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November 22, 2016

Flu-Like Symptoms

The 300-300 Club

by Rob Mains


Effectively Wild episode 975 was a listener e-mail show. Listener Angus asked this question:

This is genuinely perplexing to me: Why isn’t times on base a more prominent statistic? Considering its integral role as the numerator in calculating on-base percentage, I’m surprised it isn’t on every stat line right next to total bases and extra-base hits. If OBP has taken precedence over batting average, why hasn’t times on base overtaken hits in importance?

Why do we continue to be impressed by 200-hit seasons, while 300-times-on-base seasons barely get mentioned? And don’t you think 300-300 seasons would be noteworthy accomplishments? It seems that they would be a nifty combination of a player’s power and on-base ability. Mike Trout, unsurprisingly, was the only member of this club this year, with 302 total bases and exactly 300 times on base.

I thought to myself, “hey, 300-300 club! That sounds like a fun stat!” Let’s evaluate it. Somewhere, I remember reading something about what makes for a good baseball statistic. I can’t find the reference, so here are some criteria that I made up:

  • Generalized. Last season, Jose Altuve became just the fourth player ever, and the first American Leaguer, to bat .330 or better with at least 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers, and 30 stolen bases. Good for Altuve! But that sort of cherry-picked statistic got old around the time Altuve was born. By contrast, 300 times on base, 300 total bases—that’s a nice general statistic. (OK, the others in the .330-200-40-20-30 club were 1996 Ellis Burks, 1997 Larry Walker, and 2007 Hanley Ramirez, but that really wasn’t my point.)
  • Relevant. Barry Foote (1974), Bobby Murcer (1975), and Jeff Cirillo (2000) are co-holders of the record for the most home runs in a season with more sacrifice flies than home runs. (Each had 11 HRs and 12 SFs). That’s ... can we even say interesting? It doesn’t tell us anything about their worth as baseball players. But getting on base and accumulating total bases, well, those are just a denominator or two away from becoming OPS! They’re relevant to real skills that help win games.
  • Either easily calculable ... Times on base is hits + walks + hit by pitch. That’s easy enough. Total bases is a back-of-the-baseball-card type statistic (on some baseball cards, at least), and it’s also easy to calculate: singles + 2 x doubles + 3 x triples + 4 x home runs.
  • ... or measuring something really important. Here are three statistics that are not easily calculable: WAR, Deserved Run Average, and catcher framing runs. You won’t see somebody doing those longhand on the margin of their scorecard between innings at a game. But we can agree they’re really important, right? Times on base and total bases are important too, but we already checked the easily calculable box, so we’re good.

There are probably other good criteria, but my goal here isn’t to develop an evaluative model for statistics, so let’s just say that Angus came up with something good.

Baseball has a tendency to define clubs by statistical performance. The 30-30 club (that’s 30 homers, 30 stolen bases) was a big thing for a while. When Bobby Bonds punched his membership card for the fifth time in 1978, he alone accounted for half the 30-30 seasons in baseball history. The other members were Willie Mays (twice), Henry Aaron, and the less memorable Tommy Harper and Ken Williams.

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Related Content:  Mike Trout,  Clubbing

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