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.
But then there were seven 30-30 seasons in the 1980s, 20 in the 1990s, 17 in the 2000s, and six so far this decade (Jacoby Ellsbury, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun, and Matt Kemp in 2011 and Braun and Trout in 2012, and if you knew about all of those when they occurred, you’re better at this than I am). The 30-30 club’s gotten big enough that they had to move the meetings to a bigger room. Crank those figures up by 10 each, and you get the 40-40 club, which has only four members, yet by some measures isn’t so exclusive.
So let’s consider the 300-300 club. How unusual is Mike Trout’s membership in it? Well, it’s pretty cool, but it’s not exactly rare. With the caveat that the statistical record from some of baseball’s early seasons is incomplete, I (read: the Baseball-Reference Play Index) counted 118 times that a player’s had 300 total bases and 300 times on base in one year.
The top of the list won’t surprise you. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did it nine times each. Barry Bonds did it seven times, and Ted Williams and Stan Musial six times each. They’re the only players with five or more 300-300 seasons. Jeff Bagwell, Jimmie Foxx, Todd Helton, and Rogers Hornsby did it four times. Jason Giambi, Albert Pujols, Tris Speaker, and Frank Thomas did it three times. Trout’s one of seven players with two 300-300 seasons; the others are Wade Boggs, Carlos Delgado, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Mantle, Edgar Martinez, and Paul Waner. All good hitters.
Here are some other features of the 300-300 Club:
- Its youngest member is Mike Trout, 2013, age 21. Its oldest is Barry Bonds, 2004, age 39. The five oldest players in a 300-300 season are, in order, Barry Bonds, Barry Bonds, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Babe Ruth.
- The number of players reaching both 300 times on base and 300 total bases tracks the game’s offensive patterns. During the lively ball era of 1920-1941 (22 seasons), there were 42 300-300 player seasons. From 1941-1957 (17 seasons), there were only 15, all but one of them (Ralph Kiner in 1951) generated by Ted Williams, Stan Musial, or Mickey Mantle. From 1958-1986 (29 seasons), Deadball II and the surrounding seasons, only six players joined the 300-300 club. Then it picked up again, and between 1993-2005 (13 seasons), 42 players made it. In the 11 years since, only Pujols in 2009, Miguel Cabrera in 2011, Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt in 2015, and Trout in both 2013 and 2016 have joined the club.
- There’s a lot of black ink in this club. Players with 300-300 seasons led their league in on-base percentage 53 times, OPS 53 times, runs 47 times, slugging percentage 42 times, walks 39 times, batting average 35 times, RBIs 29 times, doubles 29 times, and hits 24 times. Those were 118 really productive seasons.
- The tougher of the two skills is getting on base. There have been 1,101 seasons in which a player’s gotten 300 total bases but fewer than 300 times on base (the most extreme case: Javy Lopez, 2003, 314 total bases and 187 times on base), but only 34 in which a player’s had 300 times on base but fewer than 300 total bases. If a player gets on base 300 times, odds are that he’ll have 300 total bases as well.
Bill James created a stat called the Power/Speed Number that measures a player’s ability to hit home runs and steal bases. You can’t just sum individual home run and stolen base totals, or you’ll wind up with Mark Trumbo and Billy Hamilton among your leaders. James’ formula is (2 x HR x SB) / (HR +SB). A player with 30 stolen bases and 30 homers has a Power/Speed Number of 30.0. If the breakdown is 28/32, the Power-Speed Number drops to 29.9. At 25/35, it’s down to 29.2.
The Power/Speed Number thus measures both quantity and balance. The 2016 leader was Mike Trout (29 HR, 30 SB) with 29.5, edging out Jonathan Villar (19 HR, 62 SB) with 29.1. Hamilton (3 HR, 58 SB) had a Power/Speed Number of 5.7. Trumbo’s (47 HR, 2 SB) was 3.8.
Let’s do the same with times on base and total bases. Let’s call it the TOB/TB Number.* The TOB/TB Number is two times the number of times a player gets on base via hit, walk, or hit by pitch, times his total bases, divided by the sum of his times on base and total bases.
Here are the all-time career leaders:
No real surprises there, right? The top 20 consists of 20 no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famers, 20 percent of whom may not get in during our lifetimes.
How about single-season record-holders? Again, no real surprises among the top 20:
If you’re thinking “what are peak lively ball and steroid eras, plus Musial and Williams?” you just won Baseball Categorization for 80. In fact, if you exclude the lively ball years of 1920-1938 and the PED years of 1996-2004, the best non-Musial, non-Williams season was Norm Cash, 1961, with 339.4, and that was a) only the 46th-best of all time, and b) tainted not by PEDs but by PEBs.
Immediately following Cash is 2009 Albert Pujols, 339.0. Other non-lively ball, non-PED, non-Williams, non-Musial seasons in the top 75 are 2006 Ryan Howard (335.8), 1894 Hugh Duffy (335.4), 1956 Mickey Mantle (335.0), 1993 Barry Bonds (334.7), 1986 Don Mattingly (333.2), 2007 Alex Rodriguez (333.11), 2005 Derrek Lee (333.07), and 1962 Frank Robinson (332.1).
As the figures above illustrate, the TOB/TB Number is highly environment-dependent. Trout’s 2016 TOB/TB of 301.0 is only the 374th-highest of all time, but as the list above illustrates, the figure is influenced by when it occurs. This was Trout’s third season with a TOB/TB number greater than 300, joining 2013 (309 times on base, 328 total bases, 318.2 TOB/TB) and 2015 (274 times on base, 339 total bases, 303.1 TOB/TB). Here are the players with a 300+ TOB/TB Number in this decade:
So Angus, good job! I like your club. It’ll be fun going forward seeing which players, other than Trout, get to learn the secret handshake in upcoming seasons.
*There has to be some sort of clever play on Hamlet here, but I can’t come up with it. I can get as far as to be TB. Can some clever commenter figure out how to put an or not in there?
This research would not be possible without the Baseball-Reference Play Index. Well, it’d be possible, but so much work that I’d give up on it.