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After reading a number of comments and doing some serious thinking, I've realized that my rant an obsession with OBP has not really been proven or even looked at as a valid theory, in my blog anyways. The theory is simply, OBP and good pitching wins baseball games and makes championship teams. So today I've got a bit of time, so I'll go through the last 3-4 years or so, since this is the so-called 'modern era of baseball' and see where the playoff teams and WS champs stand.
Let's start with 2007. We're looking at ascending order of OBP in the regular season. The star indicates division champion.
1. New York Yankees (94-68): .290/.366/.463
2. Boston Red Sox (96-66): .279/.362/.444 *
3. Colorado Rockies (90-73): .280/.354/.437
4. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73): .274/.354/.458 *
5. Detroit Tigers (88-74): .287/.345/.417
6. Los Angeles Angels (94-68): .284/.345/.417 *
7. Cleveland Indians (96-66): .268/.343/.428 *
18. Chicago Cubs (85-77): .271/.333/.422 *
21. Milwaukee Brewers (83-79): .262/.329/.456
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72): .250/.321/.413*
Interestingly, six of the top seven teams made the playoffs and two of top three went to the World Series. The Cubs were in an extremely week division and got bounced in the first round. The Diamondbacks were quite the anomaly though, but they had the 7th best ERA in baseball at the time.
1. New York Yankees (97-65): .290/.366/.463 *
2. Boston Red Sox (86-76) .279/.362/.444
3. Cleveland Indians (78-84): .280/.354/.437
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74): .274/.354/.458 *
5. Toronto Blue Jays (87-75): .287/.345/.417
6. Minnesota Twins (96-66): .284/.345/.417 *
7. Philadelphia Phillies (85-77): .268/.343/.428
10. Oakland Athletics (93-69): .250/.340/.412 *
15. St. Louis Cardinals (83-78): .269/.337/.431 *
18. New York Mets (97-65): .264/.334/.445 *
24. Detroit Tigers (95-67): .274/.329/.449
25. Milwaukee Brewers (75-87): .258/.327/.420
This one isn't as apparent as 2007. Nevertheless, all but two of divisional champions fall in the top ten. The Cardinals are a big time change-up considering they had a team ERA of 4.51, but you can see their division was weak once again considering 83 wins took it and they carried the best on-base in th division. The Mets carried a 4.15 ERA, which was 6th best in the league but their slugging paid off. Then they ran into the Cardinals, who beat the Tigers, who had the league's best ERA. But that pitching failed in the end.
1. Boston Red Sox (95-67): .281/.357/.454 *
2. New York Yankees (95-67): .276/.355/.450
3. Philadelphia Phillies (88-74): .270/.348/.423
4. Cincinnati Reds (73-89): .261/.339/.446
5. Florida Marlins (83-79): .272/.339/.409
6. St. Louis Cardinals (100-62): .270/.339/.423 *
7. Cleveland Indians (93-69): .271/.334/.453
8. Atlanta Braves (90-72): .265/.333/435 *
10. San Diego Padres (82-80): 257/.333/.391 *
12. Milwaukee Brewers (81-81) : .259/331/.423
19. Los Angeles Angels (95-67): .270/.325/.409 *
22. Chicago White Sox (99-63): .262/.322/.425 *
23. Houston Astros (89-73): .256/.322/.408
2005 was an interesting year of baseball with the arrival of Jose Guillen. I don't remember if it was his first year but he definitely made a splash. While the White Sox only managed a .322 OBP, they did manage a 3.61 ERA, tied for best in the AL. Houston looks like they kill the OBP theory too, but then you look at their 3.51 ERA and an 89 win season. That's not exactly what you expect from a NL Champion. The Angels? Fifth in pitching with a 3.68 ERA. But why in the world are the Reds there with their 73 win season? How about a 5.15 ERA, which was worst in the NL?
So what did we learn? OBP isn't everything, but it's half of everything. It's pretty clear that the other half is pitching. If you look at 20065 you'll see that the Cardinals carried the 6th best OBP and the best ERA in baseball. As a result, they took home a 100 win season, even though they fumbled against the Astros in the NL Championship. The numbers are sort of up there, but it's pretty clear that slugging doesn't matter all that much. In fact, NL teams easily made the playoffs with slugging under .420.
The Brewers haven't been able to put together high on-base numbers for a very long time. When you combine that with poor pitching, you've got a really bad couple of decades of teams. Their pitching has improved quite a bit the last two years, though, even if their OBP hasn't. This year they're carrying a 4.16 ERA, but a sub .320 OBP and a .426 slugging has put them well below teams with much higher OBPs. If the Brewers found some more guys who weren't just homerun hitters, but rather are disciplined hitters who go gap to gap, they might be able to get over that hump. It looks like the pitching is there and likely there into the future, so where will they find the final ingredient in their recipe?