Who Walks Most?

BOW copyTout Wars, you may have heard, is moving it’s Mixed Leagues to On Base Percentage this year, rather than that old standby category Batting Average. The reason, as described here, is because OBP measures a player’s ability to draw walks, which is a valuable baseball skill that the traditional fantasy stats undervalue.

Some Tout Warriors are arguing that OBP is a baseball metric that measures better baseball players, but that using it in the fantasy game will break the delicate balance of fantasy baseball’s categorical imperatives. Steve Gardner, in USA Today, summarized: “Dissenters pointed out that eliminating batting average gives far too much weight to sluggers, many of whom have higher than normal walk rates, when those power hitters already get additional credit in runs and RBI for every home run they hit.”

My first response was fear that this was true. That the guys whose value would jump most were already valuable guys. That wasn’t why we’d changed the rule. But the fact is that some players in every strata of the game, from homer hitters to speed merchants, show an ability to walk, while others with those same talents don’t show that ability. The adoption of the OBP rule was intended to value home run hitters who walked more than home run hitters who didn’t walk. It was intended to value stolen base guys who walked more than those who didn’t walk. It was intended to value guys who hit for a high average who walked more than those who hit for high average who didn’t. The bottom line was, walks are a valuable skill that fantasy baseball has valued only peripherally, and as I noted here the other day in the Derek Carty is Absolutely Right post: By giving up an at-bat when taking a walk, a player hurts his fantasy value overall while often improving his real baseball team. Guys who walk get fewer chances to homer, fewer changes to drive in runs, and can even end up with a low batting average while their high on base percentage helps their team win games.

My second response was to see if this claim that the guys who would be helped most actually were the supposedly already-overvalued home run hitters. Here are the top 25 hitters with 250 or more AB with the highest walk rate in 2012. These are the guys whose value would be most improved by using OBP rather than BA (in parens 2012 PA/HR):

  • Joey Votto (475/14)
    Adam Dunn (649/41)
    John Jaso (361/10)
    Chris Carter (260/16)
    Dan Uggla (630/19)
    Carlos Santana (609/18)
    Jose Bautista (399/27)
    David Ortiz (383/23)
    Ben Zobrist (668/20)
    Carlos Pena (600/19)
    Bobby Abreu (257/3)
    Alex Avila (434/9)
    Joe Mauer (641/10)
    Todd Helton (283/7)
    Mark Reynolds (538/23)
    Mike Napoli (417/24)
    Jonny Gomes (333/18)
    Edwin Encarnacion (644/42)
    AJ Ellis (505/13)
    Dexter Fowler (530/13)
    Chris Snyder (258/7)
    Miguel Montero (573/15)
    Chipper Jones (448/14)
    Josh Willingham (615/35)
    Chase Headley (699/31)

There are a few sluggers on that list, many guys who hit home runs, but certainly not only the best home run hitters. Many of these are guys whose baseball creds are mocked by fantasy players, because they don’t hit for big power and have bad batting averages. Why do they even have jobs, the neophyte wonders? Because getting on base is a valued skill. It has real value that fantasy leagues that don’t use OBP aren’t capturing. It’s also a skill that a player like Joey Votto has when his power deserts him because of injury.

So, just for giggles, who are the guys with the lowest walk rate? Who will get hurt most by the change? Let’s go 10 deep:

  • Miguel Olivo (323/12)
    Alexei Ramirez (621/9)
    Pedro Ciriaco (272/2)
    Luis Cruz (296/6)
    Josh Rutledge (291/8)
    Delmon Young (608/18)
    Ichiro Suzuki (663/9)
    Josh Harrison (276/3)
    Willie Bloomquist (338/0)
    Omar Infante (588/12)

It’s true, not as many sluggers here. And a lot of marginal offensive talents, or special talents (Ichiro) whose ability to hit for BA while not taking bases on balls should be noted, not applauded, by fantasy players. Welcome OBP!

(illustration adopted from bluejayhunter.com)

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