# On Base Average for Players

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 0.395 Harmon Killebrew 0.385 Carl Yastrzemski 0.389 Al Kaline 0.383 Willie Mays 0.388 Joe Morgan 0.383 Dick Allen 0.388 Henry Aaron 0.381 Willie McCovey 0.387 Norm Cash 0.379

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 0.551 Babe Ruth, 1926 0.516 John McGraw, 1899 0.546 Mickey Mantle, 1954 0.515 Babe Ruth, 1923 0.545 Babe Ruth, 1924 0.513 Babe Ruth, 1920 0.53 Babe Ruth, 1921 0.512 Ted Williams, 1957 0.528 Rog. Hornsby, 1924 0.508 Billy Hamilton, 1894 0.521 Joe Kelley, 1894 0.502 Ted Williams, 1946 0.516 Hugh Duffy, 1894 0.501

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.

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