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A Simple Solution to a Daunting Issue: How to Score More Runs

October 30, 2009

Brian Sabean appears to be perplexed about something. Perhaps On-Base Percentage?

I love on-base percentage.  I think anybody that appreciates the fine art of baseball statistics realizes that OBP is an important part of the game.  I mean, sure, batting average tells you how many times a hitter gets a hit, and that results with him getting on base.  But OBP goes a bit further to tell us how often the player gets on base as a whole.  So by simple process of logic, OBP should tell you more about a hitter than AVG does.  This is a simple concept that should be embraced by all Major League organizations.

But it’s not in San Francisco, and it drives me nuts.  OBP is essentially as mythical as Bigfoot.  Seriously though, you’d think that after years of NOT scoring runs, the Giants would have figured out by now that well, hey…there might be something to this on-base percentage thing.  I mean, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the simple notion that the more times you get on base, the more likely you are to score runs.  Home runs are nice, yes, because they provide you with at least one run every single time.  But so are walks.  It puts more runners on base, and it’ll increase your run expectancy by about 0.31 runs every time, almost as good as a single!  But it provides some more (albeit small and very hidden) value than a single in a certain sense, because it implies that you’re working the count against the pitcher and making him throw more pitches.

I’m not here to talk about game theory, though, so you’ll have to forgive my little digression.  I just find it so hard to believe that OBP is beyond the cognitive capacity of Brian Sabean.  He talks about On-Base Percentage like he knows something about it, and then acquires players that don’t get on base.  It’s not like they’re not available- oh no, they most certainly are.  He just doesn’t acquire them.  There’s something about situational hitting and free-swinging that seems to attract him.  For some reason I don’t think he gets the concept that baserunners = more runs scoring, so I’ll try to make it a bit more basic…something that he should be able to fully comprehend.  Let’s take a look at the OBP of teams that have won the World Series over the past decade, and let’s see if we find a pattern.

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The average World Series winner over the past 9 years has had an OBP of 0.342- aside from the anomaly that is the 2005 White Sox, these teams are generally around the .345 area, which is about 0.015 points higher than the league average team.  The average team that participated in the World Series over the past decade has had an on-base percentage of 0.342 (and this includes this year’s Phillies-Yankees matchup).  While teams have made it into the World Series with a league average or slightly below league average OBP, those are relatively rare occurrences.  All the same, though, it’s pretty clear that most teams are pretty adept at getting on base.  Now let’s take a look at how the Giants have fared over the past decade:

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San Francisco stopped being a competitive team from 2005-2008, and as much as I’d like to include 2009 as a “competitive season,” I cringe at the thought of referring to them as “competitive”- the Giants overperformed in 2009, no question about it.  Anyways, take a look at the OBP pattern- the Giants were competitive from 2000-2004, where they averaged an OBP of 0.349.  After that?  0.319.  Call it coincidence, call it whatever you want to, but it’s looking like OBP is the culprit to the Giants’ offensive woes.  To make matters worse (and this is what REALLY scares me), the reason why the Giants’ OBP was so good in those first five years is because of one Barry Lamar Bonds.  I did a WOWY (With Or Without You) to see what impact Bonds had on the Giants’ lineup, OBP-wise:

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Take away 2005 (Bonds was injured for the majority of the season) and you’re looking at an average value gained of 41 runs per season due to Bonds’ on-base presence.  Now, I’m not saying that you need a Bonds-type hitter to solve all of your problems, but there’s a clear benefit to bringing in some hitters with decent on-base skills.  If the Giants could only bring their OBP back to league average (that’s all I’m asking), they’ll see an increase of roughly 30-40 runs over the course of a full season, or 3-4 more wins!  And that’s not even by adding a big bopper- just guys that can get on base at a decent rate.  I’m not looking for Sabean to be a miracle worker and turn this club into a .350+ OBP powerhouse, because we all know that’s just not going to happen.  But adding a Nick Johnson here or a Brian Giles there…and you’re going to see the runs begin to pile up.  Not because of situational hitting, mind you, but rather because there’s simply going to be more runners to knock in.

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