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

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
1 Walt Weiss 76 .403 1995 31 COL 137 537 111 17 3 1 25 98 57 15 .260 .321 .724
2 Lyn Lary 90 .404 1936 30 SLB 155 745 179 30 6 2 52 117 54 37 .289 .367 .771
3 Ralph Young 91 .406 1921 32 DET 107 487 120 8 3 0 29 69 23 11 .299 .334 .740
4 Tony Piet 93 .400 1936 29 CHW 109 432 96 15 2 7 42 66 48 15 .273 .386 .787
5 Dusty Cooke 94 .401 1936 29 BOS 111 414 93 20 3 6 47 72 48 4 .273 .402 .803
6 Muddy Ruel 94 .411 1925 29 WSH 127 473 122 9 2 0 54 63 16 4 .310 .344 .754
7 Max Bishop 95 .431 1926 26 PHA 122 529 106 20 2 0 33 116 41 4 .265 .325 .756
8 Johnny Bassler 96 .408 1925 30 DET 121 433 96 19 3 0 52 74 6 1 .279 .352 .760
9 Max Bishop 97 .442 1927 27 PHA 118 491 103 15 1 0 22 105 28 8 .277 .323 .764
10 Whitey Witt 98 .400 1922 26 NYY 140 628 157 11 6 4 40 89 29 5 .297 .364 .763
11 Max Bishop 99 .412 1932 32 PHA 114 520 104 24 2 5 37 110 43 2 .254 .359 .772
12 Max Bishop 99 .420 1925 25 PHA 106 471 103 18 4 4 27 87 37 5 .280 .383 .803
13 Rickey Henderson 101 .400 1997 38 TOT 120 509 100 14 0 8 34 97 85 45 .248 .342 .742
14 Johnny Bassler 101 .401 1921 26 DET 119 463 119 18 5 0 56 58 16 2 .307 .379 .780
15 Ferris Fain 102 .405 1953 32 CHW 128 564 114 18 2 6 52 108 28 3 .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
1 Ralph Young -0.1 .406 1921 32 DET 107 487 120 8 3 0 29 69 23 11 .299 .334 .740
2 Don Hurst 0.8 .401 1930 24 PHI 119 451 128 19 3 17 78 46 22 6 .327 .522 .923
3 Bernie Friberg 0.9 .425 1930 30 PHI 105 388 113 21 1 4 42 47 35 1 .341 .447 .872
4 Dusty Cooke 1.2 .400 1935 28 BOS 100 346 90 18 6 3 34 46 24 6 .306 .439 .839
5 Dusty Cooke 1.4 .401 1936 29 BOS 111 414 93 20 3 6 47 72 48 4 .273 .402 .803
6 Prince Fielder 1.5 .401 2010 26 MIL 161 714 151 25 0 32 83 114 138 1 .261 .471 .871
7 Nick Johnson 1.5 .426 2009 30 TOT 133 574 133 24 2 8 62 99 84 2 .291 .405 .831
8 Pat Burrell 1.5 .400 2007 30 PHI 155 598 121 26 0 30 97 114 120 0 .256 .502 .902
9 Mickey Tettleton 1.5 .419 1994 33 DET 107 444 84 18 2 17 51 97 98 0 .248 .463 .882
10 Riggs Stephenson 1.5 .421 1930 32 CHC 109 382 125 21 1 5 68 32 20 2 .367 .478 .899
11 Rickey Henderson 1.6 .400 1997 38 TOT 120 509 100 14 0 8 34 97 85 45 .248 .342 .742
12 Walt Weiss 1.7 .403 1995 31 COL 137 537 111 17 3 1 25 98 57 15 .260 .321 .724
13 Billy Goodman 1.7 .414 1948 22 BOS 127 527 138 27 2 1 66 74 44 5 .310 .387 .801
14 Patsy Dougherty 1.7 .407 1902 25 BOS 108 489 150 12 6 0 34 42 41 20 .342 .397 .805
15 Rickey Henderson 1.8 .423 1999 40 NYM 121 526 138 30 0 12 42 82 82 37 .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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