Baseball BeatNovember 22, 2004
The 2004 QUAD Leaders
By Rich Lederer

Now that the Most Valuable Player awards have been announced, I thought it would be interesting to compare the results of the voting with the offensive statistics that really matter. I'm not talking about batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, nor am I referring to a "great" stat like Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) or Win Shares--both of which have been widely quoted by members of the baseball blogging and analyst community as a means to support their MVP selections.

The stats that I am referring to--times on base, on base percentage, total bases, and slugging average--can be tracked with each and every plate appearance and do not involve some complicated, impossible to recite formula. They may not be as sophisticated as some of the more advanced summary stats, but they are actual "counting" and "rate" stats (rather than derivatives) and are easily understood.

The way to win baseball games is to score runs when at bat and prevent runs when in the field. With respect to the offensive end of the game, the four components of what I have previously called "The Quad" (TOB, OBP, TB, and SLG) are the true determinants of run production. Times on base and total bases measure quantity whereas on-base percentage and slugging average measure quality. Players who show up among the best quantitatively and qualitatively are those who are succeeding on a per plate appearance the most times over the course of a full season.

There are multiple problems with the traditional Triple Crown stats (BA, HR, RBI). They ignore walks, treat doubles and triples the same as singles, and one of the three variables is highly team dependent. The Quad, on the other hand, measures the two most important components of run production--the ability to get on base and the ability to drive baserunners home. The former is covered via on base percentage (OBP) and times on base (TOB). The latter is covered via slugging average (SLG) and total bases (TB). It is also important to note that these stats are not team dependent.

Another beauty of The Quad is that the components are the factors in calculating runs created, which is essentially nothing more than OBP x TB or SLG x TOB. Slugging average could be replaced by what Bill James calls "advancement percentage" (total bases divided by plate appearances) if one wanted to fine tune it and measure performance based on PA rather than AB.

* * * * * * *

With the foregoing as a backdrop, lets take a look at the National and American League players who did the best job of getting on base and accumulating bases (both in terms of the number of times as well as the percentage of times).

TIMES ON BASE (N.L.)

1    Barry Bonds                 376   
2    Todd Helton                 320   
3    Lance Berkman               309   
4    Bobby Abreu                 305   
5    Albert Pujols               287   
6    J.D. Drew                   281   
7    Mark Loretta                275   
8    Juan Pierre                 274   
9    Brian Giles                 266   
10   Adam Dunn                   264

As shown, Barry Bonds is heads and shoulders above the field when it comes to getting on base. In fact, Barry set a National League record in 2004 for the number of times that he reached base, surpassing his old mark of 356 in 2002. He fell three short of Babe Ruth's all-time record set in 1923 but now owns three of the top ten spots on the single-season leaderboard and is the only player from the N.L. among the top 14. Bonds has led the league five times. He is also the first player in baseball history to have more times on base than official at bats over the course of a season. Yes, you read that correctly. He had 376 TOB and 373 AB!

ON BASE PERCENTAGE (N.L.)

1    Barry Bonds                .609   
2    Todd Helton                .469   
3    Lance Berkman              .450   
4    J.D. Drew                  .436   
5    Bobby Abreu                .428   
6    Jim Edmonds                .418   
7    Albert Pujols              .415   
8    Scott Rolen                .409   
9    Jason Kendall              .399   
10   Jim Thome                  .396

Not surprisingly, Bonds also led the league in on-base percentage. In fact, the Giant slugger set a major league single-season record, beating his two-year mark by .027. He now holds four of the top ten spots all-time. Ruth and Ted Williams comprise the other six with three each. Bonds has topped the league in OBP a total of eight times, including each of the last four years.

The difference between Bonds and the second-place Todd Helton (whose .469 OBP would have easily led the A.L.) was the same as second place and 65th place. Furthermore, to lay to rest the notion that Bonds' OBP was mostly a function of his record-breaking intentional walk total of 120, please be aware that Barry's 2004 season would have placed in the top ten in baseball history without including a single IBB.

TOTAL BASES (N.L.)

