I recently answered some questions by Matthew Coller from The Biz of Baseball on a variety of baseball topics including the importance of on-base percentage, fielding statistics, hitting statistics, and much more. I hope you enjoy!
On-base percentage is something that is quickly becoming a favorite of General Managers around the league, and in many ways is becoming the measuring stick for a hitter's overall ability. When I was drafted by the Padres in 2006, they were one of the teams in the league that were extremely concerned with a hitter's OBP. That is one of the reasons I was drafted by them. I have never been a power type hitter, someone that was going to hit a bunch of home runs and drive in a lot of runs, but I've always been very effective at working the count, having a good ability to control the strike zone, and ultimately get on base.
The good thing was, I never had to change my thought process and try to adapt to the Padres way of working the count and drawing more walks, because it was already a part of my game. Many players however do have to adapt their games in certain ways to fit a certain style or system that a team may believe in. If you want to increase your OBP there are certain ways you can do so. The first thing you need to do is really understand the strike zone. I was always the type of hitter growing up that would take a lot of pitches. Some coaches didn't like this approach because I would often take very hittable first pitch fastballs for a strike and fall behind in the count. I would also have a lot of at-bats with two strikes on me, which isn't always the best situation to hit in. However, because of my style of hitting, I would walk at a very high clip, and being a leadoff hitter my entire life, my main job was to get on base and set the table for the hitters in the middle of the order. I've learned the strike zone very well over the years because of how many pitches I took. Many of my at-bats would go four or more pitches, and when you add all those pitches up over the years I've been able to learn what is a strike and what is a ball. I've actually had to adjust my game to allow myself to hit for a little more power and drive in more runs. I think there is the right balance between taking pitches and swinging at a pitch that you want. The whole idea of hitting is to get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it. There is definitely a happy medium when it comes to pitch selection and how many pitches you take in an at-bat.
As far as fielding statistics go, I really have never checked them before. I came up in baseball when the "error" was really the only stat infielders would use to judge their defensive performance. I don't even understand all the new statistics like UZR or TZR or whatever it is. I think fielding is something that is very tough to judge simply by looking at all these different formulas. I feel a lot of times defensive numbers can highly depend on your pitching staff. If you have a lot of ground ball and sinker ball pitchers on your team you are going to get a lot more defensive opportunities than you would if your staff was filled with fly ball pitchers. I think your eyes can tell you a lot about a player's defensive ability. I understand that baseball people want numbers to justify everything that takes place on the field, but I really think defense is tough to judge solely on numbers.
If I was looking at hitting statistics there are a few different things I would look at to determine what type of year I was having. I think it is also important to realize that every player is going to be a little different when looking at the numbers. Certain guys are called upon to get on base, certain guys are called upon to move those guys around the bases, and certain guys are called upon to drive those runners in. I'm a guy that has mostly hit lead off, so my important statistic is obviously on-base percentage. I've always tried to have an OBP of .400. I know that if I'm getting on base at a 40% clip then I'm doing a good job at setting my team up to score some runs. I think runs scored is also an important statistic for me. Obviously that has a little to do with how successful other hitters around you are, but if I'm getting on base at a good clip with my ability to run I should be scoring runs no matter who else is in the lineup.
Looking at offensive numbers in general, on-base percentage and slugging percentage seem to be the big statistics to look at to judge most players success. I think all the best hitters in baseball show a great ability to get on base and also do damage when they put the ball in play. With all this being said, there are some players that you need on the team that are going to do the dirty work. It's not always strictly about the numbers, and sometimes the numbers don't tell the whole truth. I have seen a lot of players that sacrifice their personal numbers for the good of the team. Ultimately these guys are the ones that help you win ball games. When a guy is on second base with no outs and you give yourself up to hit a ground ball to the right side to get that runner over the 3rd. Your statistics are going to go down, but you did your job and helped your team. When there is a guy on 3rd with less than two outs and the infield is playing back and you hit a ground ball to the infield to score the run. Your batting average and OBP is going to drop, but you did your job and you helped your team score a run. Like I said, these are the guys you want on your team. Guys that put the team above personal statistics. I had the opportunity to play with David Eckstein, and he really comes to mind as one of these guys. I really don't think he cared about his personal statistics at all. He just wanted to do whatever it took to help the team be successful. I've seen him put the team ahead of himself over and over and over again.