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Jacoby Ellsbury, Anthony Rizzo, Derek Dietrich, and Hidden On-Base Value

Some players have unique ways of getting on base other than a walk or a hit a surprising amount of the time.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

So, the idea for this post originated as I was pondering whether to pick up Jacoby Ellsbury in one of my leagues. The league has OBP as a category instead of average. Ellsbury has a solid 8 steals and 4 homers so far, which are both good, but I was most surprised by his 0.352 OBP. Now, he has increased his walk rate a % or so this year over last year, so that explains his higher OBP. But his OBP doesn’t capture his true rate of getting on base.

You might not be aware of this, but Ellsbury has a hidden skill. He’s always had it. He has found a way to draw catcher interference calls at an historic rate. Something with his swing causes the bat to hit the catcher’s mitt on a regular basis. This awards him a free base. He recorded 12 catcher interferences in 2016, with the next highest being 3. His career total going into 2017 of 26 put him only three behind the record of 29, held by Pete Rose, and he’s got two more this season already, putting him just one back of the record.

That provides his “true” OBP with a little boost, since OBP doesn’t include catcher interferences. His OBP would have been 0.349 with those catcher interferences included instead of his official 0.330 OBP. That also gives him 12 more opportunities to steal a base. This weird skill gives Ellsbury an advantage over other players, even if it is a small one. It really only applies to him since no one else ever gets more than three in a year.

The much more common, but still overlooked, OBP-boosting skill is getting hit by a pitch. I do think it is a “skill” because certain players get hit much more often than others. Unlike Ellsbury’s skill above, this one does show up in OBP and has a much larger impact because they happen much more often.

Just look at the current 2017 HBP leaderboard to see what I mean.

Name PA HBP
Josh Harrison 153 8
Derek Dietrich 98 8
Anthony Rizzo 176 8
Jarrod Dyson 145 8
Justin Turner 154 7
Tyler Flowers 93 7
Alex Gordon 148 6
Jonathan Schoop 141 5
Martin Maldonado 115 5
Kurt Suzuki 63 5
Mike Trout 157 4
Avisail Garcia 147 4
Yulieski Gurriel 136 4
Kolten Wong 135 4
Dee Gordon 164 4
Scott Schebler 149 4
Yangervis Solarte 163 4
Brandon Guyer 60 4
Buster Posey 132 3
Nick Markakis 158 3

The leaders are already at 8. That’s a little more than one per week! That has a significant impact on a player’s OBP. Some of the players on the leaderboard don’t really need the boost, like Rizzo, Trout, and Turner. But, the rest of the top 10 really get a fantasy value boost with their HBPs. Guys like Dyson, Dietrich, and Harrison can be fringe players, but this OBP increase helps them have increased fantasy value. Dyson benefits most because it allows him to get on base and rack up more steals (10 already) and he can’t seem to hit very well so he needs all the help he can get getting on.

Jonathan Schoop is another one that needs lots of help getting on base, so this helps make up for his awful walk rate (a little). What’s amazing is guys like Dietrich, Suzuki, and Flowers have managed to get this many times in less than 100 PA! Dietrich was also among the leaders in 2016 with 24 HBP in just 412 PA. Dietrich and Rizzo show up in both the 2016 and 2017 leaderboards, showing there is some practical “skill” involved here. As an aside, while Martin Prado is out, I really like Dietrich as a fill-in for his power and OBP.

Brandon Guyer, now hurt, ran away with the HBP title in 2016 with 31 and was runner up to Rizzo in 2015 with 24 (Rizzo had 30). He doesn’t offer much value other than OBP, though, so he’s never been very relevant in fantasy. He has practically made a career out of HBPs, with 70 since 2014, one more than Rizzo’s 69.

Other guys that are high on the 2014-2017 HBP leaderboard include Starling Marte, Jose Abreu, Charlie Blackmon, and Adam Eaton. None of these guys are high on the 2017 leaderboard, but given their history, they will likely end up there. These guys, when healthy, should see a nice OBP boost from getting hit.

This post was simply a reminder that hits and walks aren’t the only two ways to reach first base. Some players excel at drawing catcher’s interference or getting hit by pitches and this can boost their on-base percentage, or at least the number of steal and run opportunities they have in a meaningful way. Savvy fantasy players will keep this in mind, especially in OBP leagues, for a little icing on the cake that might push a player over the top from “waiver wire” to “startable” and provide a small edge over owners not aware of these hidden skills. Tschus!