Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 6/24/13
Dan Uggla has a great OBP, but his AVG is terrible. (Photo credit) How many times have you argued with your friends over a topic that is so insignificant to your daily lives, but you both debate with a level of vigor usually present in a presidential debate? I think I'm going to need a couple more hands and feet to properly keep track. So, if you are into those kinds of arguments, then you are at the right place because in reality, does it really matter if on base percentage or batting average is more flawed? Well, I say, "yes, it does." I don't enjoy being misled and I'm sure you don't, either. So, let's delve deeper into the world of numbers and find out which is the best way to sum up a hitter's production with one statistic.  On base percentage (OBP) became an official MLB statistic in 1984, but was popularized in 2004 when Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis was released. The book followed the Oakland Athletics and general manager Billy Beane in their unorthodox, extreme reliance on numbers to scout players. One statistic that Beane still covets today is OBP. Before Moneyball came out, OBP was a bit of an ignored stat, but after, we have seen almost an over-reliance on it throughout the MLB.  Batting average (AVG), on the other hand, is one of the oldest stats in the book. It was created in the late nineteenth century with origins from cricket. It has it's own award and generally the winner of the batting title is regarded as the purest hitter in baseball. But in the last decade, some fans have been calling for the batting average statistic's head and want it to be replaced with OBP. But, does it tell as close to the entire story as batting average does?  OBP is basically the rate that a batter does not get out. Whether that is by getting a hit, walk, reaching on an error, a fielder's choice, or getting hit by a pitch, it measures how many times a hitter gets on base. A batting average, however, only measures hits. Everything else does not factor into it at all.  The best way to compare these stats is to pick a group of players that have high averages and low OBP's and another group of players that have high OBP's and low averages and evaluate them. That's exactly what I did.  The high OBP/low AVG group consists of: Neil Walker with a .356 OBP and .257 average,  Josh Willingham with a .352 OBP and .211 average, and  Dan Uggla with a .318 OBP and a .188 average. The high AVG/low OBP group includes: Adam Jones with a .303 average and a .327 OBP,  Omar Infante with a .296 average and a .329 OBP, and  Ian Desmond with a .287 average and a .326 OBP.  Now, the average batting average in 2012, according to baseball-almanac.com, was .255, and the average OBP year to year is anywhere between .330 and .350. I picked some players for these groups by going down the list of league leaders of OBP and average and finding hitters who had solid numbers in one of the stats and below average numbers in the other. Others were picked for their distinct disparity between the two stats.  Out of the high OBP group, Neil Walker stands out as the best hitter. He has a solid .356 OBP and a slightly above average .257 batting average. But at the end of the day, he is only an okay hitter at best. Josh Willingham is proof that it is possible to have a high OBP without actually getting on base due to hits. His .211 average is putrid and if you only looked at his OBP, you would say that he is having a nice season at the plate, but that simply is not true.  Dan Uggla is the most interesting hitter out of this group. His OBP is below average, but his batting average is below baseball standards. And not even just MLB standards, but all standards of the game. His OBP is 12 points fewer than the lowest part of the league average range, but his average is 67 points lower than 2012's batting average league average. So, that just shows you how misleading OBP is. You can have a solid OBP with an absolutely terrible batting average, but is the same true in the reverse order?  Not really. The three guys that have high averages and are below the league average for OBP are not very far below. Jones is 3 points lower, Infante is one, and Desmond is 4. That is minimal compared to the 67 point differential Uggla sports. An easy way to decipher which stat is more telling is to simply look at the two groups. Which three players would you rather have on your team? I'll take Jones, Infante, and Desmond any day.  The research proves that there is more of a correlation with a good average matching up with a good OBP than there is with a good OBP matching up with a good average. OBP is extremely important, but it allows for factors that are not as influential on a game to be calculated, which can inflate its numbers. Getting on base is the name of the game, but what if a hitter is rarely getting on base because he is hitting safely? Willingham is a perfect example of that. For people who think a walk is as good as a hit most of the time, they are wrong. It is nice for a leadoff hitter to get on base due to a walk, but when runners are on base, hits are much more important. And wouldn't you want a batter who gets on base more because of his hits than walks? OBP is a necessary stat to pay attention to, especially for leadoff hitters, but the statistic that provides you the most insight on what kind of season the hitter is having at the plate is batting average.  By: Matt Levine Twitter: @Matt_TFJ

This article first appeared on The Sports Post and was syndicated with permission.

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