A Small Piece To A Big Puzzle

An article by posted on October 27, 2011

There’s so much talk lately (probably because we’re bored), about what statistics we use when evaluating hitters or what stats we wish management to use to do the same.

It’s mildly amusing to me to see how heated this conversation gets. It always seems to wind up in some discussion centered around Billy Beane, or David Wright. When arguing with a Mets fan, when things start to get stale…just mention one of those two, and you’ve got yourself a few more days worth of arguing!

Recently, Tony LaRussa came out and said “On-base percentage is one of the most dangerous concepts of the last seven, eight years, because it forces some executives and coaches and players to think that it’s all about getting on base by drawing walks.”

First, and foremost, I think he’s missing the point of why people value OBP. I think when critics look at OBP, the “walk” is an easy target to refute any value in the stat.

I don’t think there is a baseball fan alive who would prefer a hitter to draw a walk rather than get a base hit. However, would I prefer that hitter to draw a walk rather than earn an out? You betcha.

Sure, there are moments when a deep fly ball out or a ball hit to the correct side of the infield can score you a run, but generally speaking a walk is better than an out.

Second, I don’t think there is a GM in the sport who relies solely on OBP anymore. It may have been done in the early 2000’s as a way to find guys that nobody was really looking at, solely because they didn’t have the “sexy stats.”

I came across this blog by Dustin Parkes. I found it very informative because a) he didn’t kick and scream and b) he made reasonable arguments. LaRussa is a great, great Manager. But that doesn’t make him right all the time. LaRussa isn’t in charge of building his roster, he’s in charge of making sure they play to the best of their ability.

If LaRussa doesn’t want to build a team with OBP being a part of that equation, then he may want to speak with his GM who is doing that.

Truth be told, I don’t value OBP as much as some people may think I do. I think it’s one chapter in a long book detailing a player’s ability. I do not think there is one single stat that Sandy Alderson can or should look at to decide which players to acquire. Scouts exist for a reason, as do stats. The perfect blend of those two entities can lead to great things.

If you asked me what the one stat I’d look at to determine a hitters ability, I’d look at OPS. Sure, every stat has a flaw. But OPS combined the actual art and impact of a hit, and also adds importance to the walk. I don’t dislike batting average, I just don’t celebrate the statistic.

I never quite understood why critics of sabermetrics focus all of their attention on OBP. As though they think J.P. Ricciardi is being locked in some room and not allowed to come out until he’s properly sorted an excel column from best OBP to worst. It’s just one piece in a very large puzzle.

Carlos Pena hit .225 this year, that tells you he had an awful year and doesn’t tell you he walked 101 times in 2011. But when you look at his OPS of .819, you see a hitter who was above average, not great overall. If you just looked at his batting average you’d see a totally different story.

Everybody who watches this sport, and who manages a team in this sport has a different way of looking at things. If there was one book written on how to think, and how to build a team no matter your budget, then the Royals and Pirates would be competitive every year.

That’s the great part about this game. There’s no 1 way to do things. Everybody has a view as to how things should be done, and what the best way to build a team is. For every LaRussa, there is a Girardi. For every Andrew Friedman there is a Brian Sabean.

If you ask me to look at 5 hitters all who play the same position, the first stat I am looking at to determine their offensive worth is OPS. I feel that paints the best picture of how well a hitter performs year after year.

Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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