Power and Patience (Part II of a Study)

Last week’s post ended with a chart comparing power and patience, or, more accurately, league-wide extras bases and times on base (excluding pitchers), year-by-year. Here it is again:

Fig. 1 – No, Not a Fig Leaf

One question this chart does raise, at least to me: does it merely indicate the general effectiveness of offenses, or are there actually times where power goes up relative to getting on base, but offense stagnates or declines? After all, it dipped in 1968 when offense dipped; it increased from 1918-21 as the dead ball era ended; it rose in 1987.

There have been 113 seasons since 1901. Running some R^2 numbers when comparing XB/TOB to various statistics over these 113 seasons gets us some interesting results. I suppose it’s possible than in the year 2514, these stats will correlate better or worse, and that a sample size of 113 seasons is too small. I don’t really have the time to wait and see, though, and I’m fairly sure you don’t either, so:

  • wOBA .0014 (.016 w/pitchers–and for only pitchers, .004)
  • OBP .217 (.083 w/pitchers–and for only pitchers, .006)
  • R/G .246 (.238 w/pitchers)
  • HR/PA .958 (.960 w/pitchers)
  • ISO .968 (.971 w/pitchers)

So, no, we’re not looking at a proxy for overall offense here. But we are looking at a proxy for power itself. The plan here was to investigate the relationship between hitting for power and getting on base through the years. And instead, all we have done with this chart is look at league-wide power proficiency, not even really compared to league-wide getting-on-base proficiency.

Well, there is an alternative explanation, which we will get to.

The good news is, we don’t have to throw away these numbers. We just have to bring OBP and ISO back into the picture, re-separating the two elements of that chart. You can’t really guess a league’s OBP in any given season from ISO, or vice versa, as the R^2 for OBP and ISO is .373:

Fig. 2 – No, Not a Fig Newton

To some, this may indicate a problem with the premise of this series: there’s a solid but not overwhelming correlation between power and patience, it turns out. Well, first, it’s still worth looking into. Part of the reason for that is that is, in smaller sample sizes, there often is more of a correlation: the R^2 between OBP and ISO from 1901-20 is .792; in the last 20 years, it’s .583. Granted, you can mess with the numbers all you want here; for instance, go back 21 years, and suddenly the R^2 between OBP and ISO is .461. Nevertheless, there are brief stretches in baseball where OBP and ISO correlate quite well, and each season is a set of tens of thousands of plate appearances, for what that’s worth. (Little, I know; it just means that the figures for each season were unlikely to change much if the season were longer.)

Also, while they don’t correlate well, or at least well enough that you can predict one from the other, OBP and ISO do correlate pretty well for two independent rate statistics. For example, the R^2 for BB% and K% is .007. There seems to be something to the idea that power threats can get on base more effectively, or that it’s easier to get on base as a power threat. How much is part of the point.

Now for some graphical representations of annual changes in OBP and ISO.

First, here they are on one chart, with the all time figures represented for comparative purposes.

Fig. 3 – Yum, Fig Newtons

Next, we remove the lines representing the all-time marks and then scale ISO to OBP. FIP is scaled to ERA by adding a constant, so we’ll try a similar technique. The all-time OBP, remember from last week, is .333, and the all-time ISO is .130. So, we’re now going to add .203 to each year’s ISO. I call it scaled ISO, or sISO. (I don’t expect this to catch on as anything as it really just has a purpose limited to this series.) Since we’re just adding a constant to ISO, “sISO” and ISO have a perfect correlation, so we’re cool in that regard. Regard:

Fig. 4

The line for “sISO” is the same shape as the line for ISO. (I’m sure this point is patently obvious to some, but perhaps not everyone.) Now we can see really see the seasons ISO was above its all-time norm relative to OBP, so let’s graph those gaps between each line above. Scaled ISO vs. OBP:

Fig. 5 – I Thought It Would Be More Fun For You to Guess the “Horizontal axis title” and That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It

ISO peeked above OBP in 1953, dipped back below in 1954, and then sharply increased in 1955 and 1956. Before that, however, getting on base was always “easier” vs. the historical norms than hitting for power was. This was true even in the post-Ruth era, with players such as Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Ott, and even the beginning of Ted Williams’ career, right up until the end of the Korean War. Actually, league OBP through 1952 was slightly higher, .334, than the current average, while ISO was at .107, still well below the current average.

If baseball ended in 1952 (perish the thought!), the dead ball era would still be a distinct period in baseball history. From 1901-18, league OBP was .316 and ISO .081. From 1919 to 1952, the figures were a .343 OBP and .120 ISO.

Since 1956, power has mostly been above its historical norms relative to OBP, with some exception. Part III will look further into all of this.

Astute observers might have noticed something, though:

The R^2 of the figures comprising each chart (sISO-OBP and XB/TOB) is .885.

So, what do we have here, then?

One possible conclusion is still that we’re still only looking at power. But having now observed changes in OBP over time as part of this exercise, perhaps something else is at play. I think there is.

It’s not particularly obvious in the chart that shows OBP vs. its historical average, but OBP, despite what we know about the dead ball era, and other seasons such as 1968, has actually been relatively consistent historically. Even at the hardest time in history for players to reach base, during the dead ball era, it was still much harder to hit for power. When I looked at a sort of OBP+ and ISO+ vs. their historical averages (just using 100*OBP/historical OBP), here were some things:

  • Range: OBP+ 18 (89-107), ISO+ 80 (51-131)
  • Standard Deviation: OBP+ 3.79, ISO+ 19.6

It’s not necessarily that looking at extra bases per times on base, or the arithmetical difference between OBP and ISO, is the same at looking at power. Rather, OBP has been so consistent historically relative to ISO, that the observations in this article are effectively only an observation of ISO, regardless of the specific numbers that go into them. This is a not uninteresting takeaway to me.

Next week, we’ll use four factors–XB/TOB, sISO-OBP, OBP+, and ISO+–to run through the relationship between power and patience throughout baseball history, and maybe even try to look into the future a little bit. Parts IV and V will then bring us back to the beginning of Part I as we return to observing OBP and ISO through the lens of the efforts of individual players. That’s the tentative plan at least.

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hscer (pronounced h-s-seer) is also the Curator of MLB quizzes at Sporcle.com. You can join Dan Szymborski in following hscer on Twitter.

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