Who is the biggest surprise at this point in the 2017 MLB season? Is it the Minnesota Twins who are leading their division and have the third best record in the American League at 25 – 18. Or the Colorado Rockies who have the second best record in all of baseball?
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In this day and age many baseball fans pay very close attention to on-base percentage as a measure of how good a batter may or may not be. I don’t know that we can say exactly why we follow it so much more now, but I blame it on the movie Money Ball. Great movie by the way, you must see it if your a baseball fan.
What is on-base percentage, or OBP? It is pretty simple, a measure of how often a player gets on base. To calculate the actual percentage you would use the following formula OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies). Ok, so why is this important in baseball. That is somewhat obvious, the more a player is able to get on base the more often he has a chance to score.
Looking around my favorite baseball sites today and deciding what I wanted to post about I looked up OBP leaders for 2016 and the top five included names I expect; Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Jose Altuve and Paul Goldschmidt. There was however one name that surprised me. Not sure why I didn’t realize this player was such an OBP machine, but he seems to be. Number four on the list of on-base percentage leaders is, can you guess, DJ LeMahieu. Surprised? Like I said, I sure was.
LeMahieu currently has an OBP of .417 to go along with a batting average of .344 and slugging percentage of .499. He is quietly putting together a very decent season and is on pace for a career high in hits, average, on-base, and slugging. Already this season he has set his career high in runs, walks and home runs. He is the #4 ranked second baseman in fantasy baseball according to FantasyPros player rater ahead of Brian Dozier, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. Yet most analyst rarely talk about him.
Why is he such an under the radar player? There are a few reasons. First, he plays on a team with Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado. Second, he lacks that sexy stat line that includes huge power numbers or stolen bases. Likely next year he won’t be drafted as the #4 second baseman because of these reasons. At least partially because of that as I would anticipate before the season is over some regression in his average and OBP since he currently has a .384 BAbip, roughly .084 points higher than league average. Which is actually good news if everyone else sleeps on him since that allows you to pick him up later in a draft and return really good value next year. One other thing you may want to consider, in 2015 he finished 3rd in roto rankings for second baseman.
New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez has done something this season that no other rookie has done since, well since Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story did to start the season. Sanchez has hit nine home runs in his first 21 games. He is only one of nine players in MLB history to have 15 or more extra base hits in 21 games and only the second Yankee to do it. Let’s not forget those 21 games include two games in 2015 that he was called up for and one games on May 13th this season before he was sent back to Triple-A.
Though Story and Sanchez do share this honor of being two of a very few hitters to have nine home runs in their first 21 games they both are very different hitters. Story has produced a lot of power this season, but he is not the all-around hitter that Sanchez is showing to be. Story’s home runs are wall scrapers, with an average home run distance of 327 feet, while Sanchez hits not doubter and averages 409 feet. In 2016 Story has an average exit velocity of 91.5 mph as compared to Sanchez’s 94.6 mph. Don’t take my word for it though let’s dive deeper in to what these two rookies did in their first 21 games in the big leagues.
In his first 21 games with the Diamondbacks Trevor Story was putting balls over the wall like it was going out of style. He had ten home runs, one more than Sanchez, but he was prone to the strikeout. Through those first 21 games Story had 35 strikeouts in 97 plate appearances, he was striking out in 36% of his plate appearances. He had a .253 batting average, a .320 on-base percentage and nine walks (only walking in 9% of his PAs).
Sanchez on the other hand has not shown so far to be an all or nothing player. He is hitting .389 with a .450 OBP, only striking out 15 times in 80 plate appearances (19% of the time he strikes out) and walking 10% of the time with 8 walks so far.
Comparing two players strictly based on a 21 game sample size is far from fair and when you look at their minor league numbers these two players do look more similar than they do different with Story having a minor league slash line of .263/.348/.469 and Sanchez .275/.339/.460, but what they will do in the majors long term is still yet to be seen. What is fair to say is that both Sanchez and Story have shown they belong in the big leagues and love to put on a show for the fans. Only thing not enjoying their promotions this year are the baseballs.