January 7, 2001

Buy A Walk Instead Of A Vowel
by Steve Lombardi

Through the 2000 season, Shawon Dunston has crafted a .297 career On Base Average (OBA) in nearly 5,900 Plate Appearances (PA). The obvious initial reaction to this statistic is "How the heck did a batter this ineffective get so many chances to step up to the plate?"

The second thought being "Is that the worst ever?"

No. Hobe Ferris, who was a second baseman with Boston (1901-07) and a third baseman with St. Louis (1908-09), in 5,101 PA had a career .265 OBA - the worst OBA of anyone with 5,000+ PA in their career.

How did Ferris’ OBA compare to the league average?

Year Ferris OBA AL Avg. OBA
1901 .290 .333
1902 .276 .331
1903 .287 .303
1904 .245 .295
1905 .253 .299
1906 .262 .303
1907 .254 .302
1908 .291 .294
1909 .232 .303

Notice the AL average OBA for the years 1903 through 1909. (For a modern point of perspective, the 2000 MLB average OBA was around .340.)

Suddenly, one can understand why Hobe Ferris’ lifetime OBA was so low. Lower than average? Sure. However, even the American League average OBA hovered near .300 at the time - a mark which most would consider "low" by itself. (The average AL OBA mark also forces one to appreciate the OBA marks of Nap Lajoie, Willie Keeler, Topsy Hartsel, Elmer Flick, George Stone, and Ty Cobb during those days.)

Who was next on the list after Ferris? The recently deceased Aurelio Rodriguez fashioned a .276 lifetime OBA in 7,078 PA. Rodriguez played, or perhaps, based on his lifetime OBA, one should say "toiled," from 1967 to 1983.

Relatively speaking, where does Aurelio’s mark fall? Since Rodriguez played mostly in the American League (1,928 of his career 2, 017 games were in the AL), examine the best and worst (in terms of American League OBA) during the time he played.

The 10 AL Players with the highest OBA in the years 1967-83 (with 5,000+ PA): 

Rank Player OBA
1 Mike Hargrove .406
2 Ken Singleton .399
3 Rod Carew .398
4 Carl Yastrzemski .385
5 Bobby Grich .376
6 George Brett .373
7 Boog Powell .369
8 John Mayberry .367
9 Toby Harrah .366
10 Roy White .366

Knowing this, it is not an overstatement to say Rodriguez was, on average, 100 points below the best in terms of OBA. How about the worst? See the following:

The 10 AL Players with the lowest OBA in the years 1967-83 (with 5,000+ PA):

Rank Player OBA
1 Aurelio Rodriguez .276
2 Mickey Stanley .300
3 Bucky Dent .300
4 Mark Belanger .302
5 Paul Blair .307
6 Jim Spencer .310
7 Freddie Patek .310
8 Bert Campaneris .313
9 Joe Rudi .314
10 Brooks Robinson .318

Without any doubt, Aurelio Rodriguez was by far the worst, in terms of OBA, during the time he played.

Digressing for a moment, notice anything else about this "lowest" list? Everyone on the list played on pennant winners at one time in their career sans Patek (and Freddie came very close a few times). Also, each one of these players were standout defensive players at their position. Perhaps the old axiom is true - pitching and defense wins games, not offense. (Note: The 1999-2000 World Champion New York Yankees had a slick fielding 3B named Scott Brosius who had OBA marks of .307 in 1999 and .299 in 2000.)

Do not be fooled. Every one of those pennant winners on which these players appeared had other players whom excelled in the OBA department. Pitching and defense ALONE do not win games. Teams have to score some runs to win - and they cannot score without first reaching base.

Back to the concept of bad OBA, after Ferris and Rodriguez, who rounded out the Top Ten Worst List (of players with at least 5,000 PA)? Every one of the rest were shortstops - little surprise (since Job One at SS is defense with offensive contributions being secondary). They were:

Rank Player OBA PA Career
3 Mickey Doolan .279 6,596 1905-18
4 George McBride .281 6,234 1901-1920
5 Everett Scott .281 6,373 1914-26
6 Ed Brinkman .282 6,640 1961-75
7 Tim Foli .286 6,573 1970-85
8 Alfredo Griffin .287 7,330 1976-93
9 Ozzie Guillen .287 7,133 1985-present
10 Tommy Corcoran .289 9,378 1890-1907

Again, the marks of Doolan, McBride, Corcoran do not seem as bad as Scott, Brinkman, Foli, Griffin, and Guillen given the time period in which they played.

Ed Brinkman triggers an interesting thought. Remember that Aurelio Rodriguez and Mickey Stanley ranked one-two for the worst OBA during 1967-83 (of those with 5,000+ PA in the AL)?

Brinkman, Stanley and Rodriguez all played TOGETHER with the Tigers from 1971 to 1974. During which time, Detroit finished last in AL OBA twice (’73 & ’74).

Further, it is interesting to note how Detroit (as a team) faired from 1971 to 1974:

Year Final Standing Win % Games Back from 1st Det. OBA AL OBA
1971 2nd .562 12.0 .331 .317
1972 1st .551 --- .311 .306
1973 3rd .525 12.0 .325 .328
1974 6th .444 19.0 .309 .323

Seems that the lack of OBA caught up with the Tigers in ’73 and ’74. It is significant to note that quick-fix Billy Martin managed Detroit in 1971, 1972 and part of 1973. Martin had a lifetime OBA of .300 himself. Perhaps if Billy paid more attention to OBA, his teams would have faired better in the long run? Then again, if Martin paid more attention to the amount of alcohol which he consumed, perhaps his managerial career would have panned out better in the long run?

Enough about the Tigers and Billy Ball. Back to the worst all-time in terms of OBA. There are five other players who deserve mention in this discussion - as they are the only others (besides the aforementioned Tommy Corcoran) to compile both a "terrible" OBA and amass more than 8,000+ PA in their career). They are:

Player OBA PA
Frank White .295 8,467
Larry Bowa .301 9,103
Bill Mazeroski .302 8,379
Joe Carter .306 9,154
Garry Templeton .306 8,208

"Honorable" mention to the recently retired Gary Gaetti who collected 9,000+ PA with a career .308 OBA.

How "bad" was Frank White? During the years in which White played (1973-90) only two other AL players (with 5,000+ PA) had an OBA below .300 (in that same time span): Tony Armas .290 in 5,496 PA and Alfredo Griffin .293 in 5,276 PA. But, at least White was not alone in the "contemporary under .300" club (as was Aurelio Rodriguez).

Ballpark, just how does one fashion an OBA near .290? Assuming the man played just about everyday, and had an "average" Batting Average, to get an OBA under .300, it would require the batter to not exceed one walk per week. Talk about Thou Shalt Not Pass. (If a visual image is required, think "Rey Ordonez." He has a lifetime .287 OBA through 2000 in 2,200+ PA.)

In conclusion, Aurelio Rodriguez (who was one the few MLB players to have every vowel in his first name) and his lifetime .276 OBA wins the "Why did they give this guy 7,000 chances to bat?" award. And, thanks (?) to Hackin’ Shawon for getting this whole notion started.

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