All Star Repost: OBP or AVG?

[learn_more caption="All Star Repost" state="open"] The OBP vs. AVG debate rages on. [/learn_more]

Numbers rule in baseball. This is a phenomenon that predates the 2002 Oakland A’s season documented in Moneyball by three years. In For the Love of the Game, Billy Chapel very clearly told Jane Aubrey, “We Count Everything“. Actually, counting everything predates a severely over-acted but ultimately successfully emotional Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston movie, baseball has counted everything for, well, ever.

The Moneyball phenomenon didn’t even change the amount of stats that are kept. Seriously, can we view stats the way that teams keep players? If a team wants to bring up some stud phenom, they have to make room for him on the roster. Not with stats. If some new stat is developed, it just joins the endless list of other stats. The only question is, how are they valued. Even that changes based on who you ask. We’re only two paragraphs in and my head is starting to hurt, so I’m going to get to the point.

OBP vs. AVG. What’s more valuable? It’s a question that really came to a head in 2012, when the AL MVP debate was lingering. Miguel Cabrera had the higher average (.330 to .326), Mike Trout had the higher OBP (.399 to .393). Which one matters more? Honestly, in both of those cases, both player’s totals in both categories were so high and the numbers are so close that it’s hard to draw much difference.

Well, if you’re stuck between a few fantasy options, the answer is simple. Which one does your league count? Most count average, as it’s the more traditional stat. Some are moving towards OBP, though. If you’re in that camp, go with the guys who are better there. that’s pretty simple.

But I’d like to take on this debate from this perspective. If you’re an LM starting a league, which should you count?

The argument

In theory, a walk is just as impressive as a single. Actually, it could be more impressive. A walk (not an HBP, however), takes at least four pitches. A hit can take one. If you’re facing a strong starting pitcher and your opponent has a weak bullpen (especially weak bullpen depth), you want to run that pitch count up.

In bygone eras, that wasn’t such a big deal, as top pitchers finished what they started. We just passed the 50-year anniversary of perhaps the greatest game ever pitched, when Juan Marichal and the Giants beat Warren Spahn and the Braves 1-0 in 16 innings, with both pitchers going the distance, throwing well over 200 pitches.

Note: I’d actually planned to talk more about this game on a little tangent here, but the tangent was too long and it got too off track from my point. Also, that game isn’t really fantasy relevant. But, for you baseball history nerds like me, I talk about it all at the bottom.

Pitch count is a very big deal now, especially for a young starter. So if you’re facing a stud, it stands to reason that you’ll want him out of the game ASAP so you can get into those long to middle relievers. In that case, the walk wins in a landslide.

There are a few counters to that argument.

  1. A walk may be the same as a single, but it’s not the same as an extra-base hit. That’s where stats like total bases and slugging come into play.
  2. A walk is the same as a single (or even better) if nobody is on base. What if there’s two outs, a man on third and, a weak hitter (or even a pitcher) behind you. Drawing a walk may leave that runner stranded. A hit would bring him in. Even if there’s just a man on first, a single could advance him to third. With less than two outs, that’s a huge deal, especially later in the game. A walk wouldn’t do that. You’d be relying on the next hitter to come through.

The answer for an LM

Actually, there are a few answers to this.

  1. Count them both: If not both, then count some variation of both. Maybe count batting average and walks, OBP and hits, or even walks and hits. The best real teams are ones that can mix it up and beat you in a lot of ways. The idea of fantasy baseball is to see who can field the most complete team. Why not throw a few wrinkles in there. I’ve played in all kinds of leagues and I can say that my favorites ARE NOT the traditional 5×5 leagues. No, my favorite leagues have been 6×6, or even 7×7. Of the two ideas, this is the one that I’m most partial to. Still, let’s move on to the next. 
  2. Split the difference: Count OPS. Not the first time I’ve written about this, and won’t be the last. The arguments above are all accurate and to my eye and mind, have pretty equal validity. Yes, I want to draw extra pitches out of a pitcher. Not only does that make it more likely that I’ll see the bullpen earlier than they want, but it also increases the chances of him throwing a bad pitch. Obviously, if one at-bat goes one pitch, and another goes seven, the one that goes seven will statistically have more bad pitches, especially if the pitcher is tired. So, even if I walk and the hitter behind me isn’t as good as I am, he’s seen a bunch of pitches and now is even more likely to see a bad one in his AB. That increases his chances tenfold.But the S in OPS, slugging, doesn’t factor walks. Nope, hits are all that count there, and doubles are more valuable than singles, triples are more valuable than doubles, and homers are more valuable than triples. It’s not neglecting batting average at all, only applying weight to more valuable hits. Again, I’d only recommend this if for some reason your league didn’t want to count more than five hitting categories. But, this is a good compromise.

