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Scoring Changes: On Base Percentage over Batting Average

Back in the day when fantasy baseball was in its infancy, the standard 5×5 categories many leagues still use today seemed like a good thing.  Well times they are a changing.  Stats have evolved over the years, especially with the introduction and advanced use of sabermetrics throughout our real and fake teams.  So if things have come this far, then why are we still using the same archaic scoring methods that were instituted by our founding fathers? 

That’s a reasonable question, right?  If you ask an individual you can probably have reasonably civilized conversation.  Pose this question to the masses though, and you’ll hear the outcries and irrational debates from the masses.  Change just for the sake of change is not always good, but some changes are overdue and this is one of them.  So are you one of those people staunchly against removing the batting average category from your league?  Well then, let me see if I can convince you otherwise.

First of all, what is on base percentage?  In the simplest terms, on base percentage (OBP) calculates how many times a batter reaches base excluding instances such as fielder’s choice and errors.  This means, unlike with batting average, walks are calculated into the equation.  Walks are an important part of baseball.  The more walks you accumulate the more times you’re on base.  This means added run scoring potential as well as stolen base opportunities, both of which are standard scoring categories in basic 5×5 leagues.  In fantasy, we count those runs and stolen bases regardless of who that person reached base, so why should the batter get credit for how he got on base as well?

Batting average simply takes hits into account.  If we’ve learned any one thing from Moneyball it’s that guys that get on base are important regardless of how they do it.  Now I know I’m not going to convince you of anything without some numbers to back things up.  Let’s compare players in the top 20 for batting average to the OBP leaders.  I’ll exclude players like Andrew McCutchen, Jose Altuve and Miguel Cabrera who appear on both lists.

Player BA Player OBP
Justin Morneau .319 Jose Bautista .403
Josh Harrison .315 Giancarlo Stanton .395
Buster Posey .311 Anthony Rizzo .386
Ben Revere .306 Freddie Freeman .386
Denard Span .302 Mike Trout .377
Lorenzo Cain .301 Dexter Fowler .375
Melky Cabrera .301 Matt Carpenter .375
Adam Eaton .300 Matt Holliday .370
Howie Kendrick .293 Hanley Ramirez .369

First compare the names on the left to the ones on the right.  Notice anything?  With the exception of Buster Posey, did you draft any player from the left side before any player on the right?  OK there is Dexter Fowler, but there are always a few exceptions with any example.  The players on the right are the superior players, Matt Carpenter included.  While he didn’t live up to expectations, Carpenter did score 99 runs.  The only players to score more runs from either list all come from the right side, Bautista and Trout.  Denard Span was 10th in the league in scoring runs (like I said, an exception to every rule) but the next highest player from the left side is Howie Kendrick down at #30.  Everyone else on the left had 81 or fewer runs scored where everyone on the right scored more than 81 times except Hanley and Fowler (who both had under 450 at bats due to injuries).

So OBP=Runs, Billy Beane was right.  That doesn’t mean that the players on the left are bad, but they are inferior to the players on the right when it comes to scoring runs (and several other categories).  Justin Morneau had a fine season, but 17 home runs and 62 runs scored hardly make him the better fantasy player.  Lorenzo Cain stole 28 bases, but with 53 RBIs and 55 runs scored that .301 average is kind of empty, don’t you think?  So far OBP favors the better overall player.

We’ve looked at the players with the higher batting averages, now let’s look at some of those players with low averages who were cursed at and ignored in fantasy.  We’ll start with last years whipping boy Carlos Santana and his .231 batting average.  We all loved his power and RBI numbers, but he dragged our averages down like the Titanic.  It might surprise you to know that Santana had a .365 OBP thanks in part to his 113 walks.  As a catcher we can tolerate low averages if a player hits for power, but not from someone who plays first (or third).  Using OBP though, Santana’s numbers were equal to Morneau in 3 categories and he had 10 more home runs. 

