The best sub-.300 OBP seasons

A stroll down Joba Lane: First five starts
First Half Review: Middle infielders

Francisco CervelliWhen Frankie Cervelli was sent down to Triple-A Scranton following Jose Molina’s return from injury, Joe quipped that he was one of the most beloved sub-.300 OBP Yankees in recent memory, which is certainly true. That little remark led to a conversation in the comments about the best seasons by a player with a sub-.300 OBP, and thus the idea for this post was born.

Since there’s no baseball to talk about for a few days, I figured now was as good a time as any to have some fun and with a post like this. Now, you have to understand that “best offensive season” is a relative term, because any season with a sub-.300 OBP is pretty terrible. To determine which seasons were the best, I used wRC, or weighted Runs Created. You can learn more about it here, but it’s basically a measure of the amount of runs a player creates based on weighted on-base percentage, or wOBA. If you don’t know what that is, then read this. It’s basically a fancier version of OPS that properly weighs all the things a hitter can do to produce value using linear weights. It’s kind of complicated, but it’s a very useful stat.

To narrow the search a bit, I limited it to players with a .300 or worse on-base percentage in a season from 2000-2008, minimum 400 plate appearances. Remarkably, there have been 148 instances by 109 different players in the last nine years when someone made outs 70% of the time or more in a  season. Thankfully, none of them are Yankees the only Yankee on the list is old buddy Scott Brosius. As you’d probably expect, most of the players are all glove/no hit guys like Rey Ordonez, Cesar Izturis and Pokey Reese, but there’s a few All Stars (Michael Young, Freddy Sanchez, Aramis Ramirez), some future Hall of Famers (Pudge Rodriguez, Craig Biggio), and even one current Hall of Famer (Cal Ripken Jr.) mixed in.

I’m not going to go through every player, I’ll just highlight the five guys who had the “best” offensive seasons with a sub-.300 OBP. If you want to see the full list sorted by wRC, click here.

Player: Corey Hart, Brewers, 2008
Stats: .268-.300-.459, 45 2B, 20 HR, 91 RBI, 23 SB, 78.4 wRC

After a breakout season in 2007 in which he hit .295-.353-.539 with 24 homers and 23 stolen bases, Hart’s plate discipline went south the next year as he walked nine fewer times in 91 more plate appearances. Hart’s problems were exacerbated by a brutal late season slump, when he hit just .194-.216-.302 from mid-August on. Despite all that, the Brewers’ rightfielder finished second in the NL with 45 doubles and was voted into the All Star Game on the Final Vote. Hart’s overall production has gone down every season since his breakout.

Player: Chris Young, Diamondbacks, 2007
Stats: .237-.295-.467, 29 2B, 32 HR, 68 RBI, 27 SB, 77.0 wRC

A year after being acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade, Young started his rookie season in 2007 as the Diamondbacks Opening Day centerfielder. His 32 homers were a testament to his freakish raw ability, but the .295 OBP and 141 strikeouts in 624 plate appearances (one every 4.42 PA) showed their was still some development left to be done. Young finished a distant fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, but his hacktastic approach continues to hold him back.

Player: Jose Reyes, Mets, 2005
Stats: .273-.300-.386, 24 2B, 7 HR, 58 RBI, 60 SB, 76.9 wRC

It seems like he’s been around forever (at least to me), but 2005 was Reyes’ first full and healthy season in the majors after leg injuries hampered him the previous two years. The speedy leadoff hitter amassed gaudy triple and stolen base totals, but his 27 walks are like, a third of what you’d like to see out of the guy setting the table for you. Luckily for the Mets, the then 22-yr old Reyes has improved his eye at the plate and is a bonafide star. Except in September.

Player: Khalil Greene, Padres, 2007
Stats: .254-.291-.468, 44 2B, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 76.3 wRC

Unlike the other players in this post, Greene was pretty much an established big leaguer when he had his sub-.300 OBP season. 27-yrs old and in his fourth full season, Greene actually had his best power season by far in ’07, but it came at the expense of not making outs. His once promising career has since evaporated, but more than a bad batting eye is at work here.

Player: Kevin Kouzmanoff, Padres, 2008
Stats: .260-.299-.433, 31 2B, 23 HR, 84 RBI, 73.4 wRC

The second Padre on the list, Kouzmanoff is a bit of an interesting case because the dude has a .395 career OBP in the minors. Yet in 2008 he drew just 20 (!!!) unintentional walks in 668 plate appearances. That is … incomprehensibly bad. I mean really, I’m not even mad, I’m impressed. Or, actually unimpressed. Whichever one fits. Kouz’s power output is the only thing that qualifies him for the list of “good sub-.300 OBP seasons.” Amazingly, Kouz’s OBP is down to .280 this year. Yikes.

