|Thursday, April 10
Putting on-base percentage in perspective
By Joe Morgan
Special to ESPN.com
On-base percentage has become the statistic of choice these days. I've heard some say that OBP is the most important stat in baseball. But I disagree with that assessment.
While OBP is an important barometer, it isn't the most important. I remember when ESPN began listing OBP along with batting average in graphics on baseball telecasts, which is helpful for the viewer. No question, it's always been important.
But no one baseball statistic defines winning and losing. Each statistic measures one aspect of baseball proficiency. So excelling at a single stat won't enable a team to win a pennant. Instead, a healthy balance of key statistics can lead to a world championship.
You can't win a championship only with a good OBP or home runs or stealing bases or solid defense or strong pitching. Each team will emphasize certain stats -- certain proficiencies -- depending on its makeup. But a team needs a combination to achieve ultimate success.
For example, the Atlanta Braves have won 11 straight division titles thanks mainly to their stellar pitching -- but they've won only one World Series in that time. That's because they don't hit consistently in the playoffs. And their pitchers haven't been able to dominate good teams in the playoffs the way they dominate inferior teams in the regular season.
Everyone talks about the importance of pitching -- and absolutely, you need good pitching to win championships. But pitching alone doesn't guarantee postseason success. Nor does hitting (just ask the Texas Rangers).
It's a similar story with individual players. I've always said that to be a good player you need to either drive in runs or score runs -- and to be a great player you need to do both. The best players are a blend of baseball's most essential skills, with statistics serving as the numerical barometer.
NL style has right stuff
The A's have relied on the walk and the home run, and they've reached the postseason the past three years. But they've lost in the first round each year, because walks and home runs tend to drop off in the playoffs. The A's offensive style hasn't been conducive to manufacturing runs. They don't steal bases or hit-and-run much.
The National League style of play is more aggressive and does seek to manufacture runs. Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia played in the National League for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he brought an NL style of play to the Angels last season -- with championship results.
Likewise, Joe Torre brought an aggressive National League style of play to the New York Yankees in 1996, and they won four of five World Series. Granted, other factors contributed to the Yankees' success, but that NL style was essential. The Yankees weren't built on hitting the home run. No Yankee led the league or even challenged for the home-run crown in those four championship years.
Rather, they followed the philosophy of getting on base, moving runners along and getting them home while utilizing the hit-and-run and aggressive baserunning. To me, that's the best way to play. And this approach encompasses more than just OBP or batting average or RBI -- as a team, you must do all those things well.
The way baseball is played today, the stolen base seems to be an afterthought. But I see the use of it as a tremendous tool. It forces the opposition to play a different defense and it forces opposing pitchers to throw more fastballs.
The last three teams to win the World Series -- the Angels, Diamondbacks and Yankees -- all played an aggressive NL style. Some teams look for the walk and the home run. If that works, great. But recent history shows this approach doesn't win in the postseason.
It's been tough to see the difficulties he's had to endure. Because of all his injuries, he's gone from being the best player in baseball to just another player forced to the disabled list. Sadly, this setback is par for the course for Griffey since he came to Cincinnati from Seattle in 2000.
After Griffey had consecutive 56-homer season seasons in 1997 and '98, some felt he could challenge Hank Aaron's home-run record of 755. He hit 48 in '99 and 40 in 2000. But injuries limited him to 30 in 2001 and 2002 combined. Griffey sits on the DL with 469 career home runs.
With medical technology today, I'm hopeful that he can return to form. Years ago, before advances like Tommy John surgery and the like, certain injuries meant a player's career was over. Now, more help is available. But the mental part of the game is more elusive.
What made Griffey a great player was his sheer enjoyment of the game. He always has fun, and he plays hard. I differ with observers who said he shouldn't have dove for the ball in center field on the play that dislocated his shoulder. When you're on the field, you do what you can to help your team win.
I've always believed that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I hope this is true for Griffey, and I wish him a quick recovery.
Now two stars have dislocated shoulders, but the Yankees can afford to lose shortstop Derek Jeter more than the Reds can afford to lose Griffey. I thought Griffey would hit 60 home runs this season in the Reds' homer-friendly new home, the Great American Ballpark.
By the way, those who have criticized Cincinnati's new park are mainly architects who didn't get the job. Personally, I like the park. Those complaints sound like a classic case of sour grapes to me.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series with the Reds. He is a baseball analyst on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.