1    Albert Pujols               389   
2    Adrian Beltre               376   
3    Todd Helton                 339   
4    Moises Alou                 335   
5    Adam Dunn                   323   
6    Jim Edmonds                 320   
7    Aramis Ramirez              316   
T8   Vinny Castilla              312   
T8   Bobby Abreu                 312   
10   Miguel Cabrera              309

Albert Pujols edged out Adrian Beltre in total bases. It was the second consecutive year that Pujols has led the league in this category. He has finished in the top seven in all four of his seasons. For the record, Bonds placed 16th with 303. Bonds has only led the league in total bases once, owing to an unusually high number of BB throughout his career (which, of course, limits his opportunities to accumulate TB).

SLUGGING AVERAGE (N.L.)

1    Barry Bonds                .812   
2    Albert Pujols              .657   
3    Jim Edmonds                .643   
4    Adrian Beltre              .629   
5    Todd Helton                .620   
6    Scott Rolen                .598   
7    Jim Thome                  .581   
8    Aramis Ramirez             .578   
9    J.D. Drew                  .569   
10   Adam Dunn                  .569

Yawn. Bonds once again shows up as the top dog. Although Bonds fell short of his single-season record of .863 set in 2001, his slugging average this past year was only the fourth time a player has exceeded .800. Bonds and Ruth hold the top six spots on the single-season list with three each.

* * * * * * *

TIMES ON BASE (A.L.)

1    Ichiro Suzuki               315   
2    Gary Sheffield              269   
3    Johnny Damon                267   
4    Vladimir Guerrero           266   
5    Hideki Matsui               265   
6    Melvin Mora                 264   
7    Manny Ramirez               263   
8    Alex Rodriguez              262   
T9   Michael Young               261   
T9   Miguel Tejada               261

Everyone knows that Ichiro Suzuki set an all-time record for the number of hits in a season with 262 (his fourth year in a row of 200+ hits and the only player to reach that milestone in each of his first four seasons), but it is less known that he also led the league in the number of times on base. Suzuki reached base 46 more times than the next closest pursuer. Numbers two through ten were all bunched in the 260s.

ON BASE PERCENTAGE (A.L.)

1    Melvin Mora                .419   
2    Ichiro Suzuki              .414   
3    Travis Hafner              .410   
4    Jorge Posada               .400   
5    Eric Chavez                .397   
6    Manny Ramirez              .397   
7    Erubiel Durazo             .396   
8    Gary Sheffield             .393   
9    Vladimir Guerrero          .391   
10   Jason Varitek              .390

Melvin Mora led the league in on-base percentage, having created 76 fewer outs than Suzuki in 126 fewer plate appearances. Suzuki finished second with the highest OBP of his major league career (2004 marked the first time he reached the .400 plateau). If you think Mora's season was a fluke, just remember that he had a similarly outstanding campaign in 2003, but it generally went unnoticed because he played less than 100 games due to injuries.

TOTAL BASES (A.L.)

1    Vladimir Guerrero           366   
2    David Ortiz                 351   
3    Miguel Tejada               349   
4    Manny Ramirez               348   
5    Michael Young               333   
6    Ichiro Suzuki               320   
7    Hank Blalock                312   
8    Carlos Lee                  310   
9    Melvin Mora                 309   
10   Alex Rodriguez              308

Vladimir Guerrero led the league in total bases for the second time in his career. He also finished atop the N.L. in 2002. In a league with designated hitters, it is interesting to see two shortstops and three third basemen among the top ten in a category usually reserved for first basemen, corner outfielders, and DHs.

SLUGGING AVERAGE (A.L.)

1    Manny Ramirez              .613   
2    David Ortiz                .603   
3    Vladimir Guerrero          .598   
4    Travis Hafner              .583   
5    Melvin Mora                .562   
6    Mark Teixeira              .560   
7    Aaron Rowand               .544   
8    Carlos Guillen             .542   
9    Carlos Delgado             .535   
10   Paul Konerko               .535

Manny Ramirez beat out teammate David Ortiz for the best slugging average in the league. It was the third time Ramirez has led the league and the seventh consecutive year that he has finished in the top four--something that Bonds has yet to accomplish.