Brian Dozier is another low average players the batting average purists love to hate.  He hit .242, but the rest of his numbers were superior to most players at second.  We complained about his average but nobody took into account that he walked 89 times and scored 112 runs.  If you’re going to count all those extra runs he scored because of the walks you should count the walks as well, and that’s something batting average doesn’t do.  While looking for a comparable player to Dozier, one interesting names came up.  Look at these two batting lines.

Player  Runs  Hits  BB  HR  BA  OBP 
Dozier 112 145  89  23  .242  .345 
Player X 111  176  58  21  .287  .351

Equal power and equal run scoring abilities, yet using batting average, Dozier is inferior.  It doesn’t seem fair that two players of equal skills are ranked so far apart in fantasy, but player X had 31 more hits while Dozier had 31 more walks with the same results.  If you’re a numbers guy you might have guess who player X is, but for those that haven’t figured it out, it’s Anthony Rendon.  Rendon is shooting up draft boards while Dozier is left waiting until the mid-early rounds.  If there was a poster boy for using OBP over BA, it’s Dozier. 

Josh Donaldson hit .255 and scored 93 runs; think some of those 76 walks helped him out?  Brandon Moss was the man to own in the first half even with a .268 BA, but was dropped like a rock in the second half where he hit .173.  His OBP slipped from .349 down to .310, but at least he was still playable thanks in part to 14.8% walk rate.  Adam Dun hit .219 in 2013 and while he hit 34, owners cursed him.  Forget the 76 walks and .320 OBP though, it doesn’t count in fantasy.  In 2012 Dunn hit 41 home runs and scored 87 times, but a .204 batting average had him on America’s most hated list.  Using OBP you could have had .333 thanks in part to his 105 walks which batting average didn’t take into consideration.  Dunn’s value in 2012 using OBP was slightly above Adam Jones and his 34 walks.  Dunn had 71 more walks and Jones had 76 more hits, similar results but Jones is rewarded for being on base an equal amount of times. 

You can make similar cases for mid-range average guys like Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward who had averages in the .270 but on base percentages in the .350’s because they could draw walks.  I know, you could just add walks as a category but in doing so you would be penalizing players like Jones along with some of the players from the BA leaders above like Lorenzo Cain, Ben Revere and Josh Harrison.  Now you’re still gonna have those high empty OBP guys just like you would empty BA guys; nothing you can do about that, no system is perfect.  The difference is the right players are being rewarded.  If your hits and walks are equal you are getting on base at an equal clip, right?  Getting on base helps your team, just ask Billy Beane. 

Some of the arguments I’ve seen for not switching are:

It makes power hitters more valuable. 

Some of these can be dismissed while others can be countered.  You can say power hitters are more valuable because they draw walks, but there are also non power hitters that draw walks that would benefit as well.  A majority of those power hitters are early round picks so you’re really putting their value where it should be as opposed to increasing it.  If anything, the non power hitters that draw high walks benefit more from this. 

It waters down the importance of the category and waters down the bad play of many.
You are more willing to use players despite their weakness as a player.

It waters down bad play of many and you are more willing to use players despite their weakness as a player are one-sided arguments made to favor BA.  Doesn’t batting average reward hits and dismiss players that walk.  And since when is drawing walks considered bad play, it’s a basic fundamental taught throughout the minors and is a sign of a patient hitter.  The weak hitters are the ones that can’t draw walks, and those players can be seen hacking away with a sub-par batting average when then get close to or in their 30’s.

A hit is more valuable than a walk. 
With a hit you can drive in runs more frequently if men are on base.

A hit is more valuable than a walk?  Why?  Your team pays you to get on base.  Granted they want players that can hit, but they also see the advantage of the guy that can draw walks.  Sure the guy that gets a hit can drive in runs more frequently if men are on base, I can’t argue with that.  In the same respect, we don’t put an asterisk next to the runs driven in because the guy in front of you walked.  On the flip side, the guy who walks more has more opportunities to score runs, so you’re trading one category for the other. 

