The Hollow OBP

Ever heard of the hollow batting average? I'm guessing that most of you have. Basically, it's just a baseball phrase, used to describe offensive players that don't provide anything else but a good batting average. That .305 batting average may look all shiny and purrty, but inside it's dark and hollow; there's just nothing else there. Maybe we could just call them cold-hearted batting averages.

But moving on, I wanted to consider the possibility of the hollow OBP. You see, OBP is basically the Holy Grail of offense in baseball. With outs at such a massive premium (you know, you only got 27), the ability to complete a plate appearance without making an out is practically the ultimate goal of being a hitter. I mean, obviously the ultimate goal is to score runs, but on a hitter-to-hitter basis, these guys are generally just trying to avoid outs.

So the simple assumption would be that having that skill, that ability to get on-base with frequency, would allow almost any player to provide value, right? Even guys that don't hit for power, don't fill up on empty-calorie singles, and don't have the alternative value that comes from being a shortstop or a catcher, they're still producing simply by getting on base, right?

I thought I'd investigate this a little bit. Of the 255 players that have accumulated 200+ plate appearances in the majors so far this year, how many of them retain the ability to get on base as their only discernible source of value? How many guys are providing their value through the hollow OBP?

Taking a look, I found nine players that are thriving this year in one category alone, OBP: Daric Barton, Juan Pierre, Jack Cust, Kosuke Fukudome, J.D. Drew, Ben Francisco, Josh Thole, Nate McLouth and Bobby Abreu. These nine players have combined to post an above-average .347 OBP across 2697 plate appearances this season; the current MLB average for this season sits at .319. So these guys are well above-average when it comes to getting on base.

But in terms of WAR, these nine players have combined to produce just 0.9 WAR this season, a reflection of their failure to provide value in practically any other facets of the game. On defense, the nine players are a combined 31 runs below average on the season. Their power-hitting numbers are arguably even worse; all nine players have combined for just 25 total home runs and a brutal .086 isolated power, way down from the league average of .139.

These days, the ability to get on base is often thought of as one of the most important skills for any player to have. There are hundreds of players that have stuck around the game for a very long time without being able to do much else other than defend their position and get on base every day. But as we can see here, one can't simply depend on good OBP skills in order to be a contributing player. Even someone who's still providing an elite OBP like Abreu is struggling to be even an average player, because he provides so little else in terms of power, base-running and defense.

So next time you hear Cubs fan try to claim that Kosuke Fukudome has actually been pretty good for the Cubs (he's got a .372 OBP!!), follow up by asking them what else he's done lately? They won't be able to think of anything, and it'll make them sad.

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