In case anyone is wondering, Miggy edged Trout in both slugging (.606 to .564) and OPS (.999 to .963), all staggering numbers from both guys.

  • Tangent before the big one: With the emergence of Trout and Bryce Harper, we may look back at 2012 like past generations looked back at 1951, when both Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle debuted in the majors. Yeah, Trout and Harper have a ways to go for that, but they look pretty impressive. But years from now, 2012 may also be looked at in the same way that 1941 was, when Joe DiMaggio had his 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams hit .406. DiMaggio edged Teddy Ballgame for the AL MVP (the lesson in both: make the postseason). The 2012 race will suffer in hype because not only are the Tigers and Angels not really rivals, but they’re not the Yankees and Red Sox.

But both Miggy and Trout were off the charts in 2012 (mind you, we haven’t even discussed their counted stats). Even better, they’re both on remarkable clips in 2013. Better than that? We’ll go ahead and round up a few weeks and say that Trout is 22, while Miggy is only 30 and is the kind of player that can excel into his mid and even late-30’s. We may be watching these guys do their thing for the better part of a decade. I’m sorry if you’re a fan of a rival team of either, but that’s extremely exciting for fans of the game, fantasy and real.

  • Big Tangent: My dad was not even 10 when the Marichal vs. Spahn game was played. It was a full 22 years (plus about one month) before I was born. Unique as it was, it was a regular season game in early July in a year where neither team really factored into the NL pennant race. The Giants finished 16 games behind the eventual World Series winning Dodgers, while the Braves were 33 games behind LA. It didn’t have significance in a pennant race. Still, living in the Bay Area, I’ve heard stories about this game my whole life. Here are a few:
  1. Alvin Dark, manager of the Giants was worried about Marichal’s arm. Marichal said something to the effect of this: “As long as the old man (Spahn, who smoked cigarettes between innings, was 42) is still in, I’m not coming out.”
  2. Willie McCovey thought he won the game on a majestic home run in the 9th inning. But the ball was called foul, presumably incorrectly (we’ll never know, which makes it even better). After the game, McCovey said something like: “I don’t blame the umpire for staring at the ball so long that he missed the call. I really hit that thing, it was impressive.”
  3. After the Braves’ half of the 16th inning, Marichal said to Willie Mays that he wasn’t sure if he could do a 17th inning. Mays said, “Okay, I’ll take care of it for you,” and proceeded to hit the game winning home run.
  4. Not a story or quote, but SEVEN future Hall of Fame players played in the game. Both Marichal and Spahn, Mays, McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Eddie Mathews, and Hank Aaron. The Cooperstown bound players were a combined 4-for-38 (.105 average) with two walks (one for Mays, one for Aaron), and Spahn collected one of the hits.
  5. The game lasted 4:10. It’s a product of no commercial timeouts, teams not scoring and not really threatening that often, and pitchers throwing strikes. As a point of comparison, in 2011, I went to an A’s vs. Yankees game in New York. In the later innings, the Yankees fans behind me were talking about how quick the game was going. That game was a nine-inning game that wasn’t even especially high scoring (a 4-3 final). It took 3:43. Again, the home team’s fans called it a quick game. Times have changed.

I’m 28-years-old and have lived in the Bay Area all my life. If someone told me that I’ve heard stories about that game 1,000 times, I wouldn’t even think to second guess that person. Still, stories about it NEVER get old. Any time I hear a player or even a fan who was there talk about that game, I focus on it as closely as I would the sixth lottery ball when the previous five numbers hit. It’s a game that we will never see again.

Again, Marichal at the time was 25 and as you’d probably expect, very highly touted. Bruce Bochy faced some criticism for allowing Tim Lincecum to throw 148 pitches — in a no-hitter. Can you imagine if Stephen Strasburg went 16 innings a game today? Forget 16, what about 10, or even 9? If that happened, I’d set the over/under on minutes it takes after the game for Davey Johnson to be fired at 5, and I’d bet the under. Actually, in the case of 16 innings, I’d bet he’d be fired around the 11th inning or so.

Tags: AVG Batting Average Hits League Manager Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout OBP Walks

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