On Base Average for Players

This article was written by Pete Palmer

This article was published in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal


There are two main objectives for the hitter.   The first is to not make an. out and the second is to hit for distance. Long-ball hitting is normally measured by slugging average. Not making an out can be expressed in terms of on base average (OBA), where:

      OBA    =  Hits + Walks + Hit-by-Pitch
                     At Bats + Walks + Hit-by-Pitch

For example, if we were figuring out Frank Robinson’s career on base average, it would be compiled like this:  2641 hits + 1213 walks + 178 hit-by-pitch (4032), divided by 8810 at bats + 1213 walks + 178 HBP (10201). His OBA is .395, which happens to be the tops among active players, but does not compare very well with players of the past.   Sacrifice hits are ignored in this calculation.

On base average can be quite different from batting average.   Take for example Joe DiMaggio and Roy Cullenbine, once outfield teammates for the Yankees. DiMag had a lifetime batting average of .325 and Cullenbine .276. But Roy was walked much more frequently than Joe and made fewer outs; he had an OBA of .404, compared to .398 for the Yankee Clipper.

In calculating OBA, the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia was used for hits, at bats, and bases on balls.   Hit by pitch data are from official averages back to 1920 in the AL and 1917 in the NL. Figures back to 1909 have been compiled by Alex Haas from newspaper box scores.   Some data before then comes from Haas, John Tattersall, and Bob Davids. Additional information is available in some of the old newspapers, but has not yet been compiled. Players with incomplete totals are credited with HEP at the known rate from available data for those unknown appearances. When no data are to be obtained, league averages are used.   Before 1887, a batter was not awarded first base when hit by a pitch.

Who is the all-time leader in on base average? It is Ted Williams with a spectacular .483 mark.   Not surprisingly, Babe Ruth is second with .474. It is no secret that Williams and Ruth were both exceptionally good hitters as well as being among the most frequent walk receivers. It was not unusual for them to get on base 300 times a season. Ranking third is the all-time list is John McGraw, who was elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager, but was also a fine hitter. In addition, he was adept at getting on base from walks and HBP. He holds the all-time NL record for OBA both lifetime and season. Billy Hamilton, the stolen base king, and Lou Gehrig are next in line, followed by such big names as Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx and Tris Speaker. Rounding out the top ten is Ferris Fain, former first baseman of the A’s, who quietly attained a very high OBA to go with his two batting titles.

Some players who many fans might not think to be among the leaders in OBA are Max Bishop, second baseman of the A’s last super teams of 1929-31, Clarence “Cupid” Childs, Cleveland second sacker in the 1890’s, Roy Thomas, Phil center fielder at the turn of the century, and Joe Cunningham, who played with the Cardinals and White Sox just a few years ago.   On the other hand, some of the famous hitters of baseball are not included in the accompanying list of players with lifetime on base averages of .400 or better.   Missing are such stars as Willie Keeler, Bill Terry, George Sisler, Nap Lajoie, Al Simmons, Hans Wagner, Cap Anson, Joe DiMaggio, and Roberto Clemente.

Since most of the players in the .400 list are either outfielders or first basemen, an additional table is shown that provides data on the top ten players at each position.   Many unheralded players are high in the OBA figures, such as Wally Schang, who played for many AL clubs in the teens and twenties, who is second among catchers, and Elmer Valo, another Connie Mack product, who ranks sixth in right field.

There are no active players with OBA’s of .400 or better, and only a few among the leaders by position. The level of OBA in the majors is presently quite low.   This could be attributed to many factors, such as improved pitching (bigger and stronger pitchers throwing from the unchanged distance of 60 feet 6 inches, more use of relief pitchers, and the widespread use of the slider as an extra pitch), larger ball parks, and increased emphasis on hitting home runs.   Those players with high OBA’s that are now active are shown below:

 

Frank Robinson

.395

Harmon Killebrew

.385

Carl Yastrzemski

.389

Al Kaline

.383

Willie Mays

.388

Joe Morgan

.383

Dick Allen

.388

Henry Aaron

.381

Willie McCovey

.387

Norm Cash

.379

 

It is interesting to note that if hit by pitch were not included in figuring OBA, Frank Robinson would rank only fourth.

