Fantasy Baseball: Should OBP Invade Your league?

by Brandon C. Williams

With Sabermetrics continuing to expand horizons across baseball, their impact is slowly assimilating into the Fantasy realm. As leagues begin to formulate, more than a few are pondering how new statistics can also enhance competition.

Chief among the possible new Fantasy categories is On Base Percentage (OBP), which has become a common staple among baseball analysts across the board. The information explosion of the past 15 years has produced stats like OBP, Holds and ERA+, which give Fantasy leaguers the freedom to make the Fantasy game closer to the genuine article.

Has the time come for OBP to establish a foundation for next-generation stats, or are Fantasy Baseball fans content with the basic 4×4 and 5×5 categories that represent the conservative side of the sport? In this week’s Point/Counterpoint, Brandon C. Williams and Chris Mitchell debate the new school/old school tilt.

Point — Brandon C. Williams

Give me a good reason why On Base Percentage shouldn’t be a Fantasy Baseball category. Anyone? Anyone?

Know why there’s no response? Because you know it, I know it and even your neighbor knows it; the time has arrived for new stats to take their walk down the Fantasy red carpet and gain acceptance as a staple of the game.

OBP rewards the bombers of the game, those who wield power with an iron grip. The category is a celebration for those of us who eye thunder throughout our rosters while others play Russian roulette, selecting pitchers early and often. While those bereft of pop are shortchanged in this category, it does balance out the fact that some home run hitters can harm your batting average while at the same time offering little or nothing in the stolen base department.

We have grown up with OBP, weaned on it by the likes of Peter Gammons in the late 1990s and watching it mature over time. OBP is such a familiar category that even your I-follow-baseball-because-he/she-loves-it spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend has a working knowledge of the stat. It’s not 1994, folks, when we still had to wait for West Coast games played on Monday to hit the newspaper on Wednesday, so the commissioner could get caught up with stats. On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) is available to any and all; look on the profile of any player on sites like ESPN, CBSSports or MLB.com, and the stat is there for the viewing.

Naturally, if/when OBP is welcomed with open arms, the only question is which pitching stat comes along to balance things out. Holds appear to be the top candidate, as it rewards the bridge builders who make closers a sought-after commodity. It’s probably too early for ERA+ to arrive. Yet, I think that if you still have batting average, why not bring in opponents’ batting average (OBA), which does a good job of gauging how well a pitcher can maneuver their way through a lineup.

Change is good. Embrace OBP. It’s not like eating your veggies, folks. It’s better.

Counterpoint — Chris Mitchell

Let me start by saying that because of the consensus thinking of baseball fans these days, I believe On Base Percentage should be a standard category in all Fantasy leagues. I use it in almost all of my non-expert leagues. Yet, there are viable arguments why it shouldn’t be used.

First, OBP is unfair. Home run hitters often have high OBPs and low batting averages, while contact hitters often have higher batting averages and lower walk percentages, resulting in lower OBPs. It saves a slugger’s value because it offsets the low batting averages. It punishes contact hitters because they don’t walk often enough to have high OBPs, and in most cases they can’t hit for an exceptional batting average to make up for significantly fewer walks. You rarely see a player with fewer than 15 home runs register an OBP over .370.

If you are going to add OBP, then you’ll need a pitching category to balance your league’s scoring. A common suggestion is Holds (H). If you add Holds, then you need to expand the size of rosters, creating more problems than it solves. Quality Starts (QS) is the best suggestion I have heard, but that doesn’t evaluate a specific skill like home runs do for offense. A good ERA or WHIP results in more Quality Starts, so it acts as a numeric conclusion for two of the other standard categories rather than represent a score for a specific skill performed. That kind of argument is a good one to make against the Wins category but that’s a topic for another article.

Let’s look at what OBP actually is. Batting average gives a Fantasy score to a player’s ability to hit the ball safely. OBP uses that score and combines it with a player’s ability to walk. I would suggest two potential alternatives: either use walk percentage to evaluate that specific skill or use the go big or go home theory, a Jambalaya of Fantasy stats approach, On Base Plus Slugging (OPS). OPS takes BA and OBP to its natural next step by evaluating all three.

Look at WHIP and ERA and what they do. WHIP represents how a pitcher performs but ignores the final outcome, runs scored. ERA ignores how well someone performs and focuses solely on the final outcome, runs scored. OBP is similarly insufficient because it does not represent one specific skill, but it also does not represent a totality of all skills in one condensed statistic. OBP advances statistical analysis but it is a compromise that falls well short of achieving what scoring categories are supposed to represent – performance on the field. Play it safe until real change comes and join a points league.

Tags: