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On-base percentage, in context

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The Mariners have not valued high on-base percentage in their recent history. Jerry Dipoto wants to change that.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In just over a month’s time, Jerry Dipoto has completely implemented his vision for a remade Mariners team. Gone are the days of the slugger, we’re now entering the athletic, on-base machine era. He’s gone on record many times stating the importance of on-base percentage to this team, and many of his acquisitions adhere to this philosophy.

Last night, our esteemed radio announcer Aaron Goldsmith posted a series of tweets regarding OBP in relation to Mariner teams of yore:

That got me thinking about the Mariners recent historical performance and whether or not the roster Jerry Dipoto actually shows any improvement in this area.

I dove into the history books to see how well the Mariners have gotten on base since 2000. I’ve also calculated OBP+ based on the league average OBP for each year. Like other plus stats (wRC+, OPS+), 100 is league average and every point above or below 100 is equal to one percentage point better or worse than league average. Note: my calculation does not take into account park effects, only league context.

Year

Mariners OBP

League Avg OBP

League Rank

Mariners OBP+

Mariners Runs Scored

2000

0.361

0.349

2nd

103

907

2001

0.360

0.334

1st

108

927

2002

0.350

0.331

2nd

106

814

2003

0.344

0.333

4th

103

795

2004

0.331

0.338

10th

98

698

2005

0.317

0.330

14th

96

699

2006

0.325

0.339

13th

96

756

2007

0.337

0.338

7th

100

794

2008

0.318

0.336

13th

95

671

2009

0.314

0.336

14th

93

640

2010

0.298

0.327

14th

91

513

2011

0.292

0.323

14th

90

556

2012

0.296

0.320

14th

93

619

2013

0.306

0.320

13th

96

624

2014

0.300

0.316

15th

95

634

2015

0.311

0.318

11th

98

656

The Mariners haven’t been able to reach base at a league average clip since 2007. In fact, last year was the closest to league average they’ve been since then. For the previous two GM’s, Bill Bavasi and Jack Zduriencik, the difference in philosophy is very stark. Bavasi began his tenure in 2004 and the team immediately dropped from the upper echelons of the league to the dregs. Beginning in 2009, the Jack Zduriencik teams took this aversion to reaching base to new levels. For the first four years of his tenure, and five of his seven years at the helm, the Mariners were last in OBP in the American League.

If on-base percentage measures the frequency with which a batter reaches base, the reverse is the frequency with which a batter is called out. The rosters that were built by Jack Zduriencik made an out 70% percent of the time on average! If you’re looking for a bellwether measurement of the offensive ineptitude we’ve witnessed over the last few years, I think we’ve found it.

In the table above, I also included the amount of runs scored by the Mariners offense in each year since 2000. There have been numerous studies about the correlation of offensive statistics to run scoring and OBP consistently has one of the highest correlations. Here’s a scatter chart showing the Mariners’ runs scored against their team OBP:

OBP Scatter

What’s the r-squared value for this data set? .9202! There’s almost a 1-to-1 correlation between the Mariners team OBP and the amount of runs they score since 2000. That’s incredible.

So what has Jerry Dipoto done to alleviate this aversion to reaching base? Here’s a position by position look at last year’s OBP and the projected OBP for 2016 (via Steamer):

Position

2015 OBP

2016 OBP

Difference

C

0.205

0.309

0.104

1B

0.301

0.335

0.034

2B

0.336

0.339

0.003

3B

0.326

0.328

0.002

SS

0.310

0.306

-0.004

LF

0.317

0.326

0.009

CF

0.318

0.300

-0.018

RF

0.361

0.314

-0.047

DH

0.316

0.319

0.003

Overall, the Mariners are projected to reach base at a .320 clip in 2016. That would be the highest mark for the team since 2007. The biggest gain is at catcher where literally anyone else would have been an improvement over last year’s cumulative failure. First base should also see a major increase over last year, as Adam Lind’s projected OBP is far better than whatever Logan Morrison and Mark Trumbo were able to do last year. The biggest projected loss is in right field but that’s due to Nelson Cruz’s career year last year more than anything.

In his interview with FanGraphs, Jerry Dipoto made this statement: "What I’d like to do is make the lineup a little longer at the top, and a little longer at the bottom. I’d like to find a way to boost our ability to get on base. We want balance in the lineup." We’re now looking at a roster that has largely accomplished that goal. There are no black holes in the lineup. The floor for this roster has been raised, which should mitigate some of the failures that sunk the team in 2015. The 2016 Mariners are built to be different than any other Mariner team in the last twelve years. I think that’s a very exciting prospect.