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OBP Revisited

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/06/2009

I was doing my daily check of the MLB stats that I consider to be the most important for winning handicapping and wagering and I thought it
was a good time to re-visit the all-important, OBP category.

*The hottest team in baseball at the time, the New York Yankees were on top of the heap in the American League in on-base percentage by a good bit. Their mark was a very strong .358.

*The Los Angeles Angels have been on a tear for a few months now. They’ve been one of the biggest profit teams of 2009 for Las Vegas bettors. They were second in the AL with a .351 mark.

*Tampa Bay, a team that’s kicked things up a notch in recent weeks in an effort to get back to the playoffs, was third at .348. You can probably see where this is headed. The teams playing the best ball in the American League heading into the first week of August, were those getting the most runners on base!

*Over in the National League the LA Dodgers have had the best won-lost record since the get-go. They’re comfortably in the first spot in OBP in the Senior Circuit with a .352 mark.

*The defending World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies have been red-hot in recent weeks. That surge has them up to third in the league in on-base percentage with a .341 mark.

I’ve always emphasized the importance of using on-base percentage to evaluate offenses. You can’t win games unless you’re getting people on base and scoring runs.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that on-base percentage is the ONLY thing that matters. Pitching is obviously important too. For example, Washington and Cleveland have strong on-base percentages offensively, but their pitching staffs are so bad that the teams are horrible anyway. You have to have both pitching and offense to make a run at a championships. My concern is when people devote way too much of their efforts studying pitching, and not nearly enough studying offense.

Power matters at the plate as well. An offense that does nothing but draw walks will have a great on-base percentage, but won’t maximize their scoring opportunities with big hits that drive home all the base runners. Championship teams have power in addition to getting people on base.

Studies have shown, though, that on-base percentage is the straw that stirs the drink. Power without baserunners just gives you the occasional solo home run. Pitching without offense has you losing too many 3-2 or 2-1, type games. Getting people on base actually creates edges that build on themselves.


*Batting averages go UP when runners are on base. Some TV announcers are convinced the opposite is true. But, they’re looking at batting averages in late game pressure situations when an ace reliever is on the mound, not the full game numbers featuring a cross-section of pitchers.

Think about it. If a runner is on first base, the first-baseman stands on the base to hold him. This reduces the ground he can cover (and his reaction time on line shots), allowing more space for hit balls to make it through the infield.

Also, if there’s a runner on third, the infield will often be pulled in to cut off the run at the plate. Bringing fielders in reduces their reaction time, and limits the amount of space they can cover on hit balls. Managers live with the difference hoping that a ball hit right at somebody will prevent a run. Over time, batting averages go up.

There’s no counter-force to bring averages back down. So, hitting with runners on base will increase batting averages over the long haul, which puts more runners on base! You can see how that would explode into big innings.

*Pitchers can throw with less pressure when given a lead. There’s more margin for error. They can be more aggressive at the plate knowing a solo home run doesn’t hurt them. You hear pitchers talk about this all the time. A tight game is a pressure cooker. Pitching with a lead allows them to throw at their very best.

Now, combine those too and you have teams with high on-base percentages creating big innings for themselves and allowing their starting pitchers and relievers to thrive in the friendliest of conditions.

This is why on-base percentage matters so much!

And, turning it around, it’s why a bad on-base percentage is such a drain on a team. Teams who don’t get people on base have very few big innings. Their pitchers have to be perfect if they want to get a win. That creates a cycle of frustration that implodes over a long season. Maybe that’s the best way to think about it. Teams with high on-base percentages give themselves the best chance to “explode” in the standings, posting a great record that helps them reach the playoffs. Teams with low on-base percentages are likely to implode over time and fall to the bottom.

Again, pitching and power matter too. They just matter a little less than you’ve been previously thinking. Ideally, you’ll be betting on teams that have everything working in their favor, and you’ll be betting them at value prices. See if you can spend these next two months exploiting the strengths of the high on-base teams and going against those teams whose seasons are going down the tubes.

High on-base teams throwing their best pitchers are great bets at affordable prices (look at the moneyline profits of the Dodgers and Angels this year). Low on-base teams throwing their worst pitchers are horrible bets at any price.

Handicappers who don’t use this stat are way off base!

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