In regard to season averages, Dick Allen led the majors in OBA in 1972 with a mark of .422. Joe Morgan was the NL leader with .419. The only others with .400 or better on base average were Carlos may at .408, and Billy Williams at .403. These season averages are far, far below the top season averages of the past. The list of top season marks, which includes all instances of OBA of .500 or better, is dominated by another Williams named Ted, the all-time season leader, and by Ruth.

 

Ted Williams, 1941

.551

Babe Ruth, 1926

.516

John McGraw, 1899

.546

Mickey Mantle, 1954

.515

Babe Ruth, 1923

.545

Babe Ruth, 1924

.513

Babe Ruth, 1920

.530

Babe Ruth, 1921

.512

Ted Williams, 1957

.528

Rog. Hornsby, 1924

.508

Billy Hamilton, 1894

.521

Joe Kelley, 1894

.502

Ted Williams, 1946

.516

Hugh Duffy, 1894

.501

 

Ted Williams led the league in OBA every year he qualified except for his rookie season, and he had a higher OBA than the leader in three of his four seasons shortened by injury. Those leading the league most often in OBA are:

 

            AL       Ted Williams              12                    NL       Rogers Hornsby          8

                        Babe Ruth                 10                               Stan Musial                 5

                        Ty Cobb                     6                                Billy Hamilton             4

                        Lou Gehrig                 5                                Richie Ashburn           4

                        Carl Yastrzemski        5                                Mel Ott                       4

                                                                                            Honus Wagner            4

 

It is important to remember that OBA is only one component of hitting, and that slugging is equally valuable. Of course, the best long-ball hitters usually rank high in both departments because they are generally walked more frequently. One thing the OBA does is give percentage recognition to the players ability to get on via the walk and the HBP as well as the hit. He has saved his team an out and he is n a good position to score a run.

 

ON BASE AVERAGE LEADERS
1,000 games minimum – through 1972

 