Just because OBP is a better stat in real life does not mean it is a better stat in fantasy. 

The final argument is correct in its sentiment, just because a category is better in real life does not mean it is better in fantasy.  In this case though, OBP is the better category.  BA isn’t the only thing that needs to be changed.  I’ve made arguments for several other category changes in the past (which you can view below) and I’m sure there will be more arguments for change in the future.  Remember this game originally started out as 4×4, runs and strikeout were not included and were added later.  Someone realized the addition of these two categories would be beneficial, and it was a change that was easily made and accepted.  If they could realize back then that the game needed something else, we should be able to do the same thing today.  Granted it will never be a universal change due to the number of fantasy players today compared to 80’s and 90’s, but with so many sites allowing for customized scoring systems, it is something you can do for your league.

I’ve given you some things to think about, but even if you want to ignore everything I said there is one argument you should give a second thought to.  Batting average basically equals hits.  OBP equals hits and walks.  You can add hits as another category but that would be redundant since you already have batting average.  You could add walks as a sixth category but then you’re left with trying to find another category to add to the pitchers side to even things out which could cause more headaches.  Changing BA to OBP just makes sense as it covers the two basic ways a player gets on base and shows the true value of that player.  Hits are nice, but there is more to baseball than that.

Give it a try, even if it’s just for a year.  You can switch back next year if everyone is unhappy.  Remember, it’s just a game.….

Previous Articles on Scoring Changes
Quality Starts over WinsSaves+Holds over SavesOBP over batting average

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Jim Finch
The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball. You can also find me at FanRagSports.com
Jim Finch

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10 comments on “Scoring Changes: On Base Percentage over Batting Average

  1. Great article, I’m posting to my league page now!
    One additional arguement would be that if pitchers are penalized for walking a batter (WHIP) then you should reward the player on the other side (OBP). I think OBP just balances out the 5×5 scoring that much more.

  2. I am in a 14 team league with average and OPS, wish it was OPS and OBP. I had Dozier in that league, the year before I had Altuve and Dozier. I went after SanDiego’s Cabrera what a mistake. Hope to have Altuve and Dozier this year but for value Altuve looks to be a early 2nd round pick, that is to high for me, I would rather get a guy with power and RBI’s in the first two rounds.

  3. Hey guys!!!

    first time poster, but many of you guys know me from sportshoopla…

    Just wanted to put my 2 cents on this subject:

    I still lean towards BA over OBP(but I don’t have a problem being in leagues that do OBP instead).

    Here is why I like BA better

    Although, you are correct that OBP is not necessarily power related and there are non power hitters that have good OBPs, the problem is not that it waters down a category but that it waters down the value of the non power hitter…

    Generally speaking, low average non power guys do not make fantasy teams, and this doesn’t change that, but it does increase the value of low BA power hitters because most of them have good OBPs, and by increasing their value you are now decreasing the value of good BA guys who do not hit for power…

    I feel like OBP hurts the strategic side of draft day, because you can pretty much forget about the category since it seems like power guys are all on top… and I don’t believe that power is the only important thing in baseball, and certainly should not be in fantasy…

  4. Welcome Milk!

    I think it is an oversimplification to say that OBP favors power hitters. OBP favors better hitters, and many of those better hitters have power.

    For every Dunn, there is a Ben Revere who gets grossly overvalued in BA leagues. I will take the stat that better correlates with the best players, and that is OBP.

    • you know i can debate these topics forever… I love theoretical fantasy… In fact i like the theoretical and strategic discussions more than talking about actual players…

      What i like about BA is that it makes players valuable that the rest of the categories don’t… And it actually HURTS other players value… I don’t see OBP to do it as much, all it does is makes the players who are already valuable without the category more valuable…

      I just think that BA adds more strategy and demands for more balance to your lineup than OBP does… and i am all about strategy!!!

