel more comfortable if our’s were higher, but Leyland’s thinking on the subject will have little bearing on how the season plays out.

    And he has been sitting DY recently although he is supposedly healthy. I think we can all thank him for that.

  8. Lee Panas

    May 23, 2006 at 10:18 am

    I thought Leyland’s comments were silly but I’m not too concerned about it. Most managers talk that way. I’d be more worried if Dombrowski said it. He’s the one who gives Leyland the players.

  9. Matt in Toledo

    May 23, 2006 at 10:23 am

    I really think Leyland’s quote might have something to do with just having seen Dunn, and I’m not too worried about it.

    The things he talks about not being able to do really seem to describe that sequence Dunn had on Sunday. He didn’t score from first on a double when the consensus seems to be that he should have. Then he was gunned at the plate on a grounder to third. I can’t remember if he ever failed to advance on a sac fly during the series.

    Plus, he does say that it’s “definitely” important.

  10. Dave

    May 23, 2006 at 11:16 am

    Well… Dunn may be batting .231, but here’s the fallacy there – his OBP is .384. There are only 2 Tigers with OBPs higher than that (Guillen, Thames). Even Ordonez and Shelton don’t quite make it to .384 (although they are close). Dunn has a poor BA, but a very good OBP. Of course he has an excellent slugging percentage, but if everyone on the Tigers got on base 38.4% of the time, I’d be thrilled!

  11. Kyle J

    May 23, 2006 at 11:36 am

    I think OBP is as important as anyone, but I also think that increasing their OBP will be an uphill battle for this team. When your #2 and #3 hitters are Polanco and Rodriquez, you’re simply not going to draw a large amount of walks as a team. (Not necessarily a knock against those two guys–they’re very skilled hitters who don’t miss the ball very often.) The main thing is that they not swing at a lot of bad pitches. There’ve been a lot of strikeouts, but mainly from less skilled hitters who have contributed with HRs (Inge, Granderson, Monroe).

    I would also take Leyland’s public comments with a grain of salt. I don’t think he’s too interested in telling the media what he really thinks on matters of strategy/philosophy.

  12. Matt in Toledo

    May 23, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    The reason I said he may have been commenting on Dunn is specifically because he has a high OBP. I’d love to have Dunn on the team, too, but I think Leyland might have been suggesting that his high OBP might not be that valuable because he can’t do as much when he gets on base as other players. If that’s what he was saying, I don’t really agree, but the examples he was giving of baserunning limitations fit with what Dunn did this past weekend.

    In other words, I’m suggesting that Leyland’s comments were more of a reaction to something very specific he saw this past weekend rather than a snapshot of his philosophies as a manager.

  13. Matt in Toledo

    May 23, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    “might not be AS valuable”…that’s how that should have read.

  14. Kurt

    May 23, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    Just to sing with the choir, I rather like OBP. I also wish the Tigers wouldn’t steal themselves out of an inning quite as often.

    But I agree with a few posters in that I think Leyland just makes comments to make comments against the gain sometimes. I enjoy reading what he says, it’s often entertaining.

  15. SJC in Detroit

    May 23, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    Bilfer — when you get a spare moment, could you do the same analysis for the 2006 Tigers that you did for the 2005 version and posted on October 8 (Model of Inefficiency). Remember, your numbers showed that the Tigers were middle of the pack at gettting runners on but bad at getting them in, especially if you took out homers. Is the 2006 version more efficient? Or hasn’t it mattered because you only need to score one if you shut out the other team?

  16. Subrata Sircar

    May 23, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Leyland’s right about SLG … for an individual. The individual rate statistic that best correlates with runs scored is not OBP; it’s SLG (by a nose; OBP has a positive correlation, but not quite as high).

    There are several reasons for that:
    a) high-SLG hitters almost never have a low OBP.
    b) high-OBP, low-SLG players on a bad team don’t score nearly as often as they should.
    c) high-SLG players end up in scoring position more often, or even drive themselves in.

    At the team level, it’s all about not making outs, so team OBP is the thing to maximize. On an individual level, you need to get into scoring position and have someone else drive you home, or you need to do it yourself.

  17. Mike F

    May 23, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    If Leyland had a team that got on base a lot, but didn’t have much power, I’d bet he’d down play slugging percentage.

    The Tigers score runs with power taking advantage of a strength. On base percentage is a team weakness and I think worrying about it (and over emphazing it) helped shorten Tram’s tenure. I think that Leyland was addressing the use of OBP as THE measure of a player. Higgy had great OBP because he could actually take a walk but couldn’t slug worth a damn at the end. Dunn also can take walks but ended up stranded at third after two sure scoring chances.