* * *

Those five guys had a best offensive seasons with a sub-.300 OBP this decade, but we need to take a moment to marvel at the season current Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez had with the Marlins in 2000. His batting line in 407 plate appearances: .200-.229-.319, 40 OPS+, 18.3 wRC. How the hell do you let a guy hitting like that come to plate 407 times in one season?!? How? It’s madness. And the crazy part is that the Marlins weren’t Mo awful that year, finishing just three games under .500. We don’t have any advanced defensive stats going back that far, but Gonzalez must have been gobbling up everything hit within a 20 yard radius to justify playing pretty much every day with that bat.

Otherwise, there you have it. The best seasons with a sub-.300 OBP of the millenium. Of course when you put together a post like that it’s only fair to look at the other side of the equation, so tomorrow we’ll take a look at the worst offensive seasons by a player with a .400 or better on-base percentage.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison

A stroll down Joba Lane: First five starts
First Half Review: Middle infielders
  • Tripp

    Don’t forget Jeff Francoeur’s 2006 season!

  • Mattingly’s Love Child

    IETP (I enjoyed this post)

    Kouzmanoff is proof that even good minor league hitters with good peripherals don’t always become solid major leaguers. What sucks about him as that both scouts and stats people thought he’d be a decent player, and both were wrong.

    And Reyes is proof that a talented baseball player can learn some plate discipline. Cano is getting a little old to hope that he’ll learn much more than he has already, but players with extreme talent should not be dismissed as not being able to learn new tricks.

    • Zach

      Kouzmanoff had a pretty nice rookie season too, where he actually hit well at PETCO, but since then not so much, seems like hes regressing.

    • MattG

      Reyes is the exception that proves the rule, that being players don’t learn place discipline.

      It’s also overstated, as while Reyes’ wake rate is better, it is not all that much better than what he did in the minor leagues.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        Players don’t learn plate discipline? Really?

        Ryan Braun and Adam Jones say hi. Unless this year’s drastically increased walk totals are a fluke for both.

        Don’t get me wrong, there are players who are never going to improve their ability to judge the strike zone. But I feel that there are certain talents that can learn that discipline. Cano may not be one of them. It is something that starts (IMO anyway) at a very young age and continues as a player develops.

        • MattG

          Why would you cite these as examples? Especially Jones?

          Adam Jones:

          Minors: 154 BB/1931 AB
          Majors: 52 BB/936 AB
          2009: 23 BB/320 AB

          Ryan Braun:

          Minors: 69 BB/767 AB (only 767 AB?)
          Majors: 107 BB/1394 AB
          2009: 36 BB/332 AB

          Let’s see Braun keep it up for a full season before we reward him, but Braun does profile as the type that would have better plate discipline. He zoomed through the minors, so he probably never had a chance to display whatever discipline he has. Players that are too good for their league don’t need to work the count much.

          Adam Jones? No evidence of plate discipline at any level, including 2009.

          • Mattingly’s Love Child

            I used Jones and Braun because they played in the game last night, and were fresh in the mind.

            You’re right, 23BB/320ABs is not a significant improvement from where he was. It is only a roughly 25% improvement from his previous major league experience. If you want to argue fluke, that’s fine.

            As for Braun, he didn’t really demonstrate this skill much in his first several years in the majors. And that was a significant complaint from scouts and stats people. So is this a skill that comes and goes? Sounds to me like he focused on being aggressive his first couple of years, realized he was a big league hitter, and is now focusing on adding plate discipline.

            And Reyes’ walk rate has improved from 3.8% to 9.6% from 2005 to 2008. I’d say that is a fairly substantial improvement. His highest walk rate was 8.1% between High A and Double. Definitely not bad, but it is EXTREMELY rare for a hitter to improve their walk rate once they make it to the majors. So I’m not sure how that furthers your argument.

            • MattG

              it is EXTREMELY rare for a hitter to improve their walk rate once they make it to the majors

              That’s what I’m saying. So you agree?

              One other point:

              So is this a skill that comes and goes?

              All skills come and go. Its just a matter of consistency. If a player has a skill, its in the tool box. It is the task of the development team to get him to display that skill as frequently as possible. Braun has the skill. It was on hiatus for a while, for whatever reason, but it is much easier to teach someone to use the skill then it is to learn the skill.

              Think of it in terms of pitching, which is easy to comprehend. If a guy throws 95 once, it is in the tool box. If you get it on film and analyze it, you theoretically can teach him to do it that way every time. If he only throws 90, chances are he can’t learn to throw 95.

              • Mattingly’s Love Child

                I don’t really agree with your analogy, because I don’t think if someone throws 95 once it is in their tool box. Plate discipline is generally something that someone shows over a period of time, not just a one time occurence like a pitch.

                I agree with you that improving patience is difficult in the majors, but I’m not as dismissive that it can’t be done, or many players can’t improve this with work.

                There is ample evidence that players do improve this skill. But I do agree you’re not going to take someone like Cano and turn him into Bobby Abreu.

        • MattG

          Looking closer, Braun walked a ton in college, so he doesn’t count at all. He had plate discipline as a skill when he was 19.

