Players Overrated by On Base Percentage

Victor Martinez leads the majors in wRC+. Victor Martinez doesn’t appear on the first page of our WAR leaderboard. These are the kinds of results that make people question whether defense is too heavily emphasized in WAR, and certainly, Martinez’s status as a full-time DH is the primary factor in the divergence between his offensive value and his overall value.

But I’m not trying to talk about that again. Instead, Martinez is instructive of another issue, as a reminder that on base percentage is not created equal for all players. After all, the entire goal of reaching base is to score runs, and players turn their baserunning opportunities into runs at different clips. In fact, the range of scoring runs as a percentage of times on base can be pretty large.

The league average player in the AL — we’re ignoring the NL because of pitcher hitting, for this case — scores 30% of the time they reach base on a non-HR. The guys who lead the league in turning times on base into runs are, as you’d expect, quite fast: James Jones leads the league at 48%, and not coincidentally, he’s also 25 for 26 in stolen base attempts this year. Jones’ speed allows his times on base to be more valuable than a player with the exact same OBP.

But then there are guys on the other side of the ledger. Victor Martinez isn’t the slowest guy in baseball, but he is a converted catcher in his thirties who has already had knee surgery, so not surprisingly, he doesn’t score as often when he gets on base. For the season, Martinez has come around on just 24% of his times on base, even though he’s had J.D. Martinez and his .538 slugging percentage behind him for most of the year.

Martinez isn’t last in the league in this category, though; In fact, he’s not even in the top 10. Here are the 10 players who have scored the least often on their run-scoring opportunities.

Player Run Scoring%
David Ortiz 14%
Yunel Escobar 17%
Adam Dunn 17%
Dioner Navarro 18%
Carlos Santana 19%
Kendrys Morales 19%
Mike Napoli 20%
Kurt Suzuki 21%
Jose Abreu 22%
Kyle Seager 23%

Escobar is a surprising name, because he’s a shortstop with some speed, but this is probably just a function of the Rays offensive problems this year, as his career mark is 30%, and his career low before this season was 28%. Certainly, a player’s teammates offensive production can have an impact on this number, and Escobar is an example that this isn’t entirely within a player’s control.

But look at the rest of the names on the list. DH, DH, C, DH, DH, 1B/DH, C, 1B, 3B. This is basically a list of the slowest players in the game, and the guy who hits last in the string of decent hitters on the Mariners. Ortiz’s number is almost shockingly low, as he’s only scoring once every seven times he gets on base.

Speed has often been overrated in baseball circles, as it usually is found in guys who can’t hit all that well. But it does matter, and when evaluating offensive performance, we should remember that a nifty OBP from a baseclogger is not equal to that same OBP from someone who can actually run.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Caveman Jones
7 years ago

Ortiz and Napoli are obviously very slow, but they’re also above average hitters on a team that has been among the worst in the league on offense. The Red Sox have gotten absolutely nothing out of the second half of their line up all year.

7 years ago
Reply to  Caveman Jones

I’m going to get behind this one. The overall Sox offense has been awful all year when you get past Napoli. I’m not the least bit surprised to see these figures.

7 years ago
Reply to  Caveman Jones

Yes, and I also wonder how many times Ortiz in particular was taken off the bases for a pinch runner.

Whatever the case, this actually seems like the perfect opportunity to put a graph (or at least a table) together that shows how often a league average runner scores from first on a double or scores from second on a single (and possibly other situations) to get a sense for how much of these numbers are influenced by opportunity.