    OBP is important, SLG is important, even batting average is important, but more important is runs scored and runs allowed. The Tigers are doing okay right now. When they can’t score the runs they need is the time Leyland will begin to tinker under the hood. Till then he will be saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

  18. Tim D

    May 23, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    The important thing is to score runs.

    Well, Dunn hit .247 and .266 the last two years and scored 100+ runs both years because he is on base so much. I think “baseball men” in general undervalue not so much OBP but the “skill” of walk-getting. Walk-getting is boring, and they think that walk-getters aren’t agressive enough. They should swing at a pitch off the plate if the team needs a big hit. Ted Williams got this kind of abuse all the time, and of lot of people think Teddy Ballgame wasn’t a team player.

    Baseball men want players who can do the little things because they need the little things every time they are in a close game. When Dunn can’t score in a key situation where say Willy Mo Pena could, the baseball man thinks that yeah, Dunn is a big moose and all, but he just cost his team a game. One run won that game. They didn’t get it. Managers also associate high OBP (unfairly) with big slow guys who can’t play D. You know, like Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. But the baseball man wants those “skills.” He needs the intangibles more in a 1-1 game than he does a guy who gets a walk and scores on a homer in a 9-3 game. And it’s the 1-1 game that the manager is always thinking about.

    Leyland knows you can’t score without people on. But he is committed to pressuring the other team with the running game, to the hit and run, to moving runners over, to aggressive hitting, etc. He is very close to and managerially resembles Tony LaRussa. LaRussa drives me nuts; seven relievers in an inning, hitting behind the runner etc. He wants hitters swinging at the first decent pitch in RBI situations. No standing around, be aggressive. So I think there is a balance. Managers want hard-a$$ ballplayers, and waiting for walks may be a little passive. But they know they need guys on to win and neither will want Nook Logan up there instead of Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols.

    Chris Shelton playing everyday at 1b is the Tigers’ concession to “Moneyball.” Hitting him 6th, not “clogging up the bases” is Leyland the “baseball man.” The Tigers would love to have Dunn, but they wouldn’t give up a premier arm to get him and I don’t think many teams would. Pitching and defense are seen as more important than OBP. And SLG makes up for a lot. In his heart the “baseball man” knows that winners are invariably the teams that can shut people down. It is an unshakeable orthodoxy for a man like Leyland and he has done pretty well with it.

  19. Jeff M

    May 23, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Tim D, two things:

    What do you mean by a “baseball man”? I could see the term applied to several different types of people, so I’m not really sure which you were trying to describe.

    Also, it’s worth noting that there are situations in which a walk is far less valuable than a hit. OBP is slightly flawed in that it doesn’t reflect those situations. That flaw is especially relevant to this conversation since those situations have a strong correlation with Runs Scored.

  20. Tim D

    May 23, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Jeff, I agree. A hit is a lot better with men on than is a walk. And small ball skills can be incredibly valuable in a close game.

    Leyland is a baseball man. He is old school. Aggressive baserunning, pitching, defense, etc. Trammell was an even more extreme case. They bunted like crazy. I think most managers are like this to at least a degree and then there are the extremes like Gene Mauch. There are also managers who didn’t manage like this. Casey Stengel, Earl Weaver, Joe Torre, etc. And they do pretty well. You would never hear Torre poo-pooing OBP. I guess by baseball man I was referring to the legion of GMs, scouts and managers who spend all their time talking about small ball and fundamentals. I wasn’t very clear.

  21. billfer

    May 24, 2006 at 4:11 am

    I’ve actually softened a little bit on this since yesterday – the hazards of posting at 5am.

    Leyland’s comments I think were largely appropriate, and you have to wonder about the context in which he was asked. Matt in Toledo points out that it sounds very much like a direct indictment of Adam Dunn, and I wondder what the actual question was. (I’d question downplaying the value of Adam Dunn but that’s a whole seperate issues).

    I think what got me more riled up was Gage’s assertion that since the Royals have a mariginally better OBP for the last 20 or so gams, the stat is useless.

  22. Jeff M

    May 24, 2006 at 7:17 am

    what got me more riled up was Gage’s assertion

    Agreed. It’s unanimous that Gage was desperate for content, Dunn is above average but short of perfect, and Leyland is Da Bomb.

    Without objection, I move to close this thread. (Go Tigers!)

  23. Joey

    May 24, 2006 at 8:26 am

    Tim I love your post about the baseball man. It made a point, and I think it could also be used as advertising copy. Maybe for a particular brand of lineup cards or something.

    “In his heart the “baseball man” knows that winners are invariably the teams that can shut people down and that those teams are written down on TRU-SHEET LINEUP CARDS!.”

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