* * * * * * *

In determining worthy MVP candidates, I like to look for players who led their league in these categories and/or finished in the top ten multiple times. I also tend to sit up and take notice when players other than 1B and corner OF show up on such top ten lists, especially when they are "plus" defensive types. Conversely, I discount those hitters who had the fortune of playing home games in extreme ballparks (i.e., Colorado and, to a lesser extent, Texas).

In this regard, it is noteworthy that Bonds led the N.L. in three of the four categories. There have only been 31 different players covering 47 separate seasons who have led in three of the four legs of the Quad. Bonds has accomplished this feat five times. (For the record, 17 different players have earned "The Quad Award" by leading their respective league in all four categories. Six players have achieved this honor on more than one occasion--led by Ruth and Williams with five each.)

No player in the A.L. led in more than one category. Guerrero, Mora, and Ramirez stand out for finishing first once and landing in the top ten in all four. Over in the N.L., only Helton and Pujols ended up in the top ten in each of these four areas. Suzuki had three top tens as did Bobby Abreu, Bonds, J.D. Drew, Adam Dunn, and Jim Edmonds.

Among non-1B/DH/corner OF, Beltre, Edmonds, Aramis Ramirez, and Scott Rolen all finished in the top ten in the N.L. two or more times, while Mora, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, and Michael Young did the same in the A.L.

The following matrix provides a way to quantify the results of The Quad in a manner similar to the MVP voting (14 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd, 8 for 3rd, etc.).

		TOB	OBP	TB	SLG	TOT
Bonds		14	14		14	42
Pujols		6	4	14	9	33
Helton		9	9	8	6	32
Edmonds			5	5	8	18
Berkman		8	8			16
Beltre				9	7	16
Abreu		7	6	2		15
Drew		5	7		2	14
Dunn		1		6	1	8
Rolen			3		5	8
Alou				7		7
Ramirez				4	3	7
Thome			1		4	5
Loretta		4				4
Pierre		3				3
Giles B		2				2
Kendall			2			2
Castilla			2		2
Cabrera				2		2
		TOB	OBP	TB	SLG	TOT
Guerrero	7	2	14	8	31
Ramirez		4	5	7	14	30
Suzuki		14	9	5		28
Mora		5	14	2	6	27
Ortiz				9	9	18
Hafner			8		7	15
Sheffield	9	3			12
Tejada		1		8		9
Damon		8				8
Young		2		6		8
Posada			7			7
Matsui 		6				6
Chavez			6			6
Teixeira				5	5
A-Rod		3		1		4
Durazo			4			4
Blalock				4		4
Rowand					4	4
Lee				3		3
Guillen					3	3
Delgado					2	2
Varitek			1			1
Konerko					1	1

To the credit of the MVP voters, it looks like they got it right. Let's face it, Bonds was a no-brainer in the N.L. although, with only 24 of the 32 first-place votes, that means there were eight writers who should have joined Dorothy on her way to go see the Wizard of Oz in hopes of getting a brain.

Incredibly, Guerrero received the same percentage of first-place votes (75%) as Bonds. He was a worthy honoree but in no way, shape, or form should have gotten the same respect as Bonds. Understand, I have no beef with Guerrero's selection and, in fact, picked him as the MVP in the Internet Baseball Writers Association Awards.

As far as injustices go, look no further than Abreu, who finished tied for 23rd place in the N.L. voting, and Mora, who finished tied for 18th in the A.L. Only two out of 32 voters in the N.L. even saw fit to include Abreu in their top ten (one 9th and one 10th) and just two of 28 voters in the A.L. listed Mora on their ballots (one 8th and one 9th). The IBWA, on the other hand, placed Abreu and Mora 7th in the N.L. and A.L., respectively, with 25 and 26 of the 37 voters including them in their top ten.

Let's hope that the two voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America who put Chone Figgins 10th on their ballots were the same ones who had Mora 8th and 9th, so help me John Kruk. Figgins played an important role for the Angels, manning six different positions (including 13 or more games at 3B, CF, 2B, and SS) while putting up a slightly above-average OBP and a slightly below-average SLG. Figgins' versatility makes for a nice story, but it does not make him the 10th best player in the entire league.

