I’ll still talk about it. I’ll still write about it. I’ll even still use it to analyze players. But by itself, batting average is as close to useless a stat as you can get. On-base percentage shows everything batting average shows and more.
It’s easy to look at a player with a batting average over .300 and think he’s a good player. It’s simple to just take that stat and assume that hitter can contribute. Yet, succeeding at the plate (success in this case means getting a hit) 30% of the time is impressive only if that player is also getting on base in other ways. Let’s take a look at some of the league leaders in batting average verse some of the leaders in on-base percentage. Only players with at least 300 plate appearances will be considered.
Top 5 in batting average:
Adrian Gonzalez .345
Michael Young .336
Jose Reyes .336
Ryan Braun .334
Miguel Cabrera .328
Top 5 in OBP:
Jose Bautista .453
Joey Votto .438
Miguel Cabrera .432
Prince Fielder .409
Adrian Gonzalez .406
There’s a bit of variation here, but we still see two of the same players we saw on the BA list. Let’s break this down further.
The league average for BA and OBP are .255 and .320 respectively. There are currently 19 players who are at .255 or lower in batting average but higher than .320 in OBP. Conversely, there 14 players whose BA is at or above league average but have an OBP lower than league average.
Let’s take this analysis deeper, to a specific player level. Prince Fielder is hitting .295, which is nothing to ignore and a very nice average. But it’s only 15.7% higher than the league average. I’d be willing to bet a quick salary check reveals Fielder’s pay to be more than 15.7% higher than league average, so hopefully he’s contributing elsewhere. And he is. In home runs and OBP. His .409 OBP ranks him 27.8% better than league average.
Below are three other players whose BA’s wouldn’t suggest they are much more special than average but their OBP’s do:
Lance Berkman: .289 BA (13.3% better than average)/.405 OBP (26.5% better than average)
Nick Swisher: .267 BA (4.7% better than average)/.383 OBP (19.7% better than average)
Kevin Youkalis: .266 BA (4.3% better than average)/.380 OBP (18.8% better than average)
Finally, there are more players with a higher than average OBP than there are players with a higher than average BA. There is quite a bit of talent out there being undervalued because of batting average alone.
Many articles have touched on BA vs. OBP, and it seems increasingly clear that batting average means far less than OBP. So as I continue to hypocritically analyze players based on batting average and be awed by players hitting for a high average, remember OBP means so much more.