The goal of baseball, at it’s most fundamental level, is to score more runs than the opponent.
The more you get on base as a team (the higher your on base percentage (OBP), the more runs you’re likely to score) and the more extra base hits you get, the faster those base runners will come around to score (slugging percentage (SLG) gives more weight to doubles, triples and homers because, let’s face it, they’re more valuable than singles in producing runs).
Today, the AVG/OBP/SLG split is much more valuable than simply the batting average stat. You can learn more at a glance about a player or team.
A quick blind MLB team comparison…
Team A: .258/.313/.424
Team B: .247/.321/.389
Team C: .261/.311/.376
Team D: .274/.326/.442
So in this comparison, we see that Team B has the lowest AVG, but the second highest OBP. We also see that Team A & Team C have nearly the same AVG, yet the SLG of Team A is nearly .050 points higher than Team C. Finally, we see that Team D is by far the best in all three statistical categories.
Any predictions which MLB teams these are?
Let’s list them in order of overall runs scored starting with the highest.
Team B: Oakland Athletics (676 runs scored). Interesting that the team with the lowest AVG has the most runs. However, this is pretty easy to explain. The A’s walk 9.2% of the time – most in the league – so they get on base more despite their low AVG – but they have decent power too. They are currently lined up to be an AL wild card team but have really struggled over the past month.
Team D: Colorado Rockies (665 runs scored). The Rockies are definitely aided by the thin air in Denver and the outrageously large outfield grass to drop in hits. However, their pitchers have the highest ERA in the league at 4.48, which is why they’re dead last in the NL West and have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Team A: Baltimore Orioles (638 runs scored). Baltimore crushes the ball. They lead the league in HRs and it’s not even close. They have 192. Second is the Rockies with 168. Baltimore doesn’t walk much, which is why their .313 OBP is so low despite the highest SLG in the league at .442. They have the second best record in the bigs and have run away with the AL East.
Team C: Kansas City Royals (579 runs scored). The Royals have one of the best batting averages in the MLB, but they are dead last in walk percentage at 6.1%. The are also in dead last in HRs with only 89 – well less than half of what Baltimore has. They have scored 100 fewer runs than the A’s, yet have the same number of losses on the season. Miraculously, the Royals are in first place in the AL Central. So how have they done it?
The most obvious reason is pitching – the Royals have phenomenal starters and the best 7-8-9 relievers in the game, which means the offense doesn’t need to score as many runs to win.
The second reason is base running. The Royals lead the MLB with 139 stolen bases. These other three teams have way fewer: Rockies have 81, Athletics have 78, and the Orioles are dead last with 39.
The third reason is two facts paired together: the Royals defense is one of the best in the league and they are dead last in strikeouts rate at 16%. This means that they put the ball in play nearly 80% of the time while these other three teams each do about 73% of the time. Over the course of the season, the Royals have given the poorer fielding teams more opportunities to make errors while they have made the plays themselves. Plus, when you put the ball in play, good things can happen. Strikeouts are always unproductive outs.
So we have four different teams. The most impressive AVG/OBP/SLG line is a terrible overall team because of bad pitching, but the other three are all AL contenders for a championship. And they’ve all done it in totally different ways.
Athletics: OBP fuelled by walks.
Orioles: SLG fuelled by home runs.
Royals: seemingly everything else.
I was reading this Fangraphs article this morning about overrated OBP players. Basically, if the goal of getting on base is to score more runs, which hitters do a really good job of getting on, but a bad job of accomplishing that ultimate goal of getting home?
As you’d expect, it’s a bunch of slow guys: designated hitters, catchers and corner infielders who get on base and either have poor hitters coming up behind them or aren’t fast enough to run any farther. David Ortiz, Adam Dunn, Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Kendrys Morales, etc.
No Royals show up on the list. The team is fast and aggressive and despite our sometimes outrageous LOB stats, players don’t get left on base if possible. An infield single with 0 outs is an opportunity to steal second base and two ground balls to the right side scores the run. It’s not difficult stuff when you can do it well.
And that’s the Royals offensive gameplan. With our pitching and defense, that’s all you need to do, and it’s actually working really well. First place is the result we have to show for it. Let’s hope it’s good enough to work for the next two weeks and more too.