OBP, Yeah You Know Me

Man, what is with me and the lame early-90s rap references lately? t1_pierre_wi.jpgI don’t even like rap.

Anyway, if you’re MLB.com reporter Jayson Addcox - click that, trust me – then no; no you do not know OBP. Before I even start this, let me just say I’m not even doing this to bash Juan Pierre – I know! – because he’s actually done pretty damn well lately. In August, he’s put up a .357/.400/.429 line, with 8 SB and 0 times caught. Can’t argue with that.


 LOS ANGELES — What is it about the on-base percentage that a player like Juan Pierre — who leads the Dodgers in at-bats, runs scored, hits, stolen bases, triples and games played — gets knocked for not having his higher than .350?

Well, geez, we’ve got problems right off the bat, Jayson. These are all counting stats. Sure, he’s very durable – I can’t argue that – and that’s why he’s leading in both games played and at-bats on this injury bitten team. Well that, and the pictures he apparently has of Grady Little fighting pitbulls, because I can’t remember the last time JP didn’t start a game. It’s sure a lot easier to lead your team in games played and at-bats when your manager has decreed it will be so to feed a relatively meaningless consecutive games streak. But back to the point, counting stats. It’s not how much you do of something that’s impressive; it’s how much you do in the opportunities given. Besides, if you’re so wowed by the categories he leads in, just think how many more runs and stolen bases he’d have if he actually was on base more to do these things? Let’s not forget, even counting his recent hot streak, he’s still on base less often than Nomar – and as we all know, Nomar’s cooked.

Pierre has been one of the most consistent players in the Dodgers lineup this season. He plays every day (395 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the Majors), makes diving catches in center field on a regular basis and steals second just about every time he gets on base, yet his OBP evidently isn’t cutting it.

Wait. This is wrong. Stop being wrong. “Most consistent”? He was horrible in the early going, and he’s been good lately. His OBP in August is 97 points higher than it was in April. If there’s anything he was consistent about, it was being very mediocore for the first four month. But that doesn’t quite help your point, Jayson. And saying “makes diving catches in center field on a regular basis”? Is that supposed to be a veiled way of saying he’s a good defensive outfielder? There’s no stats available for ‘having a noodle arm’, but he’s got one assist all year – dead last among the 17 qualifying center fielders. Range factor? Next to last, which means that despite his great speed he still doesn’t get to all the balls he should.

The issue with Pierre is that he doesn’t walk. Plain and simple, his OBP suffers because he averages one walk every 21 at-bats. On the season, he has just 24 walks in 510 at-bats, which is the lowest in the Majors. On the flip side, Pierre doesn’t strike out often, either. He has struck out just 32 times this season, which is once every 15.9 at-bats, making him the hardest batter to strike out in the Senior Circuit.

Yes. You’re catching on. He doesn’t walk. Walking is good. Especially when it means a dangerous base runner could get on base, you know, more.

Put those two numbers together and you get Pierre’s game. Pierre is a speedy, slap-hitter, who puts the ball in play just about every time he goes to the plate and when he gets on base, he disrupts everything. Since 2001, Pierre has the most hits in the Majors (1,329) behind only Ichiro Suzuki. Over that same span, he has stolen 368 bases, which is more than any other player in the Majors.

“When he gets on base, he disrupts everything.” Yes! He could disrupt more. That would be good!

This season, Pierre leads the Dodgers with 147 hits. He is fifth in the NL with 45 multi-hit games, he leads the Majors with 14 sacrifice bunts and he’s second in the Majors only to Jose Reyes with 50 stolen bases, and yet his OBP supposedly isn’t cutting it.

It’s not cutting it. None of what you just said disproves that.

Pierre has a theory to why he doesn’t walk as much as other guys. He said pitchers know, first of all, that he isn’t going to hit the ball out of the park and secondly, they don’t want to give him a free pass because they know he’ll probably end up at second base, so to a pitcher a walk to Pierre is like giving up a double.

“I think moreso they know I’m not going to hit the ball out of the park and that’s why they’re not afraid to throw a fastball right down the middle when they fall behind 2-0,” said Pierre, who has stolen 18 consecutive bases without being caught. “What am I’m going to do, go up there and take all the time? I feel I have a better chance getting a hit than a walk, and the number’s show that.” 

This is actually an interesting point, though it was brought up by JP himself and not the author. I don’t recall seeing Pierre flailing at a lot of crap outside the zone, so this might have some merit. Unfortunately, it points to another, unsolvable issue: the pitchers aren’t afraid of you.

Compared to some of the elite leadoff batters in the game, Pierre’s .324 on-base percentage is considerably low. Reyes has an OBP of .375, Hanley Ramirez is at .392, Chone Figgins is at .392 and Ichiro is at .396, so the consensus is that a No. 1 or 2 hitter in the lineup needs to have a .350 or higher OBP.

It IS considerably low. All of the named players are better players than Juan Pierre, in large part due to their higher OBP. Not only that, they all bring other talents to the table – Reyes and Ramirez each have good power at a premium position; Figgins can play anywhere on the diamond, which gives you great flexibility – in addition to having Pierre’s speed; and Ichiro is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame. They are “elite leadoff batters”. JP is not.

Whether his OBP is at .324 or .350, Pierre will continue to do the small things for the Dodgers. He bunts, he steals bases, he legs out triples and robs balls in the outfield, yet he’ll constantly be scrutinized because he doesn’t get on base enough — that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Bunts. How many times have we seen Pierre try to bunt for a hit and fail miserably because everyone in the park knows it’s coming? Seems like twice a game. And Jayson, can we knock it off with the “triples” garbage already? He’s got six. Triples are fun, but let’s not go overboard as to the value of six triples in five months here. Marlon Byrd has seven. Seriously.

Again, I’m not even trying to bash JP here. If he can keep up his recent pace, he might actually come close to being an asset to the team. But Addcox makes it sound like criticising Pierre’s OBP is like pointing out the beauty queen’s one imperfection – and having that imperfection be terrible acne.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg