Considering I’ve been asked in the comments sections of back-to-back blog posts what the NBA and NHL are, let’s get back to a little baseball talk.
I’m feeling ambitious with this post today. Hopefully, I don’t write too much.
I’d like to tackle to some degree the shift of thinking that we see in baseball today from 15 or 20 years ago regarding the percentage categories.
What has led to this post, you ask?
I made a comment a couple weeks back that got laughed at by some colleagues. I said something like, "Batting average is overrated." It probably didn’t come out right. Of course, it’s an important stat. And when a guy like Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer wins three batting titles, he’s obviously doing something right.
What I should have said was, "Batting average is overrated compared to on-base and slugging percentages."
Mauer swept all three of those percentage categories last year, which SI’s Tom Verducci and a lot of other writers now dub as being "the modern-day triple crown."
As great as it was that Mauer hit .365, he reached base at a .444 clip. That’s right. When he came to the plate, there was a 44.4 percent chance he’d reach base. Pretty impressive.
To me, the two most important things a hitter can do is get on base and drive the ball. OBP and SLG (or combining those numbers to create OPS) make a lot of sense. That’s not to diminish batting average, but of the three, I’d say it’s the least important. Because a hitter’s job should be to either get on base at a high rate, or drive the ball with great efficiency. OBP and SLG best provide those numbers.
I’ll give you a couple of different Twins players as examples.
One of the Twins’ offseason acquisitions was Jim Thome. Thome’s a highly regarded bat, but he’s in the twilight of his career as the age of 40 fast approaches.
Thome’s TV broadcast stat from last year are: .249, 23 HR, 77 RBI
Those are good power numbers, but that average doesn’t set the world on fire.
But Thome reached base 36 percent (.361) of the time he came to the plate, and he slugged .481. His OPS last year was second-best among AL designated hitters before getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As I wrote when the Twins agreed to terms with Thome last month, his OBP was higher than anyone else’s on the Twins roster except for Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel and Denard Span. His SLG was higher than everyone else’s except Mauer, Kubel, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer.
Long story short: Thome’s got plenty of pop left in that bat.
My other example would be Twins left fielder Delmon Young. Young finished last season hitting .284, which is 35 points higher than Thome. It’s a good number. You can make a good living hitting .284 every year.
But Young doesn’t walk. Those who like him call him "a free swinger." Those who don’t say he lacks plate discipline.
Young reached base at a .308 clip last year, over 50 points less than Thome’s .361. And Young slugged .425, which is 55 points less than Thome’s .481.
Of course, Young is an outfielder and Thome can’t play anywhere in the field. I’m not trying to compare the players as a whole. I just want to compare the hitters and their abilities to get on base and slug.
Finding hitters that can do those two things is the approach we’re seeing a lot of teams take now. Teams want guys who can keep innings alive. If you have a guy who gets out less than another guy, it doesn’t matter what their batting averages are.
As in the case mentioned above, if Thome gets on base 5 percent more often than Young, then 1 out of 20 times during a game Thome will keep an inning alive where as Young would not.
It’s that poker mentality. Teams play the percentages and hope in the end it pays off.