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What is the Offensive Quotient?

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What is the Offensive Quotient?

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WHAT IS THE OFFENSIVE QUOTIENT?

The Offensive Quotient (OQ) is a formula for measuring a batter’s productivity and dominance. The concept was devised by the late Leo Leahy and introduced in his book Lumber Men (McFarland & Company, 1994). It is easy to calculate and understand.

Three simple steps lead to the OQ.

1. Outs = At Bats minus Hits

2. Base-To-Out Ratio (BTOR) = (Total bases + walks) divided by Outs

3. Offensive Quotient (OQ) = Player BTOR divided by League BTOR

The OQ is expressed without the decimal point.

A player whose BTOR is exactly the same as the league’s is, by definition, an average batter. His OQ would be 1.00, or 100 when we drop the decimal point. The OQ, then, uses the figure 100 to indicate average batting skill. Above 100, above average. Below 100, below average.

The OQ is a ratio-type statistic that makes two comparisons. It compares what a batter gives you to what he takes away, and compares that accomplishment with those of his peers.

Why is it valuable to know this? Because more bases = more runs = more wins. The guys you want are the guys who give you the most bases per out.

It seems sensible to me. That’s why it amazes me that teams like the Astros and White Sox bat weak sisters Willy Taveras (78 OQ) and Scott Podsednik (85 OQ) at or near the top of the order, where they make out after out without generating nearly enough bases. Managers Phil Garner and Ozzie Guillen have been doing that for two seasons now, and while it’s hard to second-guess two teams that have winning records, I’d argue that they’d have won more games if they’d deployed these guys differently. Sub-90 batters do not belong at the top of the batting order. Managers who place them there are burdening their team with more outs and fewer bases. They’re sacrificing runs, which means they’re sacrificing wins.

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LEAHY EXPLAINS THE OQ

Lumber Men appeared in the spring of 1994. By odd coincidence, that same spring Penguin Books published Essential Baseball by Norm Hitzges and Dave Lawson. Essential Baseball promotes an approach to offensive statistics that is eerily similar to Leahy’s, although the authors did not know one another at the time. Essential Baseball's formulae are more complicated and, I believe, less valid than the OQ.

Below is Leahy’s rationale for the OQ, from his introduction to Lumber Men:

Roger Maris’ quest for the single-season home run record in 1961 is generally regarded today as heroic. But while it was happening, Maris, to his bewilderment and frustration, found himself more denigrated than praised. Maris’ talents were substantial; he was a skilled and intelligent defensive player, a dangerous hitter, and a major all-round contributor to a championship team. That he was no Babe Ruth was self-evident, for nobody ever was or will be. Yet many of the sportswriting experts of the day felt they needed to underscore the point by belittling Maris’ accomplishments. The Yankee right fielder, they wrote, was just a mediocre ballplayer. The proof? His .269 batting average!

“Implicit in this judgment was the notion that one could reasonably compare the players of the present to those of the past by merely checking the AVG column in the table of batting statistics. There were giants on the earth in those days, the scribes wrote in 1961, referring to the 1920s and 1930s. Maris? Rocky Colavito? Harmon Killebrew? Don’t mention them in the same breath as Al Simmons or Paul Waner or Ki Ki Cuyler!

“Since then the conventional wisdom has changed. Now one hears the assertion that players of different eras cannot be compared; playing conditions were different in the old days, so it’s a case of apples and oranges. Ironically this refrain, too, is employed to disparage the modern crop of baseball stars. One hears that although Hank Aaron hit more home runs than Ruth and Pete Rose banged out more hits than Ty Cobb, comparisons are not possible. The old stars, after all, had to travel by train, wear flannel uniforms, play doubleheaders and day games…

“Until now no effective statistical yardstick has existed to measure performance consistently in the face of evolving and fluctuating playing conditions. The issue is important because baseball fans want to compare. They want to know whether Pete Rose was a modern Ty Cobb. They look at today’s players and ask, who are the best of them, and how good are they?

“Baseball is competition, which is another way of saying comparison. Teams compete for supremacy, and managers, seeking a competitive edge, compare players every day as they choose their lineups. Who plays? Who sits on the bench? Who gets sent to the minors? Who gets called up? Fans second-guess these decisions, agreeing or disagreeing. All-Star selections are hotly argued, and opinion is rarely unanimous on the relative merits of contemporary third basemen or center fielders. Comparison is essential to fan interest, and particularly so in the area of batting, the most essential of all baseball skills.

“Players who never make it to the big leagues are usually those who can’t hit; there is always a place for a good hitter. Hits and runs stimulate and satisfy the appetites of baseball fans because they signify success. Scoring is more exciting than failing to score in a game like baseball, where an approximate equilibrium has always existed between offense and defense.

