03 February 2015

Why the Orioles Ignore OBP

Dan Duquette has been preaching the importance of OBP since he came to the Orioles. Fans have noted that this team could be improved if they fixed the problems in this area. Therefore, one might have thought that the Orioles would have attempted to add high OBP players this offseason such as Nori Aoki. Instead, the Orioles ended up trading for Travis Snider, signing J.P. Arencibia, Delmon Young, and Chris Parmelee while nearly signing Colby Rasmus. From 2012-2014, Travis Snider had the highest OBP out of the five options at .314. In addition, the Orioles lost two of their top OBP options when Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis departed via free agency. The Orioles' best OBP threats are players like Steve Pearce, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters that have decent hit tools but primarily hit for power. The one regular that the Orioles have who primarily hits for OBP is Alejandro De Aza. The Orioles may be willing to talk about the importance of OBP but their actions indicate that it has limited importance.

I think the reason can be explained by studying Camden Yards park factors. The file below shows the average Fangraphs park factors by handedness for the past six years which can be used to determine which types of hitters will benefit from playing in Camden Yards. I also used hit frequency data and hit value data provided by Fangraphs to build a metric that determines which stadiums are the most hitter friendly by handedness. Here’s the data.

This analysis indicates that Camden Yards is the second easiest stadium for left-handed hitters to hit and primarily rewards home run power, which should come as no surprise. The most valuable type of left-handed offensive players is power hitters and probably explains why the Orioles were interested in Travis Snider. Camden Yards is the sixth hardest stadium for a left-handed hitter to hit a triple and therefore means that left-handed players relying on speed are at a significant disadvantage. Camden Yards is the sixth easiest stadium for a lefty to hit a single and the seventh easiest to hit a double. If Fangraphs park factors are accurate then it makes sense for the Orioles to focus on left-handed batters with plus power and can hit for a decent average while discouraging them to focus on batters with plus speed or those who have high walk rates. This explains why the Orioles aren’t focusing on finding left-handed hitters whose best tool is getting on base.

Camden Yards isn’t as friendly to right-handed hitters but is the sixth easiest ballpark for a right-handed hitter to bash a home run which again shouldn’t come as a surprise. For right-handed batters, Camden Yards is the sixth hardest stadium to hit a triple and the eighth hardest to hit a double, which therefore discourages speed. It’s the eighth easiest stadium for a right-handed hitter to hit a single and therefore encourages average. It makes sense for the Orioles to focus on finding right-handed hitters that have plus power while hitting for average and can pick up walks. 

This indicates that power is the most important tool for an offensive player at Camden Yards and therefore why the Orioles focus on it. In contrast, the Royals play in a stadium where it’s hard to hit home runs but easy to hit triples, doubles, and singles. Therefore, they need to stay away from offensive players with power and simply focus on players that can hit for average and have excellent speed. Different teams need to focus on different players.  

Many times when people look at player performance they look solely at the numbers. The problem is that a .330 OBP at Camden Yards simply isn’t as good as a .330 OBP at Petco Park.  wOBA does account for where a player played but doesn’t consider whether the player is a good fit for the ballpark where they play. A player that is a true .330 wOBA offensive player could be significantly better or worse in a ballpark that is tailored to his strengths or weaknesses. In 2013, Josh Hamilton was signed by the Angels and moved from a ballpark that was hitter-friendly to a ballpark where left-handed batters struggle. Hamilton has actually had a 136.5 wRC+ in 2011 and 2012 as a Ranger and a 127 wRC+ in 2013 and 2014 as an Angel while playing on the road. He’s struggling playing at home because it’s easier for players with his skillset to hit in Texas rather than Anaheim. 

This seems to explain why the Orioles have structured the team the way they have. The Orioles have Chris Davis, Matt Wieters (Wieters is arguably a switch-hitter but is considerably better batting as a left-handed hitter than a right-handed hitter), and now Travis Snider as left-handed batters with considerable power. Rasmus also hits left handed and could have been used in the same role that the Orioles intend to use Snider. Schoop, Pearce, Machado, Jones, and Hardy provide much needed right-handed power while De Aza and Young are batters that can get on base.*

Going forward this indicates that the Orioles will have a challenge next year when Wieters, Davis, and Pearce become free agents. The Orioles have few left-handed bats in the minors so they’ll need to address this challenge either in free agency or via trades. It might make sense for the Orioles to try to fill these holes by targeting left-handed batters that have shown some power while playing at stadiums that put left-handed power hitters at a disadvantage. If so, then focusing on players that have played on the Giants, Padres, Athletics, Mets, Royals, Twins, Angels, Pirates, Rays, and Mariners makes sense. 

Players like Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are plausible trade targets while Matt Joyce, Colby Rasmus, and Adam Lind are cheap free agent options. Curtis Granderson struggled at home for the Mets in 2014 but was solid on the road. If he performs similarly in 2015, then the Orioles should be able to acquire him in return for eating most of his salary. If the Orioles are willing to spend a lot of money on a free agent, then Alex Gordon could be an option. He has 20 home run power while playing in Kauffman Stadium, so it would be interesting to see if he can make the adjustments necessary to hit 30 homers in Camden Yards without losing his ability to hit for average. 

