Change-UpJanuary 30, 2008
"Out" With The Old: A Better Way to Look at OBP
By Patrick Sullivan

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.

From VORP's Wiki page:

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.

Ken Berry on Eddie Stanky:

He always said, ‘you only get 27 outs in a game, so don't waste them...'

Dayn Perry:

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 %.

Bottom 10

                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

Top 10

                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.


Very interesting. But instead of caveatting the 'slugging' or 'advancement percentage' why don't you consider total bases along with outs to further the analysis? That would also give some aspect of base running skills and give more weight to your argument if the results support it.

All of this has been done, Tribefan. Runs Created is more or less settled science.

What I am trying to express is the framing of the on-base component. It's apparent to me that simply stating someone's on-base percentage or touting how many walks they amassed is inadequate.

Framing the discussion with more of a focus on outs themselves might help.

Great article Rich. What out percentage or outs shows, which is underappreciated by most, is that not making an out, even if it doesn't lead to a run or rbi, creates an opportunity for someone else, even down the line. In its simplest form, imagine an almost perfect game with one walk in the first inning, but the leadoff man hits a game winning HR in the 9th with 2 outs. The walk creates the opportunity. Similarly, I think Bill James once modeled the effect of intentionally walking Babe Ruth every time, even among a subpar supporting cast. The result was that lousy hitters still racked up big rbis and runs because they had so many opportunities.

Discrediting Rollins' MVP weakens your case, I'd argue, because of his defensive position. (It's a better pick than Morneau was in the AL last year.)

If Rice were a shortstop he'd be an inner circle HoFer. It's the outs and the ballpark and the position that make him lackluster compared to the Hall's "standards".

Jurgen - for what it's worth I do not think Rollins was the MVP. But for the purposes of this piece, that's neither here nor there.

All I am saying is that if one set out to discredit Rollins's case, that he led the league in outs would probably be exhibit A.

Doug B: The credit for this article goes to Patrick Sullivan.

Branch Rickey said:

"As a statistic, RBIs were not only misleading but dishonest. They depended on managerial control, a hitter's position in the batting order, park dimensions and the success of his teammates in getting on base ahead of him."

That was from the Life Magazine article called "GOODBY TO SOME OLD BASEBALL IDEAS" which is online at

Forgot to mention that article was published in 1954

Isn't it weird that outs are not an official batting statistic? Does anyone know why that is? Outs are easy to count and assign.

Apologies on the misattribution. I must have been too excited about the Santana trade and the demonstration of the thesis in Baseball Trading Economics 101.

I think Sully is absolutely right here, especially because the denominator is plate appearances, not "at bats".

Another advancement I would like to see everyone rally around is to eliminate the notion of an "at bat". The beauty of OBP, or Sully's OUT%, is that it really does tell you the likelihood of something happening. The denominator of batting average, slugging percentage, home-run percentage should all be "plate appearances".

I brought this up at a SABR meeting a few years ago and someone said, "but that would penalize players who walk," since Ted Williams "BA" would go down dramatically more than Jim Rice's would. While true, statistics do not penalize anyone, they just try to explain what happened.

I just want all of these percentages (OUT %, batting average, walk %, etc.) to add up to 1.

That Branch Rickey quote rocks.

I like it, but the formula for total outs doesn't include sacrifices.

I may be missing something here, but in re: Rollins, yes he lead the NL in outs but he also led the league in ABs (35 more than the 2nd closest batter, Jose Reyes of the Mets who made 4 less outs than Rollins).

In fact, the 5 NL players with most ABs in 2007 were the top 5 outmakers in the NL (in the same order, too)....

Of those, Rollins (1 in ABs and outs) had an OPS+ of 118, Reyes (2nd in ABs and outs) had an OPS+ of 103, Juan Pierre (3rd in ABs and outs) had an OPS+ of 75, Ryan Zimmerman (4th in ABs and outs) had an OPS+ of 107 and Brandon Phillips (5th in ABs and outs) had an OPS+ of 105.

I don't think Rollins deserved the 2007 MVP, but to point to his having been the biggest outmaker in the 2007 NL as a put-down seems unfair, since he was a much better player than the other 4 players with the most ABs in the NL.

Rollins was 2nd in total bases in 2007 (380, 6 behind Holliday in Colorado), and he was also a pretty effective base stealer (41/46 for an 89%).

JRVJ, Rollins had an excellent year. Nowhere did I state otherwise. But he would have had to slug a lot better and stolen a lot more bases in order to have eclipsed Pujols, Wright, Cabrera, Jones, heck - maybe even his own teammate Chase Utley.

He was one of the better players in the NL but not the MVP. What held him back is that he made outs too frequently.

Right, I also didn't state that Rollins deserved the MVP.

I'm not entirely convinced that he was held back BECAUSE he made outs too frequently, since you accept that if he'd slugged better and/or stolen more bases at an 89% clip, he may have made up the difference.

I would like to point out, however, that 716 ABs at 118 OPS+ is a lot better than an 118 OPS+ with 513 ABs (Chipper Jones, with an admittedly better OPS+ than Rollins at 166) or 565 ABs (Pujols, with an admittedly better OPS+ than Rollins at 157) or 573 ABs (Fielder, with an admittedly better OPS+ than Rollins - 156 - though surely the defensive contributions of Rollins begin to even out the case vis-a-vis Fielder) or 604 ABs (Wright, with an admittedly better OPS+ than Rollins - 150) and 588 ABs (Miguel Cabrera, with an admittedly better OPS+ than Rollins - 150 - though as with Fielder, the defensive contributions of Rollins begin to even this out).