Player

Years

AB

H

BB

HBP

OBA

Ted Williams

1939-1960

7706

2654

2018

39

.483

Babe Ruth

1914-1935

8399

2873

2056

42

.474

John McGraw

1891-1906

3924

1309

836

105+

.462

Billy Hamilton

1888-1901

6268

2158

1187

50*

.452

Lou Gehrig

1923-1939

8001

2721

1508

45

.447

Rogers Hornsby

1915-1937

8173

2930

1038

48

.434

Ty Cobb

1905-1928

11437

4192

1249

90

.433

Jimmie Foxx

1926-1945

8134

2646

1452

13

.430

Tris Speaker

1907-1928

10205

3514

1381

101

.427

Ferris Fain

1947-1955

3930

1139

903

18

.425

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie Collins

1906-1930

9949

3310

1503

76

.424

Joe Jackson

1908-1920

4981

1774

519

59

.423

Max Bishop

1924-1935

4494

1216

1153

31

.423

Mickey Mantle

1951-1968

8102

2415

1734

13

.423

Mickey Cochrane

1925-1937

5169

1652

857

29

.419

Stan Musial

1941-1963

10972

3630

1599

53

.418

DanBrouthers

1879-1904

6711

2296

840

32*

.418

Jesse Burkett

1890-1905

8421

2850

1029

63*

.414

Clarence Childs

1890-1901

5615

1720

990

44*

.414

Mel Ott

1926-1947

9456

2876

1708

64

.414

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rank Greenberg

1930-1947

5193

1628

852

16

.412

Roy Thomas

1899-1911

5296

1537

1042

42*

.411

Charlie Keller

1939-1952

3790

1085

784

10

.410

Harry Heilmann

1914-1932

7787

2660

856

40

.410

Jackie Robinson

1947-1956

4877

1518

740

72

.410

Eddie Stanky

1943-1953

4301

1154

996

34

.410

Ed Delahanty

1888-1903

7505

2597

741

55*

.409

Roy Cullenbine

1938-1947

3879

1072

852

11

.408

Joe Cunningham

1954-1966

3362

980

599

49

.406

Riggs Stephenson

1921-1934

4508

1515

494

40

.406

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arky Vaughan

1932-1948

6622

2103

937

46

.406

Paul Waner

1926-1945

9459

3152

1091

38

.404

Chas. Gehringer

1924-1942

8858

2839

1185

51

.404

Joe Kelley

1891-1908

6977

2213

910

99+

.403

Lu Blue

1921-1933

5904

1696

1092

43

.402

Pete Browning

1882-1894

4820

1646

466

20*

.402

Denny Lyons

1885-1897

4294

1333

621

32*

.401

 

+Hit by pitch estimated from partial career totals
*Hit by pitch estimated from league average

 

ON BASE AVERAGE LIFETIME LEADERS BY POSITION
1,000 games minimum – at least 500 games at position

 

Catcher


Shortstop

.419

Mickey Cochrane

 

.406

Arky Vaughan

.393

Wally Schang

 

.399

Luke App ling

.384

Roger Bresnahan

 

.394

Jobnny Pesky

.382

Bill Dickey

 

.391

Joe Sewell

.378

Rick Ferrell

 

.390

Ronus Wagner

.371

Joe Torre

 

.390

Joe Cronin

.370

Gabby Hartnett

 

.380

Rughie Jennings

.369

Virgil Davis

 

.380

Lou Boudreau

.362

Roy Campanella

 

.370

Cecil Travis

.359

Sherm Lollar

 

.368

Peewee Reese

 

 

 

 

 

First base


Left Field

.447

Lou Gehrig

 

.483

Ted Williams

.430

Jimmie Foxx

 

.423

Joe Jackson

.425

Ferris Fain

 

.418

Stan Musial

.418

Stan Musial

 

.414

Jesse Burkett

.418

Dan Brouthers

 

.410

Charlie Keller

.412

Hank Greenberg

 

.409

Ed Delahanty

.406

Joe Cunningham

 

.406

Riggs Stephenson

.402

Lu Blue

 

.403

Joe Kelley

.397

Johnny Nize

 

.398

Ralph Kiner

.397

Roger Connor

 

.397

Elmer E. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

Second base


Center field

.434

Rogers Hornsby

 

.452

Billy Hamilton

.424

Eddie Collins

 

.433

Ty Cobb

.423

Max Bishop

 

.427

Trist Speaker

.414

Clarence Childs

 

.423

Mickey Mantle

.410

Eddie Stanky

 

.411

Roy Thomas

.410

Jackie Robinson

 

.402

Pete Browning

.404

Charlie Gehringer

 

.398

Joe DiMagglo

.392

George Grantham

 

.397

Richie Ashburn

.383

Joe Morgan

 

.397

Earle Combs

.380

Tony Lazzeri

 

.395

Hack Wilson

.380

Nap Lajoie

 

.395

Earl Averill

 

 

 

 

 

Third base


Right field

.462

John McGraw

 

.474

Babe Ruth

.401

Denny Lyons

 

.414

Mel Ott

.394

Eddie Yost

 

.410

Harry Heilmann

.394

Stan Hack

 

.408

Roy Cullenbine

.390

Harlond Clift

 

.404

Paul Waner

.387

Al Rosen

 

.399

Elmer Valo

.385

Harmon Killebrew

 

.399

Ross Youngs

.378

Eddie Mathews

 

.395

Frank Robinson

.375

Bob Elliott

 

.392

Mike Tiernan

.373

Heine Groh

 

.386

Kiki Cuyler

 

© SABR. All Rights Reserved