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The Secret Fantasy Stat: On Base Percentage

Today’s guest writers are Tim Lander and Ryan Jones from Fantasy Baseball Scholars.  If you’d like to write for Fantasy Baseball Dugout, contact us.  We are always looking for great content like this for our site.

Ichiro Suzuki is a great baseball player. His first Ten seasons in the major leagues have produced the following… Ten Straight 200+ Hit seasons, 10 Gold Gloves, 10 Consecutive All Star Game appearances including MVP of the 2007 All Star Game,  AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP in his innagural season of 2001. Impressive resume no doubt about it. Ichiro however, is not a great fantasy baseball player. Ichiro is a fantasy farce because as you will see, Ichiro doesn’t get on base as much as you think.

Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki: Not a great fantasy player.

On Base Percentage is defined as the following: the measure of how often a batter reaches base for any reason other than a fielding error, fielder’s choice, dropped/uncaught third strike, fielder’s obstruction, or catcher’s interference (the latter two are ignored as either times-on-base (TOB) or plate appearances in calculating OBP).

More simply, Hits + Walks + HBP dividided by At Bats + BB + HBP + SF = On Base Percentage(OBP).  The major league average is about .340 in the modern era.

Lets get back to Ichiro. Through June 23rd Ichiro has 86 hits and 22 BB, is batting .278(low for him) with an OBP of .325. Compare that to Joey Votto who has appx. the same number of hits with 87, but has 57 BB  batting .317 with an OBP of .441. So Ichiro has been on base 108 times via hit or walk, Votto 144. The differential between Ichiro’s OBP and batting average is 47 basis points, Votto 124 basis points. Most scouts and big league hitting coaches want a spread of 60-70 points between average and OBP so that the player is productive.  In half a season Votto has been on base 36 more times than Ichiro. Translated to a full season thats 70 or so more times Joey Votto will be on base than our beloved Japanese All Star. So whats the big deal? Well Ichiro can’t score or steal if he isn’t on the basepaths. Ichiro has 40 Runs scored this season, Votto 50. Joey Votto has more opportunities to score more runs because he is on base more often. At current pace Votto would score roughly 20 more runs than Ichiro this season. Twenty runs might not sound like a big number – but translate that into your fantasy roster on multiple players. Most Leagues are now 5 X 5 using runs scored as the fifth offensive category. How many runs scored would it take to move up a couple spots in the standings? Would 40-60 More Runs move you up a couple points? If your fantasy team receives more opportunities by being on base more often, it helps your team in two categories, runs scored and stolen bases, simply by having more opportunity to do both.

Major League Managers in real life don’t care how their players get on base. They just want them on base because they have the opportunity to score a run. The Boston Red Sox lead the majors with a .353 OBP as of June 23rd, 2011. It is not coincedence they also lead the majors in runs scored. The more a player can get on base, the more opportunities they have to score a run. The Red Sox need to score runs to win. It is equally important to your fantasy team. Seems so simple yet most fantasy owners do little more than give a passing glance at OBP. The fantasy league we play in switched from batting average to OBP as a category and it totally changed the way we look at a players production. It took Adam Dunn from being a power guy with a sub .250 batting average and having to tolerate it for his power, and turned him into a fantasy stud using OBP because you could count on him for 100 walks and 100 runs per season. Yes we know Adam Dunn stinks so far this year but that isn’t the point. Walk totals have a big impact on production – ask any big league manager. Most players will have a mini slump during the season where they go 0-15, but if they take four or five walks in those games they are still getting on the basepaths and have opportunities to score runs. Look at the last 3 games played for Mark Reynolds who is batting .227 on the year. From 6/24-6/26 in a three game stretch he went 1-8 but drew 5 walks making him 6-13 in for on base purposes (.462 OBP). Reynolds has a .355 OBP for the season giving him a 128 basis point increase from his batting average. Take a quick glance at the league leaders in runs as of June 23rd and then scan over to OBP- there is a direct correlation. Of the top fourteen players in runs scored this season, only one (Drew Stubbs at .324 OBP) has an OBP lower than .350. Seven of those 14 players have an OBP of .380 or better, five of the fourteen are over .400 OBP.

Even when Ichiro gets hot and he will - you know he wont hit .278 forever – his career norm OBP differential from batting average is 45 basis points. So even when he gets his average up to .320 that will give him a .365 OBP, just slightly above the major league norm in the modern era. Votto, Braun, Fielder and others add about 100 basis points to their .300+ average with an OBP of .400+. Votto, Braun, & Fielder will score more runs because they are on base more often than our buddy Ichiro. Ichiro just can’t carry a fantasy team. He steals bases and if you bought him for that reason then he is producing as always. At this point in the season it is difficult for one player to impact the average or OBP category much. Ichiro doesn’t hit many Homers(zero this season) or have many RBI’s, and his runs scored is middle of the pack. So he helps you in average if you use that category, and steals. A two category player won’t carry your fantasy team. That’s why Ichiro is a farce in fantasy. If you acquired him on draft day you drafted the name and the average, but aren’t getting much else beyond stolen bases. Odds are you used a fairly high round selection, or paid more in an auction league, than what he is really worth. This is a second division strategy.

Use OBP as your secret weapon in your league even if your league uses batting average as a category. Take a look at the top players, they consistently have an OBP of .350+ and have high walk totals. The top players will carry an OBP of .390+. Take a peak at the team in first place in your league – guarantee they have players that are very solid in On Base Percentage.  OBP tells you how important an individual player is to his real life team by giving their team more opportunities to score runs. High OBP Players will give your fantasy team more opportunities to score runs and steal bases. In the bottom of the ninth in a tie game Jacoby Ellsbury who is 0-3 on the night, walks to lead off the inning and steals second base. The Red Sox now have Pedroia, Gonzo, Youk, & Big Papi to potentially drive home the winning run. You think Terry Francona is worried about his 0-3? No – by taking a walk Ellsbury put the Sox in a position to score the winning run without getting a base hit. That’s solid fundamental baseball. That’s a winning strategy in fantasy baseball.

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