Statistical anomalies in baseball are fun to monitor. I stumbled across one this morning while checking to see how Bobby Abreu had fared this season. In 120 plate appearances, Abreu is slashing .271/.417/.375. The season is still young, but out-OBPing a slugging percentage after 80-100 PAs is strange to the eye. Unorthodox slash lines like Abreu’s stick out for their rarity and invite the questions of why and often they occur.
By analyzing the three rates in the “slash” fashion, fans and analysts have come to expect each successive rate to exceed its predecessor. Outlying that norm is difficult given the inputs fueling the rates. Even Willie Bloomquist can luck himself into an extra-base hit.
It’s extremely rare to post a batting average higher than an OBP, as it would entail never walking or getting hit by a pitch, but recording a few sacrifice flies. And players infrequently post OBPs in excess of their SLG while simultaneously having a decent season. More commonly, these players would fail to record many, or any, extra base hits. It makes more sense to see Reid Brignac’s .212/.257/.212 than Abreu’s line.
But Abreu’s wOBA is currently .365, meaning he is having a solid season at the plate in spite of his slash line cosmetics. There are currently six qualifying players with a wOBA of .325 or higher who boast unorthodox slash lines.
– Jonathan Herrera: .300/.430/.400 in 88 PA, .380 wOBA
– Bobby Abreu: .271/.417/.375 in 120 PA, .365 wOBA
– Ichiro Suzuki: .317/.368/.366 in 133 PA, .345 wOBA
– Dustin Pedroia: .265/.377/.363 in 122 PA, .338 wOBA
– Jimmy Rollins: .271/.361/.346 in 122 PA, .327 wOBA
– Ryan Theriot: .303/.355/.343 in 109 PA, .325 wOBA
Their stats got me curious: which players in the wild card era produced the highest wOBAs with slash line anomalies like this? With a 500 PA minimum, here are the leaders:
– Luis Castillo (2000): .334/.418/.388, .374 wOBA
– Nick Johnson (2009): .291/.426/.405, .373 wOBA
– Rickey Henderson (1997): .248/.400/.342, .362 wOBA
– Tony Phillips (1996): .277/.404/.399, .360 wOBA
– Rafael Furcal (2000): .295/.394/.382, .359 wOBA
What initially stood out about this leaderboard is the small gap in the OBP and SLG. What are the highest gaps for a player with at least a .330 wOBA in a season?
– Walt Weiss (1995): .259/.403/.321, 0.082 OBP-SLG, .344 wOBA
– Rickey Henderson (1996): .241/.410/.344, 0.066 OBP-SLG, .357 wOBA
– Rickey Henderson (1997): .248/.400/.342, 0.057 OBP-SLG, .362 wOBA
– Otis Nixon (1996): .286/.377/.327, 0.050 OBP-SLG, .338 wOBA
– Reggie Willits (2007): .293/.391/.344, 0.047 OBP-SLG, .341 wOBA
So far the numbers have all involved single seasons for specific players. What happens when the scope is extended to a player’s career? Does anyone with a solid career wOBA have a higher OBP than SLG? With the focus shifted to careers, the wild card era filter is obviously removed. Only 68 players with at least 2,000 PAs accomplished this rare feat. Here are the highest wOBAs of the bunch:
– Billy Hamilton: .344/.455/.432, .447 wOBA
– John McGraw: .334/.466/.410, .442 wOBA
– Frank Chance: .296/.394/.394, .396 wOBA
– Cupid Childs: .306/.416/.389, .394 wOBA
– Ferris Fain: .289/.424/.396, .390 wOBA
Does any of this ultimately matter? No, but early in the season it can sometimes be more fun to play with inane numbers than attempt to parse meaning out of small samples. A higher OBP than SLG in a slash line can be rationalized, but it will still look strange as we are conditioned to expect a higher slugging percentage.
Luckily for teams, players with these unorthodox slash lines can still be productive. A .370 wOBA is a .370 wOBA regardless of what the slash line components look like when stacked up against each other.