"Out" With The Old: A Better Way to Look at OBP
During their recent back-and-forth, in one of Buster Olney's responses to Rich Lederer, he boiled their differences on Jim Rice down thusly:
Many analysts don't think Rice walked enough and believe RBI is a junk stat and that Rice had no other skills other than amassing hits. Rice supporters like myself place a higher value in hits and RBI, especially given the context of the time. So be it.
Leave aside the tone of the statement, and even leave aside the oversimplification. Olney's willingness simply to count up hits and RBI with an apparent disregard for defense, baserunning or most importantly, out-making is what stands out. It's this final item, out-making, that this piece will endeavor to bring into more clarity.
Articulating the value of an out would be redundant. It's been written or said artfully already by many in and around baseball. Below are some excerpts that help lay it out as plain as day.
The currency of baseball is the out. There are a finite number of outs that a team can make in one game, and it is almost always 27 (or 3 outs/inning * 9 innings/game). A player consumes these outs to create runs, and at the simplest level, runs and outs are the only truly meaningful stats in baseball.
He always said, ‘you only get 27 outs in a game, so don't waste them...'
The higher a player’s OBP, the less often he’s costing his team an out at the plate. Viewed another way, 1-OBP = out %. In other words, OBP subtracted from the number 1 will yield the percentage of how often a hitter comes up to bat and uses up one of his team’s 27 outs for that game. A player can play all season, rack up impressive counting stats and still be using up far too many outs.
Maybe a tweak to how we think about outs and on-base percentage is in order. Dayn may be onto something here with this 1-OBP. I am going to take it a step further here and make it Outs/PA with "outs" defined as AB-H+CS+GDP. Baseball fans understand that outs are the only scarce resource in baseball. They understand that you only get 27 of them, and that each one you use puts you that much closer to running out of chances to score. So instead of tallying on-base percentage, which really only seems to resonate with folks who already buy in to advanced performance metrics, how about focusing on outs?
Discrediting Jimmy Rollins's 2007 MVP case by clamoring "but his on-base was only .344!!!" is obviously not sufficient. How about "did you know that Jimmy Rollins led all of Major League Baseball in outs in 2007?" Now that might help clarify things. To be sure, outs, on-base, outs per PA, etc. ignores what Bill James would call "advancement percentage" (which is really just slugging). It also fails to fully account for baserunning and clutch hitting. Still, tallying up outs per plate appearance is an instructive way to take a look at a major component of one's offensive makeup.
Here's a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 players in 2007 (minimum of 502 plate appearances) in Out %.
Outs PA Out % Rodriguez, I. 379 515 .736 Feliz 433 590 .734 Lopez, Jos 411 561 .733 Pena, T. 392 536 .731 Pierzynski 370 509 .727 Durham 383 528 .725 Uribe 408 563 .725 Molina 373 517 .721 Johjima 370 513 .721 Punto 386 536 .720
Outs PA Out % Ortiz, D. 384 667 .576 Helton 395 682 .579 Pena, C. 359 612 .587 Ordonez, M. 400 678 .590 Utley 362 613 .591 Rodriguez, A. 419 708 .592 Cust 302 507 .596 Posada 353 589 .599 Wright 427 711 .601 Jones, C. 362 600 .603
So let's break this down to one game to shed some meaning here. Dividing 27 by Out % tells us how many hypothetical plate appearances, or incremental run-scoring opportunities, a team full of one player would amass.
Out% 27/Out% Ortiz .576 46.9 Pudge .736 36.7
To put these numbers into further perspective, let's look at some more 2007 figures. Here are the top-3 and bottom-3 scoring teams in the American League.
PA R R/PA NYY 6,527 968 .148 DET 6,363 887 .139 BOS 6,426 867 .135
PA R R/PA CHW 6,101 693 .114 KCR 6,139 706 .115 MIN 6,161 718 .117
Taking an average of these six R/PA figures, we get a figure of .128. Let's use this figure and once again compare Ortiz and Pudge. And remember, this is assuming that all else is equal between the two players (slugging, baserunning, etc).
Out% 27/Out% R/G Ortiz .576 46.9 6.0 Pudge .736 36.7 4.7
Perhaps if the performance analysts focused their efforts on outs as both a counting and rate stat instead of tallying on-base, inroads could be made a bit more easily with mainstream figures. You and I know what a .400 on-base percentage means, but maybe that figure does not mean much to many others. On the other hand, if you know that a season full of plate appearances consists of 650-750 times at bat, and you know that David Ortiz only made an out just 384 times, that might start to mean something.
Likewise, by knowing that Rollins led the league in outs or that Pudge makes an out nearly three-quarters of the time he steps in the box, this too may help many fans start to evaluate offensive performance more appropriately.
Kicking and screaming about how too many do not understand what it takes to score runs does very little good. Rich's exchange with Buster Olney has led me to believe that trying to narrow the gap between the performance analysts and the mainstream is time better spent. Hopefully thinking about outs in this way furthers this cause.