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March 19, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Stats You Should Know: wOBA Edition

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David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

What is wOBA? Well, it stands for weighted on-base average and it’s the metric used for the offensive component of WAR. It’s also one of the best metrics we have to measure the production a hitter and a metric that fantasy GMs need to know.

A long time ago on a calculator far away, famed sabrmetrician/advanced metrics wizard Tom Tango developed wOBA to give a more accurate picture of baseball players’ production. Tom computed the actual run value of every offensive play a hitter could have. A non-intentional walk has a value of 0.72 runs. A hit by pitch has a value of 0.75 runs. A single has a value of 0.90 runs. Reaching base on an error has a value of 0.92. A double is worth 1.24 runs. A triple is worth 1.56 runs. A homer is worth 1.95 runs. Tom assigned a weighted value to each action that a hitter could have and reach base. Then multiplied by how many times a hitter achieved said result, added them together and divided by plate appearances.

The problem with metrics like BA, OBP, SLG and OPS is that not every event has the same value. OBP assigns the same value to a single as a walk. SLG tells us that a triple is worth three times as much as a single. Batting average assigns the same value to a single and a homer. OPS is a better stat, but it doesn’t differentiate in value between SLG and OBP (plus you are adding two fractions with different denominators). wOBA assigns a weighted value to each event and presents a more accurate picture of a players’ offensive value.

When you see a player’s wOBA, it’s important to think of it in terms of OBP when trying to calculate value. Both wOBA and OBP are on a similar scale. A league average OBP is around .330. League average for wOBA is about the same. A wOBA over .400 is just as elite as an OBP over .400.

wOBA is simply a better metric to look at than OPS when determining how productive a hitter is. It gives a clearer picture of what a player did at the plate because it has assigned values to everything a hitter did. It’s not nearly as clumsy as mashing together OBP and SLG to come up with a value that tells us what a hitter did. The weighted values make wOBA a sniper rifle with a laser guided sigh to OPS shotgun approach.

David Ortiz has been the butt of jokes in fantasy circles for years now. Yes, he’s a “Dominican” 36 and yes, his past is about as questionable as anyone who played in the early part of the 21st century, but the dude can still rake. He posted a .405 wOBA last year. That’s higher than Joey Votto’s .403. Big Papi’s first 40-double season since 2007 likely had something to do with it. His .398 OBA likely also played a role in posting a monster number. wOBA isn’t great for predicting future success, but numbers like Papi’s 2011 season are hard to ignore. It’s hard to say that his .405 wOBA is repeatable, but who would have bet on him doing it at age 35? Health is always a concern, but he managed to stay in the lineup in 2011. There aren’t many guys with Papi’s power around after pick 100. He could provide solid value to an owner with a strong stomach.

Matt Joyce had a sneaky good season in 2011 in which he owned a .357 wOBA. That number was higher than Ryan Howard’s .354. Joyce proved that the walk numbers he posted in the minors and in limited action at the MLB level were no fluke. Joyce posted a 9.4% walk rate in his first chance at a full time job. Joyce also showed solid pop with a .201 ISO. He’s a good bet to continue to fly under the radar this off-season and provide solid value on draft day.

Drew Stubbs answers an age-old question. What if Willie “Mays” Hayes from Major League 2 were real and white? Not the Willie from the final game against the White Sox. The Opening Day Willie who wouldn’t stop swinging for the fences. At least Stubbs spent 2011 stealing bases and striking out instead of making movies with Jesse Ventura and gimping around like Hayes did. Stubbs posted an anemic .314 wOBA. The cause is likely his ridiculous 30.1% K-rate. That’s a lot of outs. Also, for some reason Stubbs’ GB rate shot up to 47.2% and his FB rate dropped to 33.2%. It’s like he’s trying to be a lead-off hitter or something, but he can’t stop whiffing. Dusty Baker and the Reds sound like they’re going to try Stubbs at the lead off spot, but his weak 73.1% contact rate is no where near good enough to maintain an OBP worthy of a lead off man. Stubbs is also a candidate to see the bench if his 2011 struggles carry over to 2012.

Ichiro Suzuki owns a career average wOBA of .348 and posted a .369 wOBA as recently as 2009. So, why did he post a career low .289 wOBA in 2011? Well, most of the answer lies with his career low .295 BABIP. Ichiro was still basically the same guy he’s always been. He stole 40 bases in his age-38 season, so he hasn’t really lost a step. He also posted a GB:FB ratio over 2.00. He’s been over 2.00 for all but two of his ten major league seasons. He even posted a 19.1% LD rate, which wasn’t that far off his 20.2% career average. He fell victim to the luck dragon. A lot of the balls that used to find holes in previous seasons simply didn’t in 2011. He’s a solid bet to post a number closer to his career average of .351. A rise in BABIP should see Ichiro’s production and wOBA rise in 2012.

We can’t end this article without discussing the man who came in dead last among hitters who qualified in 2011. Juan Pierre? Nope. This dude wishes he had Juan’s .293 wOBA. This guy made Placido Polanco look not bad at baseball in comparison. Polanco owned a .304 wOBA. The man with the .266 wOBA was none other than Alex Rios. Rios managed to maintain horrific luck for the entire season. Rios is coming off a season in which he posted a HR:FB ratio of 11.5% in his first full year at US Cellular Field. That number plunged to 7.0%. His BABIP ended up at .237. That was almost 70 points off his career average. Both his walk rate and his K-rate fell below his career average. So, he was putting more balls in play than usual and most of them were extra outs. Rios owns a career average wOBA of .330. Rios should be more of the .330 career average guy than the .266 year long nightmare. He’s due for some help from the luck dragon and fantasy GMs should want to be there when it happens. 

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