Friday, March 04, 2011

The Most Basic Baseball Stat

I think anyone who is still reading this blog is familiar with the batting average/on base percentage/ slugging average statistical trio.  It gives us a good summary of offensive production combining the ability to hit for average, to get on base and to hit for power.  In many ways, it is batter than the traditional combination of batting average/ home runs/ runs batted in. One drawback, however, is that all three components are rate statistics that do not reward players for playing time.  Certainly a player who hits .300/.360/.500 in 600 plate appearances contributes more to his team than a player with the same line in 200 plate appearances.

Whereas rates statistics measure a players excellence during the time he played, counting statistics such as hits (instead of batting average) and total bases (instead of slugging) give a player credit for durability.  We are familiar with the popular hit milestones such as 200 hits in a season and 3,000 hits for a career.  It would make sense that we also look at Times On Base (TOB), as it would tell us more about a player's value to his team; yet this measure is not tracked on any popular web site on a regular basis.

There are surely more complex metrics such as Batting Runs and  Weighted Runs Created that do consider playing time as well as excellence.  They will tell you more about a player's overall production than Times On Base, but sometimes it is good to step back and look at more basic numbers not requiring fancy weights and adjustments.  And what could be simpler or more basic than the number of times a player reaches base?

How often do the best hitters get on base?  Last year, there were 19 players in MLB who reached base on a hit, a walk or a hit batsman 250 or more times.  Reaching base 300 times is very difficult and has happened only 144 times since 1871.  That comes out to about one player per year.  As seen in Table 1, nobody reached that mark last year.  Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols came the closest with 290.  Pujols reached base 310 times in 2009.    

Table 1: MLB Times On Base Leaders, 2010


Player
Team
PA
H
BB
HBP
TOB
Albert Pujols
SLN
700
183
103
4
290
Prince Fielder
MIL
714
151
114
21
286
Rickie Weeks
MIL
754
175
76
25
276
Joey Votto
CIN
648
177
91
7
275
Miguel Cabrera
DET
648
180
89
3
272
Adrian Gonzalez
SDN
692
176
93
2
271
Daric Barton
OAK
686
152
110
3
265
Robinson Cano
NYA
696
200
57
8
265
Billy Butler
KCA
678
189
69
5
263
Matt Holliday
SLN
675
186
69
8
263

The highest single season TOB total in the history of baseball was Babe Ruth's 379 in 1923.  The top ten list (Table 2) is dominated by Ruth, Barry Bonds and Ty Cobb. 

Table 2: All-Time MLB Single Season Times On Base Leaders


Player
Team
Year
PA
H
BB
HBP
TOB
Babe Ruth
NYA
1923
699
205
170
4
379
Barry Bonds
SFN
2004
617
135
232
9
376
Ted Williams
BOS
1949
730
194
162
2
358
Barry Bonds
SFN
2002
612
149
198
9
356
Billy Hamilton
PHI
1894
679
220
126
9
355
Babe Ruth
NYA
1921
693
204
145
4
353
Babe Ruth
NYA
1924
681
200
142
4
346
Ted Williams
BOS
1947
693
181
162
2
345
Wade Boggs
BOS
1988
719
214
125
3
342
Barry Bonds
SFN
2001
664
156
177
9
342


You may know that there are 27 players who have reached 3,000 hits.  You probably haven't heard that there are 42 players with 4,000 TOB lifetime.  Pete Rose has the most hits (4,256) and TOB (5,929) lifetime largely because he had such a long career.  After Rose, the hit and TOB leaders start to look different. Bonds, Rickey Henderson,and Ruth, are not near the top of the all-time hit leaders, but finished second fourth and ninth respectively on the TOB list largely due to their high walk totals.  


Table 3: Lifetime MLB Times On Base Leaders 


Player
First year
Last year
PA
H
BB
HBP
TOB
Pete Rose
1963
1986
15,861
4,256
1,566
107
5,929
Barry Bonds
1986
2007
12,606
2,935
2,558
106
5,599
Ty Cobb
1905
1928
13,072
4,189
1,249
94
5,532
Rickey Henderson
1979
2003
13,346
3,055
2,190
98
5,343
Carl Yastrzemski
1961
1983
13,991
3,419
1,845
40
5,304
Stan Musial
1941
1963
12,712
3,630
1,599
53
5,282
Hank Aaron
1954
1976
13,940
3,771
1,402
32
5,205
Tris Speaker
1907
1928
11,988
3,514
1,381
103
4,998
Babe Ruth
1914
1935
10,616
2,873
2,062
43
4,978
Eddie Collins
1906
1930
12,037
3,315
1,499
77
4,891

 Obviously, we don't want to use Times On Base in isolation any more than we would use hits or home runs alone to define a player.  However, I do think it's nice to know which players reached base the most often in a given year before getting to the more complex metrics.  I'll look at the Tigers in a later post.  

Note: The raw data used to calculate Times On Base came from Lahman's database.

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