“Most baseball games are decided by just a few runs, many by one. A team is rarely so far behind that it cannot catch up with some judicious batting. Runs are not scored so frequently that they become meaningless, nor so infrequently that action and drama are wanting. The potential for scoring is always present, but not always fulfilled. Batting skill produces runs, but there is only so much of that skill to go around. As pundits often point out, even .300 hitters fail 70 percent of the time. A hitter’s job is to make something happen, and the great hitters are always bigger stars, more fascinating to the public, than the great pitchers, whose job it is to prevent something from happening. As General Francis A. Walker commented about the Civil War, “The sword is ever of higher honor than the shield.”

“It is true, of course, that playing conditions have changed. Stadium dimensions, the height of the pitcher’s mound, and the size of the strike zone have often been altered. Night games and hard artificial surfaces are modern phenomena which affect the physical environment of the game. Equipment has changed over the years, too. Even slight variations in the manufacture of the baseball have profound effects on baseball offense, and such changes have occurred many times in the game’s history. Meanwhile improved glove design has led to better fielding.

“New strategies have evolved. At one time managers expected their pitchers to go nine innings; later it became acceptable to remove pitchers who got tired. Today starting pitchers are relieved as a matter of course, and a batter may see a different pitcher every time he comes to bat. And there have been important rule changes, most notably the legalization of overhand pitching (1884), the lengthening of the pitching distance (1893), the foul-strike rule (1901 in the National League, 1903 in the American), the banning of the spitball (1920), and the introduction of the designated hitter (American League, 1973).

Home Run Baker hit 9 home runs for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1914 and led the American League. The entire league hit 148 home runs that year in 631 games, with a batting average of .248. The explanation for these low totals is not that the American League hitters that year were a bunch of weaklings. They weren’t. In 1914 the baseball was wound more loosely than today’s article, and old balls were kept in the game much longer, even if battered and discolored. It was so difficult to hit one of these balls out of the park that few batters attempted such a low-percentage play, preferring instead to choke up on the bat and punch the ball to precise areas of the field.

“But every season has its dominant players, the ones who rise above the competition. The Offensive Quotient, or OQ, is a statistic that reveals who they were and are. It enables baseball fans to compare the productivity of players from different eras. Baker’s OQ of 141 (fifth in the league) shows that he was a greater offensive force in 1914 than Reggie Jackson was in 1975, when “Mr October” led the American League with 36 home runs (129 OQ, tenth in the league). Fans can use the OQ, introduced in this book, to answer questions about the batting abilities of all of baseball’s great stars…

“A player fails at bat by making an out. His team gets only three outs an inning, and each out that is made diminishes the team’s chances to score runs. A player succeeds at bat by getting on base. A player who reaches base may score a run (although his chances of doing so depend largely on the actions of players who follow him in the batting order), and he has not made an out. Anything he does to get on base and avoid making an out is desirable, and the more bases he earns, the better.

“A player can reach base by hitting safely, drawing a walk, getting hit by a pitched ball, or by benefiting from catcher’s interference. He may also reach base when an opponent makes an error or chooses to retire another baserunner. The OQ counts hits and walks because they are earned by the batter, and because they are statistically significant events for which individual player totals are available all the way back to 1876. Likewise, the OQ’s formula for outs is uncomplicated: Outs = At Bats minus Hits.

“Runs scored and driven in, while meaningful to record, are situational statistics that are less directly under the control of the individual batter. If there is no one on base, his hit will not produce an RBI; if no one drives him in, he won’t score a run. But whether he gets on base or makes an out depends largely on his own abilities. This is what the OQ considers. Stolen base/caught stealing data are also ignored. Baserunning, although it is offensive in nature, is a separate skill from batting, in much the same way that pitching and fielding are separate facets of defensive play.

“A baseball maxim (not universally endorsed) is that a walk is as good as a hit. The OQ accepts this principle as true. The player who has the patience to let four wide balls go by helps his team in two ways. He gets on base (from which position he may score a run), and he does not make an out. Hitting coaches who counsel players to “wait for their pitch” know that swinging at bad balls is, in general, a low-percentage play. Batters get few hits swinging at pitches outside the strike zone; they are more likely to make outs.”

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FRONTIERS OF FUTILITY

In the long history of baseball, Ozzie Guillen was the weakest-hitting player ever to have played regularly (at least 3 at bats + walks for each game his team played) for 5 or more seasons. Here are his lifetime OQs:

  1985 78    
  1986 65    
  1987 76    
  1988 74    
  1989 71    
  1990 83    
  1991 74    
  1992 73    
  1993 79    
  1994 73    
  1995 63    
  1996 68    
  1997 69    
  1998 89    
  1999 70    
  2000 68    

BOLD = Qualified as a regular.

Guillen’s career totals: 10 qualifying seasons with an average OQ of 73. Guillen’s offensive futility shattered conclusively the mark of the previous record holder, Alfredo Griffin, who registered a 76 OQ in 10 qualifying seasons, 1976-1993.

