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Leaderboarding: Worst seasons by a player with a .400+ OBP

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Xander Bogaerts has a .403 OBP and a .752 OPS.
Xander Bogaerts has a .403 OBP and a .752 OPS. (USATSI)

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Every few days I take a look at the various stat leaderboards just to see who ranks where around the league. Chase Utley and Charlie Blackmon both current lead MLB with a .406 batting average, Giancarlo Stanton leads with 26 RBI, Stephen Strasburg leads with 42 strikeouts. Stuff like that.

As I was making my way through the leaderboards this morning, I noticed Red Sox rookie Xander Bogaerts has a .403 on-base percentage. That is impressive for any player, especially a 21-year-old kid in his first full season. I also noticed this: Bogaerts only has a .752 OPS. Again, that's really good, but it is also by far the lowest OPS among the 22 qualified hitters with a .400+ OBP. Emilio Bonifacio and Christian Yelich are second worst with a .838 OPS, so we're talking about an 86-point gap in OPS. That's huge.

Anyway, this got me wondering about the worst offensive seasons by a player with a .400+ OBP. OPS is pretty basic -- consider the differences between Bogaerts' and Yelich's home ballparks and that 86-point gap in OPS looks even bigger -- so we're going to look at this two ways. First, let's use OPS+, which adjusts for ballpark and league and things like that. Here are the 15 worst seasons by a qualified hitter who reached base at least 40 percent of the time:

RkPlayerOPS+OBPYearAgeTmGPAH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBBASLGOPS
1Walt Weiss76.403199531COL137537111173125985715.260.321.724
2Lyn Lary90.404193630SLB1557451793062521175437.289.367.771
3Ralph Young91.406192132DET10748712083029692311.299.334.740
4Tony Piet93.400193629CHW10943296152742664815.273.386.787
5Dusty Cooke94.401193629BOS1114149320364772484.273.402.803
6Muddy Ruel94.411192529WSH1274731229205463164.310.344.754
7Max Bishop95.431192626PHA122529106202033116414.265.325.756
8Johnny Bassler96.408192530DET121433961930527461.279.352.760
9Max Bishop97.442192727PHA118491103151022105288.277.323.764
10Whitey Witt98.400192226NYY14062815711644089295.297.364.763
11Max Bishop99.412193232PHA114520104242537110432.254.359.772
12Max Bishop99.420192525PHA10647110318442787375.280.383.803
13Rickey Henderson101.400199738TOT120509100140834978545.248.342.742
14Johnny Bassler101.401192126DET11946311918505658162.307.379.780
15Ferris Fain102.405195332CHW128564114182652108283.256.345.750
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/21/2014.

There are a few familiar names there, specifically Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson -- he had a .400 OBP at age 38, lol -- and current Rockies manager Walt Weiss. How he managed to hit .260/.403/.321 in the heyday of Coors Field, I'll never know.

Most of those players are way before our time, unfortunately. A little further down the list is 1996 Rickey (.410 OBP and 106 OPS+), 1996 Tony Phillips (.404 OBP and 109 OPS+) and 2000 Corey Koskie (.400 OBP and 110 OPS+). The worst .400+ OBP season by a player since 2010 belongs to Joe Mauer, who had a league-leading .416 OBP in 2012, but "only" a 140 OPS+ overall. Bogaerts, for the record, is currently sitting on a 112 OPS+.

Now let's look at the worst .400+ OBP seasons using WAR because, hey, defense matters. If a guy is hitting .300/.400/.500 but is a total butcher in the field, his overall impact is not nearly as great as it may seem. Here are the 15 worst overall seasons by players with a .400+ OBP:

RkPlayerWAROBPYearAgeTmGPAH2B3BHRRBIBBSOSBBASLGOPS
1Ralph Young-0.1.406192132DET10748712083029692311.299.334.740
2Don Hurst0.8.401193024PHI119451128193177846226.327.522.923
3Bernie Friberg0.9.425193030PHI10538811321144247351.341.447.872
4Dusty Cooke1.2.400193528BOS1003469018633446246.306.439.839
5Dusty Cooke1.4.401193629BOS1114149320364772484.273.402.803
6Prince Fielder1.5.401201026MIL16171415125032831141381.261.471.871
7Nick Johnson1.5.426200930TOT13357413324286299842.291.405.831
8Pat Burrell1.5.400200730PHI15559812126030971141200.256.502.902
9Mickey Tettleton1.5.419199433DET10744484182175197980.248.463.882
10Riggs Stephenson1.5.421193032CHC10938212521156832202.367.478.899
11Rickey Henderson1.6.400199738TOT120509100140834978545.248.342.742
12Walt Weiss1.7.403199531COL137537111173125985715.260.321.724
13Billy Goodman1.7.414194822BOS12752713827216674445.310.387.801
14Patsy Dougherty1.7.407190225BOS108489150126034424120.342.397.805
15Rickey Henderson1.8.423199940NYM1215261383001242828237.315.466.889
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/21/2014.

Because of his defense at shortstop, Weiss' all-time worst OPS+ by a .400+ OBP guy is "only" the 12th worst season by WAR. Prince Fielder and Nick Johnson were worth only a win and a half to their teams in recent years because of poor defense despite great offensive numbers, and Pat Burrell is right there with them. Again, Rickey pops up a few times.

In the most basic sense, the single best thing a hitter can do at the plate is not make an out. Guys with a .400+ OBP are making outs at a lower rate than their peers, but that alone doesn't automatically make them a great hitter. If that sky-high on-base percentage comes with no power or relatively few base hits or poor glovework, then they aren't any more valuable than a league average player. It doesn't happen often, but it's not unheard of either.

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