Monday, January 11, 2010

Batting Average: The Ex-Wife of Stats

Why did the batting average stat category become the Ex-wife of baseball stats? Everyone used to love batting average as an indicator of a players ability, but then, much like a younger girl, OBP came through and took over.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves in baseball today, the diminished value of the batting average stat category. I'm not saying that these newer stat categories (OBP, OPS, VORP) are unimportant or less useful, but I am saying that batting average is seemingly looked down upon as a valuable asset for analyzing players these days, and I don't completely agree with that. And it's not the top flight players where this analysis becomes an issue with players who have a tendency to do everything well (see: Pujols, Youkilis etc.). My issue becomes when we start comparing "second tier" RBI producing players to one another, especially among guys who don't do everything well and are clearly deficient in certain stat categories.

To further illustrate my point let's take a look at two "second tier" RBI producing players who appeal to average and newer stats, respectively.

Jeff Francouer's line (157 games) from last year was .280 with 15 HR, 76 RBI, .302 OBP, .423 slugging and a .725 OPS. The average is respectable, but as has been well noted, his OBP is not there and therefore pulls down his OPS as well.

Jack Cust's line (149 games) from last year was .240 with 25 HR, 70 RBI, .356 OBP, .417 slugging and a .773 OPS. Obviously, here we are looking at a more powerful hitter, who walks more, hits more homers, but overall has less extra base hits than Francouer. However, it is also interesting to note that Cust struck out 185 times, while Francouer K'd almost half as many times, 92.

So who's the better RBI producer?

On one hand someone might say Cust because of the walks, homers and higher OPS. On the other someone may say Francouer because of the less K's, higher average and higher slugging.


I think that Francouer's higher average is what makes him the more valuable player. And...

Here's why:

Despite hitting 10 more homers than Francouer last year, Cust managed to drive in less runs last year than Francouer did. That's because although Francouer walked less and hit less homers, he had a higher total number of hits (166 to 123). Hits = runs at the major league level. Very few pitchers on the major league level walk in runs, it just doesn't happen all that often. So if you're asking me in a tie game and runners on first and second with two outs who I want hitting, I say Francouer. He is much more likely to put the ball in play, and there is something to be said about players who put the load on their shoulders and try to get the big hit, versus a guy who's willing to take a walk and pass the buck to the next hitter.

So, if I'm starting a team and need to decide between Jack Cust and Jeff Francouer, I'm taking Frenchy, because I like to know that when I need a hit I've got guys on my roster that can provide it.

I like batting average. What can I say? I guess the ex-wife still does it for me.

What's your take?


  1. The problem is that you are taking a bad stat (RBI) to determine who was the better player offensively.

    It's not very close, to be honest. Jack Cust had 80.2 wRC (wOBA Runs Created) and Francoeur had 67.5.

    Why don't you explain exactly why batting average is a better stat, or moreover, why RBI is a good stat.

    Walking does not "pass the buck" onto the next hitter. It means he is making less outs. In baseball, making outs is bad. Francour made out 69.1% of the time he went to the plate last year. Cust made out only 64.4%. Oh, and Cust and Francoeur had almost identitical SLG%.

    How in the world can you then say Francoeur is better?

  2. I definitely agree. Too many stats are being overlooked, batting average being the biggest one. To take this a little bit further, if you had a lineup of Jack Custs versus a lineup of Jeff Francoeurs, the Jeff Francoeur lineup would win most of the time. I think consistency has become underrated in baseball. OBP and HRs and nice but relying on them is a mistake. This reminds me of the White Sox a few years back when they had a bunch of power hitters but were struggling to score any runs.

  3. Pat,

    RBI's are good because they evaluate the number of runs a certain batter directly creates. Getting on base does not necessary mean a run scores, but RBI tells exactly how many times a player immediately produces a run. And since, you need hits to score runs (and thats what batting average evaluates, the percentage of hits to at bats), the stat is useful.

    My beef is that it almost seems to get ignored, which I'm okay with in regards to lead off men and table setters, but not in guys I expect to produce RBI.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.