I'm using the line of reasoning that is often used with pitchers, to the effect that pitching more innings at a somewhat lower ERA+ also has some value (again, Rollins had anywhere from 112 more ABs to 200 more ABs than any of the above players, at a tough defensive position - SS - with an OPS+ of 118, which is nothing to sneeze at).

It seems you're confusing PA's and AB's.

I am typing remotely though and do not have time to elaborate. More later if you still feel you have a point after considering the PA/AB thing.

No, I'm using ABs for all, but to simplify, let me list AB/PAs/OPS+ for all the above mentioned.

Rollins 716/778/118
C. Jones 513/600/166
Pujols 565/679/157
P. Fielder 573/681/156
D. Wright 604/711/150
M. Cabrera 588/680/150

I think I get your point now, by using PAs, since the difference in PAs between Rollins and the others is less (67) than with ABs (112).

The irony is that Rollins is not that far behind these other gentlemen in SLG for 2007 (.531 for Rollins, .604 for C. Jones, .568 for Pujols, .618 for Fielder, .533 for Wright and .565 for Miguel Cabrera), so the biggest difference between all these men seems to be OBP based.

Wright is not that far behind Rollins in SB/CS, either (Rollins was 41/46 for 89% effectiveness, Wright was 34/37 for 87% effectiveness), though Rollins does gain a little on the rest of the field due to his SB prowess.

Who would I have voted for as the MVP of the NL in 2007?

Probably Wright, though I can see why Rollins got the MVP (the Mets collapse, Rollins every-day-at-the-ballpark nature and his playing SS).

so the biggest difference between all these men seems to be OBP based

Right, and that was Sully's point from the get go. The intent of the article was to highlight outs as both a counting stat and rate stat (1-OBP).

The case for Rollins as MVP was primarily built upon his outstanding counting stats, as well as the fact that he played for a team that won its division. Add in the fact that Rollins accomplished a rare feat by hitting at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 home runs, and he had both the steak and sizzle that makes for a good storyline.

Although I strongly favored David Wright, Rollins had a terrific season and deserved to be on any short list of players worthy of being named MVP. He was superb at the plate, on the base paths and in the field. While I was pleased that the voters seemed to give him credit for his position, my sense is that little, if any, attention was paid to the difference in park factors and out totals (or 1-OBP). Wright, for his part, played like an MVP in September. The fact that his teammates played poorly should have had no bearing on his candidacy whatsoever.

When the time comes, let's just hope that Wright's HOF credentials aren't damaged by the fact that he may not have an MVP sitting on his mantel.

"The intent of the article was to highlight outs as both a counting stat and rate stat (1-OBP)."

Perhaps, but it would have probably come across clearer if he'd written about Juan Pierre :-)

You are harping too much on Jimmy Rollins here.

I think my article shows Rollins to be merely one of the very best players in the NL as opposed to the MVP. Likewise it could have shown Juan Pierre to be a downright awful player instead of the decent player he is widely regarded to be.

I don't agree that the point would have resonated more had I subbed Pierre in as but one example but you're absolutely right that a thorough analysis of outs paint Pierre in a poor light.

Jurgen - for what it's worth I do not think Rollins was the MVP. But for the purposes of this piece, that's neither here nor there.

All I am saying is that if one set out to discredit Rollins's case, that he led the league in outs would probably be exhibit A.

Sully, the problem is that Rollins was a REASONABLE MVP pick (although I'd have voted for Wright) and you're trying to equate it with an UNREASONABLE HoF vote. It is here and there.

if the point of this article was to create a way to better get the general public to understand the devaluing nature of making outs i think it is a lost cause for now. I mean peoples like conlin, etc. think that "fear" is a stat, how would we get them to come around on something like this.

But a very good concept regardless.

(TB+BB+SB)-(AB-H+CS+GDP)/PA may give a fairly complete picture of a player's value that would take into account bases accrued.

Or, if you want to get extreme with outs:


When did I say Rollins's MVP case was "unreasonable"?

Maybe outs aren't officially assigned to batters because they are a negative stat. The only official negative stat for batters is GIDP, I think. Still, I'd like to see outs in box scores. Didn't the original box scores have them?

Ultimately I think the point of the piece is good, Sully, I just think the Rollins stuff confuses your argument since it seems to conflate the NL MVP with Rice's HoF candidacy.

"The only official negative stat for batters is GIDP, I think."

Strikeouts? Caught stealing? They also tally total ground and air outs, but that doesn't cover everything.

Suppose players A & B both have 650 plate appearances.

Player A does the following:
180 hits, 30 walks, 10 CS, 15 GIDP

Player B:
150 hits, 80 walks, 2 CS, 8 GIDP

Using traditional BA, player A hit .290 while B hit .263. If we consider outs made by including walks in the formula and subtracting caught stealing and GIDPs from the total of hits + walks, A hit .285 while B hit .338.

Do I have it right? If so, might those kind of numbers, which seem to work within a traditional range of averages, be a useful way to identify BA or some other designation that more clearly identifies "outs provided or avoided" as the prime currency?

Adrenaline -- True enough. I typed before I thought. Are groundouts and air-outs official stats?

Bob R. - I think something like that would be great. It would fall short of all-encompassing of course because it does not incorporate slugging but it would be a whole lot better than batting average.