  5. The only category that I think should change on the offensive side is HRs, and it should change to XBH… But even though I think that should happen I would never vote on it or propose it because I think HRs is the most fun category!!!

    I think the perfect 5 categories for fantasy is Runs, RBIs, BA, XBH, and SB…

    The reason I like XBH more than HRs is simple, HRs gives a direct advantage in RBIs and Runs… and I think all stats should stand alone and give a new skill set where that player might be strong here, but not there…

  6. I could go for extra base hits, but even better would be total bases, slugging%, or OPS because a HR should be worth more than a double.

    As for the OBP vs BA thing, players who have low OBPs will hurt you in that category in exactly the same way that a bad BA will hurt. The only difference is that you must slide the scale up a little, and it is not the same players who are hurting you.

  7. Cant wait until this subject hits the Hoopla once again… As it is totally a preference, and i am all about strategy and balance, while OBP supporters like it because it takes into account walks and is seen to be the better stat…

    I do think you are not understanding what i am trying to say, but that is normal…

    I never said that OBP helps power bats nor that bad OBP can hurt… What i am saying is that the value of player gives the advantage to a power bat…

    what i mean by this:
    the change to OBP does not affect the value of the HIGH BA high HR or the low BA low HR…
    It affects the Low BA high HR and the High BA low HR…

    with the change the low BA high HR may cut the gap between the two and even if the high BA guy still has the high OBP it has now become much closer so it does not hurt as much to use the Power bat over the average bat…

    By keeping it BA over OBP, you keep more players valuable in fantasy and there is much more strategy because the knowledge of starting a guy like adam Dunn might help you in the power categories, but it will hurt you elsewhere… or if you start a BA guy it will help you in BA but might hurt you elsewhere… BA calls for more balance and more strategy, and i am a fan of that(thats where my preference comes in)…

    Especially true for H2H leagues, each category should be able to be won by using a different strategy… It is much harder to base your team on OBP to win that category than it is to win BA…

    For example, last year in MBBRL I went all pitching and speed… I based my offense entirely on speed, i could have chosen Power instead, but you really can’t base your team on OBP because the best OBP players are the best players…

    Like i said, i like my categories to be totally separate from each other… And i just feel like BA does a much better job at that…

    also, the outrage against BA is that it doesn’t measure walks, i feel like that is silly… 5X5 does count for walks and it is called Runs… Runs is totally based on OBP!!!

    — I hope i made sense here, because unlike you guys, i am not good with words…

    As for Slugging percentage and OPS, i hate those categories in 5X5 if OBP or BA is also a category…

    the reason i think XBH is the perfect stat is for the same reason you dismissed it, because it does not consider HRs more important than doubles and triples… One problem with the traditional 5×5 is that we count HRs 3 times, Power is not the only important stat… and using XBH gives speed guys a little more value because now they can contribute well in the same amount of categories a power hitter can…

  8. Your points all make sense, I just think that the best scoring systems for fantasy baseball should reflect what players are worth in real life.

    Adam Dunn, for example was a middle of the order bat even when he has hitting .200 because he was still able to get on base and he could change the game with one swing. That has value.

    The high BA, low OBP player with little power really does not have a ton of offensive value in real life baseball. It does not bother me if those players are less valuable, because I think they should be.

    Anyway, we could go back and forth all day on this one and neither of our opinions will change. Thanks for the comments though, you always offer a unique prospective.

  9. As you know, i don’t try to sway anyone, i am just telling you the way i see it…

    I know why people like OBP over BA, and they are correct for their reasonings… I just like there to be more balance between categories and that brings more strategy into the game… and thats the type of fantasy i like…

    What do you think is the chances we can change HRs to XBH in MBBR?? i actually kind of fell in love with the idea while writing on this article… do you think i can sway anyone into liking it??

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