  4. I agree with you as well. One aspect that the concept of advancing runners is totally ignored by all the common stats. You cannot ask your lineup 1 through 9 to have the exact makeup and expect results. Yes OBP is a very good stat to evaluate the top of the order, but it really starts loosing a lot of its value, especially in the National league : a walk from the number 8 hitter with runners on 2nd and 3rd resulting in a no run inning is statistically positive while a 4-3 ground out RBI advancing both runners will be negative to the player's OPS while the team actually gained 2 bases and a run. How then can we rely on OPS to compare players especially in the bottom of the order? Francoeur would be a terrible, awful leadoff hitter due to his horrid OBP, however he definetly is the guy you want having hitting 7th or 8th with runners on base as opposed to Cust who will give you 4% less chance to drive in a run for 0.something more chance to hit a big home run.

  5. The problem with RBIs is that is a descriptive stat as opposed to a predictive stat. Yes, if someone has 115 RBIs you know exactly how many runs they directly produce and that it was a lot, but you'll never find people with 115 RBIs anywhere other than the 3, 4, or 5 spots. The reason is that they are most often in the position to drive in runs. Saying that Jeff Francouer drove in more runs because he had more hits is not true. When he joined the Mets he had 15 fewer ABs than as a Brave in 2009, yet had 6 more RBIs. He did hit better as a Met (almost entirely due to an absurdly inflated BABIP as a Met in my opinion – yes he had a higher LD%, but also a higher IFFB% which is basically an automatic out), but I do not find it a coincidence that he batted higher in the depleted Mets order than in the Braves order and also had more RBIS. To say that RBIs tell you how many runs a batter should be credited for is just non-sensical, because he has to be put in a position to drive in runs, which he has absotely zero control over.

    And to paraphrase an excerpt from Moneyball (cliche I know) and to build on a point already mentioned, far and away the most important number in baseball is 3, the number of outs in an inning. Anything is possible before the 3rd out while nothing is possible after the 3rd out. Anything you can do to avoid being one of those 3 outs is the best thing you can do. And batting order allignments only start with the leadoff hitter in the 1st inning, after that it could be anybody. In fact, the 6, 7, or 8 hitter is more likely to lead off an inning after the first than the 1 hitter, so to claim OBP is no longer an important stat for hitters in those spots in the order is ludicrous. Yes, if two players have similar OBPs the one with the higher average will be more valuable all else held equal, because a hit is better than a walk, but if the OBPs are not close, the player with the lower OBP better really outslug the other player if he wants to have more value. And Jeff Francouer's career XBH% is only .4% higher than Cust's, so he doesn't have a significant advantage there.

    An OBP that is 54 points higher will far outtrump an average that is 40 points higher any day of the week, no matter where you bat.

  6. I'd say Francoeur drove in those SIX more runs because he had SIXTY-FIVE more plate appearances with men on base, and THIRTY more plate appearances with runners in scoring position. You might say that Francoeur's .235/.278/.350 (vs Cust's .238/.411/.469) line with runners in scoring position isn't exactly all-star caliber. I'd say if you're looking for a good RBI guy, maybe you find someone who hits well with men on base, or at least doesn't get out 72% of the time in those situations.

  7. Anynoymous,

    Although I do understand that being in an RBI situation is not in the hitters control, isn't their ability to produce the run within their control?

    And although I believe in OBP, and it's value, I think as was mentioned in an earlier comment that not getting the third out is more valuable in the AL than the NL because of the existence of pitchers in the line up. Not making the third out as the 8th hitter in the second inning is nice, except for the fact that the pitcher spot would be up behind you.

    This is, in my opinion, one of the more interesting debates in all of baseball. Moneyball against old school...

    Being of the "old school" I find this debate really interesting, so please keep reading and feel free to comment on that...

  8. Also note, I chose Francouer because of his insanely low OBP and walks, and Cust for his very high OBP and low average.

    They were specifically chosen because of those differences and my interest in the OBP/Batting average debate...

    Also, my point was that average is under-utilized as a stat, not to discredit any other stat category.