I had Mora listed eighth on my ballot and, upon further review, now believe he warranted no worse than a fourth place finish (behind Guerrero, Johan Santana, and possibly Ramirez). I failed to include Suzuki and now believe he was more worthy of a top ten choice than Mariano Rivera. However, it should be pointed out that Suzuki, along with Hank Blalock, Tejada, and Young in the A.L. and Juan Pierre in the N.L., finished in the top ten in outs--a "counting" stat that doesn't get as much negative attention as it deserves.

Defense and baserunning are also important elements and The Quad, by design, ignores pitching. Despite claims to the contrary, I'm not convinced that we have quantified defense down to a science yet. I think some of the advanced metrics are doing a good job at identifying the outliers, but they are not as reliable as hitting stats in my judgment.

I think we run the risk that the public will never catch onto the latest alphabet soup of stats if we don't do a better job of bridging the gap between the "old" stats and the "new" first. The four measures referred throughout this article capture as well as anything the ability to get on base and drive runners around the bases--and isn't that what it is all about?

There is a place for VORP, Win Shares, and other all-encompassing measurements, but they are much more esoteric than those stats that can be tracked with each and every plate appearance. If you can't recite the formulas to a friend sitting next to you at a ballgame, I advise you to stick to what can be more easily explained and understood. Maybe then--and only then--will more fans come our way.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

Comments

Rich,

Seeing that Win Shares remain somewhat of a mystery to me (I've read how they work, but I simply decided to take Bill James' word for it in the end), I really enjoy stuff like this. I'm also baffled as to how Bobby Abreu continually escapes notice by pretty much everyone in baseball.

I have an unrelated question- could you post links to all of your Abstract abstracts on the sidebar or compile them elsewhere on your site? I missed some of them and I'm reluctant to go digging in the archives for them.

Thanks, Mike.

Re the Abstracts From The Abstracts, I will link to them in my sidebar sometime this week. I was planning on doing that at the conclusion of the series but may as well proceed with this project now that you've asked.

http://www.all-baseball.com/richbeat/archives/015911.html

Copy that into your address bar and you should find links to the first seven abstracts, and the other last two are on the main page at the moment.

Rich, regarding advancement percentage, does a walk count as a total base?

Great stuff....It's so simple yet it makes so much sense.

John, A walk does not count as a base in advancement percentage. James defined it as total bases divided by plate appearances. He used it in one of his runs created formualas.

Runs = (Advancement Percentage) x (Number of Times on Base)

The thinking is that a batter would get credit for a walk in the other half of the equation (times on base). James believed that hits plus walks represented a player's ability to get on base, while total bases represented his ability to advance baserunners. Ergo, walks are included in Times on Base but not Total Bases.

Well, I can't say I agree with advancement percentage then.

There's no real difference between a single and a walk when the bases are empty, other than the opportunity for fielding intervention (whether for good or bad, extra bases on an error maybe or gunning down the runner trying to stretch). Likewise, that's the only difference between a single where the runner doesn't go from first to third and a walk, or an infield single with first and second or the bases loaded and a walk, and so on. That formula though treats them as entirely different. Bonds would be ruined by it.

A single is more valuable than a walk. To wit, between two teams with identical OBP, the one with the higher BA will score more runs than the other.

With respect to Bonds, a large number of his walks are with first base open so they rarely advance other baserunners. He gets full credit for the walk as a "times on base."

A single is more valuable than a walk in some situations, but not all, such as the ones I outlined before (none on, or where runners would be forced by a walk to the exact positions they assume after that single). In those situations, it seems stupid to me that a single counts both towards "times on base" and "advancement percentage" when a walk, which is no less valuable (unless you want to talk psychologically perhaps, or in terms of its impact upon the pitcher's arm), counts only towards "times on base". The rest of the time, say in a second and third situation, I can understand the distinction though.

I understand your point, John. When baserunners are not involved, a walk is the equal of a single. However, when baserunners are involved, a walk is rarely the equal of a single. Therefore, I think it makes sense to distinguish between the two.

They are treated equally in OBP but a walk does not affect batting or slugging average. By definition, a player whose OBP is made up of singles rather than walks will have a higher OPS than the player whose OBP is made up of walks rather than singles.

Very true, though that's one of the reasons why OPS is a very crude (though still handy) measure.