        • Chris

          Cano is a different case. It’s not so much that he has bad plate discipline – he swings at roughly 30% of pitches out of the zone. That’s not great, but not terrible.

          His issue (if you want to call it that) is that he makes contact when he swings. His contact % is 91.4%, good for 9th in MLB this year. His contact percent on pitches in the zone is 96.6%, good for third in MLB.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Which, kinda paradoxically, is why plate discipline is so important to him. He’s so skilled at getting the bat on the ball, he needs to be more cautious than the average major leaguer because his unique ability can lead him to hit more poorly-struck balls than others.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        One last point on this, I would agree that most players don’t learn much plate discipline in the majors. It is foolish to think that they don’t improve upon it. The biggest growth for this skill is in the minors. Guys who have been rushed to the majors seem to have the biggest problem with this skill.

        For good major league hitters, their walk rates improve as they move up the ladder in the minors, and continue to do so as they adjust to the majors. But to me, most of this work has to be done in the minors. Hitting in the major leagues is hard enough without trying to completely rebuild a hitter’s knowledge of the strike zone.

        But I strongly disagree that plate discipline is something that can’t be learned.

  • Stephen

    And the Royals just traded for Yuniesky Betancourt and his .250/.278/.330 line … Of course, that is better than Pena and his .098/.132/.118 line …

    • Mike Pop

      They should make Tony Pena Jr a reliever already.

    • A.D.

      Such a terrible trade

  • Jackson

    I think Chris Young is a good example of why you give young, toolsy outfielders who strike out a lot plenty of time to develop instead of rushing them to the big leagues *cough*Austin Jackson*cough*

    Excuse me.

  • MattG

    Quibble with the methodology here: Any discussion of the best season with an OBP under .300 (or the worse season with an OBP over .400) would have to include discussion of positional value. There’s just no way a right fielder can be at the top of the list. Probably, all five of them should be catchers.

  • Chris

    I don’t know that Chris Young’s problem is his hacktastic approach at the plate. He has a career IsoD of .068 (8.5% walk rate). While that isn’t spectacular, it’s certainly not bad enough to hold him back (for comparison, Pedroia’s IsoD is .060 with an 8% walk rate).

    His problem isn’t that he swings too much, it’s that when he does swing he doesn’t hit the ball (contact % of only 77% – even Cervelli is at 83%).

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    “Thankfully, none of them are Yankees the only Yankee on the list is old buddy Scott Brosius.”


  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    …weighted on-base percentage, or wOBA. If you don’t know what that is, then read this. It’s basically a fancier version of OPS that properly weighs all the things a hitter can do to produce value using linear weights.

    I long for the day where will stop using OPS+ primarily and start dropping some wOBA+.

    wOBA+ would be an awesomely handy stat.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Hart’s overall production has gone down every season since his breakout.

    At least he still gets to spy on his girlfriend at night.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    …we need to take a moment to marvel at the season current Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez had with the Marlins in 2000. His batting line in 407 plate appearances: .200-.229-.319, 40 OPS+, 18.3 wRC. How the hell do you let a guy hitting like that come to plate 407 times in one season?!? How?

    The real question is, how the hell does a guy who had averaged 8 homers a year over his first 6 years in the league hit a 12th inning game winning home run against Jeff Weaver to turn what could have been a 3-1 lead in the World Series into a 2-2 tie, enroute to an eventual 4-2 loss?

    And then how does that same big bag of crap named Jeff Weaver then nearly singlehandedly win the World Series for the Cardinals three years later, pitching to a 2.43 ERA over 5 postseason starts and 26.2 IP?

    I’m going to go light myself on fire.

  • Jersey

    This was a fun post. Looking forward to tomorrow’s…I imagine the “worst” .400 OBP seasons are still going to be incredibly productive. The question is how much.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      I suspect we’re going to hear tons of bitching and moaning and caterwauling about how Player X can’t possibly have what you would call a “good” season, since his batting average was only .2XX and that newfangled statistics suck and what was good enough for the back of a Topps Card in 1950 should be good enough for today and blah blah blah.

      • Jersey

        It’s okay, I hate everything I don’t understand too.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Fun Facts:

    Bengie and Yadier Molina appear on the list, but not Jose. That could be because he never had a season with enough plate appearances to qualify. I choose to believe that it’s because he’s really awesome.

    Cesar Izturis makes it, but Maicer does not. Neither of the Aybars made it.

    Alex Gonzalez makes the list FOUR TIMES. 2000 and 2004 for the Marlins, 2006 for the Red Sox, and 2003 for the Cubs. The Cubs one is a trick, though… that’s not the same Alex Gonzalez. That’s Alex S. Gonzalez, also a shortstop, but not the same person.

    The Mets had a member of their infield have a 400 PA/sub .300 OBP season in 4 out of 5 straight years: SS Rey Ordoñez in 2001 and 2002, C/1B Jason Phillips in 2004, and Jose Reyes in 2005.

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