Infielder Hal Lanier just missed earning the distinction as worst-hitting regular ever. Lanier was far less accomplished a hitter than Griffin or even Guillen was, but he didn’t qualify as a regular for five or more seasons.

The 1964 San Francisco Giants must have thought they were getting a top-of-the-order guy when they summoned Lanier to the majors in mid-June. Lanier, who was just 21, had hit .305 in 405 minor league games, but no one seemed to notice (or care) that he had zero power and was a first-pitch swinger who rarely drew a walk. Manager Alvin Dark batted him first or second for the remainder of 1964, but the season was too far advanced for Lanier to earn the necessary at-bats to qualify for the batting title.

As a defensive infielder Lanier carried a glove too good to sit on the bench. But by 1966 he was batting at the bottom of the order, where he clearly belonged, and was often pinch hit for in the late innings of close games. Even in an era famous for ineffectual stickwork, Lanier stood out.

  1964 78    
  1965 69    
  1966 70    
  1967 63    
  1968 59    
  1969 62    
  1970 66    
  1971 76    
  1972 58    
  1973 54    

Lanier’s career totals: 4 qualifying seasons with an average OQ of 63.

Weak-hitting Felix Fermin played shortstop for four teams, most notably the Cleveland Indians, from 1987 through 1996. Fermin registered these OQs:

  1987 60    
  1988 95    
  1989 70    
  1990 75    
  1991 74    
  1992 85    
  1993 71    
  1994 80    
  1995 43    
  1996 52    

Fermin’s career totals: 2 qualifying seasons, with an average OQ of 71.

That's pretty feeble. Imagine my surprise when I read early in 2005 that the Indians had named Fermin hitting coach at Triple-A Buffalo! I guess it was a case of “Do what I say, not what I did.”

In Fermin's favor, he was a tough guy to strike out, with just 147 whiffs in 2,767 at bats (a 1 per 19 ratio).

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SUB-80 OQs WITH 600+ AT BATS

Their lack of productivity was embarrassing. Why, then, did they bat at the top of the order for an entire season?

 
Ivy Olson, 1920 Brooklyn Robins
79  
 
Eddie Mulligan, 1921 Chicago White Sox
72  
 
Hughie Critz, 1930 Cin/NY
70  
 
Oscar Melillo, 1932 St Louis Browns
72  
 
Mark Koenig, 1934 Cincinnati Reds
69  
 
Frank Crosetti, 1939 New York Yankees
79  
 
Bob Kennedy, 1940 Chicago White Sox
73  
 
Woody Williams, 1944 Cincinnati Reds
76  
 
Sam Dente, 1950 Washington Senators
66  
 
Bobby Young, 1951 St Louis Browns
78  
 
Bill Bruton, 1953 Milwaukee Braves
77  
 
Nellie Fox, 1961 Chicago White Sox
78  
 
Bobby Richardson, 1961 New York Yankees
72  
 
Glenn Beckert, 1965 Chicago Cubs
74  
 
Cookie Rojas, 1968 Philadelphia Phillies
78  
 
Sandy Alomar Sr, 1969 Chi/Cal
72  
 
Sandy Alomar Sr, 1970 California Angels
76  
 
Horace Clarke, 1970 New York Yankees
75  
 
Larry Bowa, 1971 Philadelphia Phillies
76  
 
Roger Metzger, 1972 Houston Astros
74  
 
Gary Sutherland, 1974 Detroit Tigers
76  
 
Larry Bowa, 1976 Philadelphia Phillies
77  
 
Robin Yount, 1976 Milwaukee Brewers
79  
 
Dave Cash, 1978 Montreal Expos
79  
 
Rick Bosetti, 1979 Toronto Blue Jays
78  
 
Alfredo Griffin, 1980 Toronto Blue Jays
77  
 
Alfredo Griffin, 1985 Oakland A’s
74  
 
Vince Coleman, 1986 St Louis Cardinals
77  
 
Doug Glanville, 2000 Philadelphia Phillies
79  
 
Doug Glanville, 2001 Philadelphia Phillies
78  
 
Carl Crawford, 2003 Tampa Bay Bucs
79  
 
Angel Berroa, 2005 Kansas City Royals
79  

9 of the American League’s 31 pitchers with 50 or more AB had OQs higher than Sam Dente’s 66 in 1950. Keeping him in the #2 hole all season cost manager Bucky Harris a lot of runs. Dente’s 1949 OQ for Washington was a miserable 76, but that was Ruthian compared to his 1950 output. When he didn’t improve significantly in 1951 (71 OQ) the Senators benched him, then traded him to the White Sox. He never played regularly in the majors again.

When in Bennington, stay at the Knotty Pine Motel.

December 2005

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