An esoteric little number gives the skinny on a batterI think Choi Hee-seop, the first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is doing a solid job. His batting average is .271 with 284 at- bats, and so far this season he’s swung for 15 homers and 40 RBIs.
In only his third year in the major leagues, he’s played 94 games this season, the most in a season so far. He’s getting lots of valuable chances to take a look at pitches and pitchers, and has proven he can step up to the next level when given an opportunity. Among the most interesting stats is his on-base percentage (OBP) of .386 and slugging percentage (SLG) of .493.
Now, a batter who gets on base three out of 10 times has an on-base percentage of .300. That’s the best darned barometer of a player’s ability to get on base. Let me borrow an example from Major League Baseball’s Web site, which explains to the layman just how an OBP is calculated. For instance, if Derek Jeter has 434 at-bats, with 152 hits, 59 walks, has been hit by nine pitches, and hit six sacrifice flies, here’s how you’d calculate his OBP:
(152 + 59 + 9)/(434 + 59 + 9 + 6)= 220/508 = .433
The majority of major leaguers have an OBP in the range of .300 to .400. If you take a look at the top guns with the highest OBPs over the past decade, you’ll see that in 1998, Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners had the highest OBP at .433 (though it was the lowest top score in the past 10 years.)
Since 2001, Barry Bonds has been posting OBPs that hover over the .500 mark ― a truly remarkable feat ― while the highest career OBP record of .482 is held by Ted Williams, who retired in 1960 wearing a Red Sox uniform.
The OBP only became an official stat in 1984, but it’s the one figure that tracks how a hitter fares against a pitcher ― how he’s not making an out, or at least making a productive out like hitting a sacrifice fly to move a runner into position. In Barry Bonds’s case, over the past three years, he only fails five out of 10 times at bat. That’s more than just being very good; that’s unbelievable. No wonder pitchers don’t hesitate to force a walk when facing him. It’s a sensible thing to do.
Nowadays, Choi is not only getting respect from pitchers, he’s also developing “good eyes.” With 53 walks so far this season, Choi is ranked 28th in the majors in that category.
Being patient at the plate not only increases his chances of putting the ball into play, but if given a walk, he also increases his team’s chances of scoring a run. Having Choi on first base just opens up so many possibilities. If you’re playing a neck-in-neck, low-scoring game, those walks become all the more valuable. Especially in the playoffs.
What makes a ball player good are not only the visible blasts out of the park, such as a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but also the little things he does. Or does not.
That obscure little OBP tells Choi’s story flat out, and so far I like what I see. It has a good beginning and there should be no reason to believe he can’t improve (he has homework, though: getting better against lefties).
If the Dodgers are patient enough and give him two more years, I think he can become the slugger that other teams didn’t have the time to wait for.
by Brian Lee