The Orioles have talked a lot about improving OBP but haven’t taken much action because their ballpark encourages them to sign players that hit for power rather than average. As long as the Orioles play in Camden Yards they should continue following this plan in order to maximize their home field advantage.

* Edit: I originally mistakenly wrote that Pearce was a left-handed batter while De Aza was a right-handed batter. That error has been fixed.


Anonymous said...

De Aza is a lefty and Pearce is a righty

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Correct. This will be fixed soon. Thanks.

W. Blake Gray said...

I don't understand this. Wouldn't have a few high OBP players in the lineup maximize the runs scored on some of the longballs?

Unknown said...

I think it's safe to say that everyone would want to have high-power, high-on-base players on their team. But there aren't many of those, and they command high prices. Could the Orioles simply be perceiving that high-power, low-on-base players are undervalued in today's environment, especially for Camden Yards?

Matt Perez said...

More or less Joe. Basically, high power, low-on-base players are more valuable in Camden Yards than they are in Kauffman Stadium. It's not that they're undervalued in today's environment but they're simply going to produce more in Camden than in Kauffman. Just like low power, high on base players are more valuable in Kauffman than they in Camden Yards. It's important to fit the players to the stadium.

Here. Suppose you have a player who hits 40 HRs in 600 PAs. Good power hitter right? Suppose you can either have him behind a .360 OBP player or a .320 OBP player. The .360 OBP player will get on base 4 times more per 100 PAs than the .320 OBP player.

Presuming that it's just as likely to hit a one run home run than a two run home run (that's false but let's just say that for simplicity's sake) than the chances of hitting a home run with the .360 OBP player on base is (1/15)*(1/25) or .0026. Presuming the average player has 600 PAs that means he'd be likely to hit 1.6 more HRs with the .360 guy on base than the .320 guy on base.

Having a .360 OBP player in the lineup right behind a power hitter instead of a .320 OBP player would increase runs scored via home run by about 2. You're right but the impacts are minimal.

Erik said...


It is a bit more than that, because more than the batter immediately behind the high OBP hitter can hit home runs.

Still, OBP is no longer cheap, and it really hasn't been in the free agency period. After all it is mostly a veteran skill.

It does change the experience of the game for fans. When you have a lineup where all the batters can change a game with a swing of the bat, it changes the sense of anticipation.

Matt P said...

You're right Erik. Thanks for the correction.

And it makes sense that more fans would come out to a game if a team has power hitters. Has anyone tried to measure that?

Tim said...

Kind of. http://www.hardballtimes.com/do-chicks-dig-the-longball/

steve said...

The logic is weakened a bit because the O's have a special special case in Chris Davis. He hits 200 ops points higher with risp, which apparently messes up the overshift. A base stealer - obp type makes good sense since he can get to 2nd and impact on Davis.

Tim said...

How often will a base stealer batting right in front of Davis get to second? A little over 30% of the time, he will get on base with someone moving to second or third. At best, maybe 30 at bats for Davis that appreciably changes things. That might be a difference of 4 or 5 runs at the upper limit. Now, if the speedy runner is batting three people ahead of Davis...then I would reckon that he has almost no impact. You would have to have your speedy guy hitting second and Davis hitting third in order to prevent guys like Machado and Jones knocking people to fill up the bases or getting out, forcing Davis to bat with no one on.

Matt Perez said...

Thanks Tim.

Steve - It seems like the question that people are asking is that this article treats each player in a lineup as independent of every one else in the lineup while others argue that each player in a lineup is dependent on each other.

There are players like Jon Jay, Robinson Cano and Jayson Werth that provide primarily OBP. But finding elite OBP players is difficult and as expensive as finding elite power players (who usually also have a good OBP). Two of those players signed in free agency and earned pretty large contracts.

An OBP player that's similar to Snider might have an OBP in the .330-.340 range. Someone like Aaron Hicks or Brandon Guyer or James Loney. The impacts of such a player over a power bat like Snider are minimal.

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading after he said Wieters was better as a lefty than he is as a righty. lol.....better avg. and HR rate as a righty every year (except for 2 months last year) and its not even close.

I guess thats why they call this a blog

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It was a mistake, and those things happen. It certainly doesn't take anything away from the information and analysis Matt provided.

Thanks for reading.

David said...

Delmon Young, with his career .317 OBP, is an on-base guy?

Matt Perez said...

For a DH, I'd say that Young is more of an on-base guy than a power bat. His .417 SLG over the past three years isn't so great either for a DH.

Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

The O's signed good OBP player in Alex Hassan. I hope he gets a shot at the major league level after performing well in Boston's AAA.

Anonymous said...

Why not adjust the minor league parks to replicate as much as possible the dimensions of OPACY? Make it a hitting/pitching lab to better evaluate and develop players for the big league club?

Mike B said...

I'm a member of SABR and I lost total respect for this writer.

Jim D. said...

The Orioles still have to play half of their games away.

Matt Perez said...

Given that a team plays half of their games at home and presumably plays other games in stadiums where a similar strategy makes sense then it makes sense to try and build a team to maximize home field advantage.

But yes, there will be times when you play at other stadiums with the exact wrong personnel.

Tim said...

To be fair, to be a member of SABR the requirement is $65. So, for 18 cents a day, you too can pretend to have authority in application of baseball statistics.