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OBI%: The Stat that SHOULD be Used in Fantasy Baseball

Don’t blame Carlos Gonzalez  for the Colorado Rockies demise this year.  When it comes to driving in runs with runners on base, Gonzalez did his job.

Gonzalez led MLB in OBI % in 10.

Gonzalez led MLB in OBI % in '10.

“Others Batted In Percentage,” or OBI%, is a stat that measures the rate at which batters drive in runners on base, given the opportunities presented.  It’s a far more realistic stat than RBI given that not every hitter enjoys the same opportunities to create an RBI.  Come up to bat with the bases empty and there’s only a chance for an RBI if you belt one out of the yard.

Twenty years ago, nobody really knew about WHIP either.  Today, you’ll find a WHIP rating for all pitchers in the listings.  And, it’s not just fantasy players that care about WHIP; managers and general managers care about WHIP too.  It’s become a great tool for evaluating pitchers at all levels.  In fact, as a youth baseball coach, I place the biggest emphasis on WHIP given the increased ease of stolen bases and the larger amount of passed balls, wild pitches, and errors at the high school Varsity and lower levels.

OBI% is the brainchild of Keith Woolner who holds degress from both MIT and Stanford.  I don’t know how good of a baseball player Woolner is or was, but he certainly seems qualified to come up with statistical stuff given his pedigree.  Woolner is the manager of baseball research and analytics for the Cleveland Indians and its hard to imagine what kind of a season the Tribe might have had without his input!

“Looking at a player’s RBI total,” said Woolner, “doesn’t tell you how often he had the opportunity to knock a man in.”

OBI% gives a hitter no extra credit for hitting a homerun as a homerun doesn’t count with OBI as you’re not knocking a base runner in.  “OBI% is designed to measure the number of others you knock in, not yourself,” said Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus.

OBI% is a rate of success rather than the raw numbers associated with the RBI.  It is therefore, the ultimate measure of clutch hitting.

The way it is figured out is this.  When a player comes to bat with a runner on first, he is given an increase in his R1 figures.  It’s the same if a runner is on second base (R2) or third base (R3).  Each of the three categories (R1, R2, R3) are then given a rate from which the player knocks home the run.  Each of the three percentages are then calculated to arrive at a hitter’s OBI%–the average of each of the R1, R2, and R3 rates.

During the 2009 season, Ryan Howard topped the majors with a 12.9% rate on R1.  Atlanta’s Yunel Escobar was tops with 25.4% of R2’s.  The Priates Andrew McCutcheon was successful on 57.5% of R3’s.  McCutcheon was the overall champ with a 19.8% OBI.

In 2010, Carlos Gonzalez led MLB with an OBI% of 22.1%.  A-Rod was second at 21.6% followed by Delmon Young of the Twins at 20.0%, Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado at 19.5% and the Reds’ Joey Votto at 19.4%.

Compare these stats to raw RBI numbers, however, and you see a slightly different story with the exception of A-Rod and Gonzalez.  Miguel Cabrera led MLB with 126, A-Rod at 125, Jose Bautista at 124, then Albert Pujols at 118 and Gonzalez at 117.  Cabrera, the RBI leader, was 10th in OBI % with 18.4%.

To the best of our knowledge, no fantasy baseball stat service is actively employing OBI yet, but expect it to become a common part of fantasy baseball leagues in the future.  You can track OBI% over at Baseball Prospectus which offers more stats than you’ll ever need.  OBI % is also a good indicator of whom you might want to pick up for the 2011 fantasy baseball season.  If you think a particular player’s RBI totals are artifically inflated due to a lucky OBI %, he’ll likely drive in less runs next year.

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