Getting on or Getting it all?

I was listening to 810 radio on my way to work on Monday morning and they had Kevin Harlan on talking about the Royals.  Steven St. John made the comment that he was impressed with the Royals ability to walk so far through 4 games.  He noted that it was something we as Royals fans haven’t seen in recent history.  Harlan countered with that saying he thought that walks were slightly overvalued.  His point was that if the 3-4-5 hitters come up he wants them thinking they are gonna crush the ball, not waiting on pitches hoping to draw a walk.  I am a believer in getting on base whichever way you can as a baserunner always helps out the team.  So, I decided to check and see if I was right or if Harlan was right and that drawing walks is overrated.  What I discovered was probably what most fans would believe there are some surprising twists in here and possibly a few reasons why the Royals have fielded such poor teams.

The best way I decided to check this out was to look at the league leader in four separate categories over the last 10 years: Walk Percentage (BB%), On-Base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), and On-base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS).  I then looked at the results of that team, whether they made the playoffs or not, how far they went in the playoffs, etc.  This is a skewed view because defensive and pitching stats are not being taken into account, but hitting is a component overall and some would argue the biggest component of the three (pitching, hitting, fielding), so that’s what we’re going to dive into here.    

While most people would probably agree with the results, I think it’s interesting to look at.  Over the past 10 years, every team who has led the league in OBP has gone to the Playoffs and two of those teams have won the World Series.  Now, I know the last nine years the league leader in OBP has either been the Yankees or the Red Sox, but such things should go hand in hand.  The Yankees and Red Sox have the best players but all of their players excel at getting on base.  The Red Sox have embraced a sabermetric approach and it has shown. 

League Leader OBP W L Result
Mariners 0.36 116 46 ALCS
Yankees 0.354 103 58 ALDS
Red Sox 0.36 95 67 ALCS
Red Sox 0.36 98 64 WS-Champs
Red Sox 0.357 95 67 ALDS
Yankees 0.363 97 65 ALDS
Yankees 0.366 94 68 ALDS
Red Sox 0.358 95 67 ALCS
Yankees 0.362 103 59 WS-Champs
Yankees 0.35 95 67 ALCS

What I think is more interesting is when you look at other areas of hitting and how those league leaders fared.  I feel there is a large contingent out there that will say that OPS is the best indicator of success for a team, offensively.  While I think that is true for individuals, as a team, I think it can be misleading.  Looking at the breakdown the teams that lead the league in OPS don’t seem to fare as well.  Four of the last 10 years the league leader in OPS has missed the playoffs.  Even more intriguing is that the average wins and losses are almost 7 games better for the league leader in OBP vs. league leader in OPS.  Here are the results:

League Leader OPS W L Result
Rockies 0.837 73 89  N/A
Yankees 0.809 103 59 ALDS
Red Sox 0.851 95 67 ALCS
Red Sox 0.832 98 64 WS-Champs
Red Sox 0.811 95 67 ALDS
Yankees 0.824 97 65 ALDS
Yankees 0.829 94 68 ALDS
Rangers 0.816 79 83  N/A
Yankees 0.839 103 59 WS-Champs
Red Sox 0.79 89 73  N/A

Another interesting wrinkle here is that only twice has the league leader in OBP been the World Series champion.  However, it is interesting to note that the World Series winner usually lands in the top 10 in OBP every year.  Over the last 10 years the Royals have averaged being more than 10 spots behind the World Series champion.  While it’s no surprise to say the Royals have been horrible at getting on base, it is definitely interesting to note exactly how important OBP is.  A team can slug away but if people aren’t getting on base they won’t have success.  This is evidenced by the fact that the league leader in slugging percentage over the last ten years has only made it to the playoffs 4 times. 

Here is how the Royals stack up against the past World Series champions:

Year Team OBP Rank W L
2001 Diamondbacks 0.341 8 92 70
2001 Royals 0.318 29 65 97
2002 Angels 0.341 6 99 63
2002 Royals 0.323 20 62 100
2003 Marlins 0.333 15 91 71
2003 Royals 0.336 12 83 79
2004 Red Sox 0.36 1 98 64
2004 Royals 0.322 23 58 104
2005 White Sox 0.322 24 99 63
2005 Royals 0.32 28 56 106
2006 Cardinals 0.337 14 83 78
2006 Royals 0.332 19 62 100
2007 Red Sox 0.362 2 96 66
2007 Royals 0.322 26 69 93
2008 Phillies 0.332 16 92 70
2008 Royals 0.32 26 75 87
2009 Yankees 0.362 1 103 59
2009 Royals 0.318 26 65 97
2010 Giants 0.321 19 92 70
2010 Royals 0.331 14 67 95

Ultimately, I don’t think I am breaking any ground here by saying that OBP is extremely important; however, it is worth noting just how important it is.  Conventional wisdom would say that you could slug your way the playoffs but this shows you can’t.  While you may be able to get some victories, OBP leads to more wins and nearly guarantees a trip to the playoffs.  While teams have made a World Series run or two with OBP in the lower ranks, the teams that have been consistently good at getting on base are alway in competition year in and year out.

This is vital to note because, while the Royals still have strikeout issues, it appears they have done a much better job at getting on base this year.  Stats this early into the season don’t really mean much, it’s far too small of a sample size, but so far so good (they rank 7th currently, much higher than what we’re used to).  Not to say the team doesn’t strike out at all (especially not Kila, Gordon, or Frenchie) but they do seem to be finding more ways as a team to get on base.  I for one am strongly encouraged by what I have seen so far and hopefully the trend will not only continue but improve as the year goes on.

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