Tony La Russa and the Dangerous Concept of On-Base Percentage

Introduction

Last night, Tony La Russa stated in a press conference that “on-base percentage is one of the most dangerous concepts of the last seven, eight years because it forces some executives and coaches and players to think that it’s all about getting on base by drawing walks, and the fact is the guys that have the best on-base percentage are really dangerous hitters whenever they get a pitch in the strike zone.”

Aaron Gleeman immediately noted that the Cardinals finished in the top five in OBP in 11 of the past 12 years, but were in the top five of walk total in just three of those years.

But what about the final part of La Russa’s comment? To me, the quote meant “the players whose OBP relies most on hits will be more dangerous.” So I decided to look at this idea.

Method

I went to Fangraphs and found all players who have had at least 500 plate appearances in the last three years (2009 – 2011). Then, I found their percentage of OBP from hits as calculated by number of hits divided by plate appearances divided by OBP. Then I graphed this versus wOBA, which (from Fangraphs) “combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value.” This should give us a good idea as to who the “dangerous” hitters are. I also found the top 10 players for the Cardinals in terms of plate appearances the last three years and highlighted them.

Results

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All-Days-of-the-Week Team

30 years ago today, Rick Monday hit a home run in the ninth inning of a National League Championship game which broke a tie and allowed the Los Angeles Dodgers to beat the Montreal Expos. The Dodgers eventually won the World Series that year. In honor (or dishonor for Expos fans) of that event, I present the All-Days-of-the-Week Team. And yes, I cheated a little bit on some of them. Clicking on the player’s name will take you to his baseball-reference page.

Rick Monday:

Career bWAR: 32.7

Monday played 19 seasons in the Major Leagues, accumulating over 7,000 plate appearances. He made two all-star games and came in 18th in the MVP balloting in 1976.

Other Mondays: Harry Monday, Michael Monday

James Twohey:

Apparently Tuesday is not a common name or nickname. Maybe it’s just society. Twohey played for the Minneapolis Millers of the Western Association in 1890. Not much is known about him or the rest of the team, but it did feature a player named Scrappy Carroll, so I’m sure they were clutch and grounded out weakly to second a lot.

Dewon Day:

Career bWAR: -0.5

Admittedly, this is the biggest stretch here, but if you use your imagination, you can find “Wednesday” in there somewhere. Day was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and has also spent time in the Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics organizations. In 2010 he played in the Independent Leagues, but there are no stats for him from 2011. He did reach the majors for 13 games in 2007 with the White Sox, where he pitched 12 innings and gave up 15 runs with a 0.78 Strikeout/Walk (K/BB) ratio.

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Theo Epstein’s Transaction History with the Boston Red Sox

Theo Epstein is rumored to be leaving the Boston Red Sox to become the General Manager for the Chicago Cubs this offseason. There will be plenty of conjecture about his tenure in Boston, how he decided to leave and whether or not either team will be better with or without him. I personally believe the Cubs have now become very dangerous in the National League Central Division and that the Red Sox will be just fine.

Anyway, I decided that the best way to really view Epstein’s history with the Red Sox is to look at all his transactions while in charge there. Then, I realized I didn’t have any idea how to best look at this. So, as a service to my fellow baseball writers, I present a spreadsheet with as many of the trades, signings and draft picks Epstein made as the general manager of the Boston Red Sox as I could gather together. The trades and signings come from MLB Trade Rumors Transaction Tracker (thanks to RJ Anderson for showing me this). The draft pick information comes from Baseball-Reference’s Draft section.

The trades and signings are completed as much as was possible from the MLBTR website. A lot of the contract information is missing.

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Frequency of Letters in Team Names (Or, why does baseball hate “H”?)

While working on a completely different project (which I will announce later), I started looking at the letters in Major League team names and came up with this gem: “6 team names start with the letter “R.” No other letter has more than 3 teams that start with it.” (Seriously, why aren’t you following me on Twitter?). Immediately after posting this, the venerable Steve Slowinski says, “SSS. I want to know what’s the least used letter in all teams names.” Well Steve, I’ll do you one better by mapping the frequency of letters in team names (excluding city) against the frequency of letters used in the English language (according to Wikipedia). Boom:

Click to enlarge

The letter “S” is way overused (every team name ends in “s” with the exception of the Red Sox and White Sox) and “H” is barely used. Interestingly enough, of the nine commissioners in MLB history, six have had an “H” somewhere in their name: Happy Chandler, Ford Christopher Frick, Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, Francis Thomas “Fay” Vincent and Allan Huber “Bud” Selig. The commissioners are stealing our fun and our “H”s!


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