  9. Also when did a walk become completely a batter dictated stat?

    Don't pitchers throw balls or strikes and therefore dictate walks more so than a hitter?

  10. new here but i figured i would toss out my thoughts.
    you present an interesting idea in the article, but i think the best way to determine who is more valuable (in this case cust or francouer) is the qualities of the rest of the lineup and where they would fit into it.
    if this batter has a few other bigger/better mashers in the order and behind him, you just want someone on base and you dont care how he gets there. if however this player was to be one of the bigger power bats in the lineup, you would probably want the higher batting average so that the higher number of hits can set the runners in motion.
    as for a team though, obp is a better stat than average for correlating to higher runs scored. taken over the past five years, comparing every teams year stats to their runs produced, my numbers show that the stats that corellated best to higher runs scored were in this order: OPS, wOBA, SLG, OBP, and then AVG (with r^2 values of .461, .455, .396, .379, and .288 respectively)

  11. You would have been better off comparing two guys with similar OBP's.

    Let's take Juan Rivera vs. Jermaine Dye, who had the same number of plate appearances in 2009 (572 vs. 574)...

    Rivera hit .287 with a .332 OBP. 33% of his hits were extra base hits, including 24 HR's. ISO of .191

    Dye hit .250 with a .340 OBP. 37% of his hits were XBH, including 27 HR's. ISO .203

    Looking at those stats, you'd think that Dye had a better year because he had a higher OBP and hit for a little more power. But Rivera's OPS (.810) was 17 points higher than Dye's (.793)

    So while Dye was actually slightly better at avoiding outs and also hit for more power when putting the ball in play, Rivera was actually more productive overall. And the sole reason is because he had a higher batting average.

    However, this can be attributed to Rivera's higher BABIP, which many people argue is driven in large part by luck.

  12. It takes 2 to tango. It also takes 2 to draw a walk. The pitcher has to throw 4 pitches out of the strike zone and the hitter has to lay off them.

    Jeff Francoeur swings at the first pitch 45% of the time. He swings at 60% of all pitches thrown to him. Pitchers know this so they do not throw him strikes. It took pitchers a half season to figure this out about him. Francoeur, on the other hand, has been in MLB for 5 years and hasn't yet figured it out.

  13. What about pitchers like Oliver Perez who seem to walk tons of people...

    Doesn't that inflate OBP?

    Just asking...

    Point taken on relative players, and I do like the Dye/Rivera Comparison...Interesting stuff...

    For the record, I like Francouer...but I don't love him...he has many deficiencies...

  14. I just posted the last two (Dye vs. Rivera and also the post about Francoeur not "getting it").

    So it probably seems like I don't like Francoeur. The funny thing is that I never did. Thought he was the most overrated player in baseball. And I still think the low OBP and swinging at the first pitch every time is a problem.

    But he grew on me last year as a Mets fan. He really is a gamer. He hustles, plays hurt, all those "intangibles" that a stat guy like myself usually knocks. And I think that this Mets team needs a personality like that. Give me a .320 OBP as long as he's hitting 20 HR, playing good defense, and providing this team with an attitude. I think we undervalue those qualities.

  15. ollie's high walks are what helps cancel out his excellent strikeout totals and what helps turn him from an above-average to below-average pitcher. for whatever metric you prefer, era or fip, ollie's two best years for era and fip (2004 and 2007) were the two years he had his lowest walk rates.
    also, fwiw, there is a .71 r^2 correlation between staffs with a higher obp-against value and the runs that team allows.

  16. I've never discounted the importance of walks to scoring runs. You walk more you probably score more, conversely, as a pitcher it's harder to pitch with guys on base...

    makes sense...

    And yes, I completely agree that there are stat guys and hustle guys...I think "stat heads" tend to ignore the value of hustle guys...

    Nice impromptu chat we're having...Keep reading in the future and they'll be more of this, as long as people comment...

  17. I personally look at someone's batting average first and foremost. I feel the batting average defines the player while the OBP, etc. stats defines why TYPE of player he is... you know?