If you’re reading this column, you are likely already in, or are considering joining, an On Base Percentage fantasy baseball league. Congratulations! You graduated from the minor leagues of batting average into the big leagues of OBP. On-Base Percentage is a much more comprehensive way of capturing a hitter’s baseline impact on his team’s offense. No longer will we ignore walks! No longer will we ignore hit by pitches! No longer will we judge players by At Bats, but rather Plate Appearances! For this piece, we will look at some hitters to target in OBP leagues that get a huge boost in that format.
Hitters to Target in OBP Leagues
3B Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
Moncada’s 2021 stats of a .263 average, 14 home runs and three steals don’t really get me out of bed in the morning. But in an OBP league, he should get a major boost assuming his gains in walk rate are sustainable. Thanks to a 13.6% walk rate, Moncada finished the year with a .375 on-base percentage. Both of those numbers were 10th in the majors among qualified hitters. That .375 rate pushed Moncada up to first among all third basemen in OBP last season.
Removing the outlier year of 2020, Moncada’s trajectory moves in the right direction every year.
Most projection systems see Moncada improving his home run totals to about 20 while his steals creep up to around 5-6 this year. They are more bearish on the OBP, with most settling around .350. But that’s exactly what someone like Rafael Devers contributed last year.
You can easily bump up Moncada a round or two off his standard ADP in OBP leagues.
1B Brandon Belt and 1B/OF Darin Ruf, San Francisco Giants
It’s a two-for-one special out in the Bay Area this year thanks to the (presumed) universal DH. Belt and Ruf should spend their summer swapping between 1B and DH, and both see a tremendous bump in OBP formats. It’s actually uncanny how similar their 2021 seasons were.
Belt and Ruf both have made a living at getting on base with regularity. They both sport career walk rates north of 10% and O-Swing% rates below 24%.
Both represent tremendous draft values this year and bring a measure of power to their contributions in on-base average. With the DH in play, both have a path to 140+ games this year and more than 500 plate appearances.
Belt’s current ADP on NFBC is 229.04 while Ruf is way down the list at 459.46. For a CI or OF position (Ruf is OF eligible), you can do a lot worse than these two at their respective draft positions.
C Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
We all know about Yasmini Grandal’s extraordinary year in 2021, especially in regards to OBP. Grandal – in only 93 games – hit 23 home runs while carrying a 23% walk rate. That added up to a .420 OBP that led all catchers. But Will Smith was actually not far behind. Smith was one of only three catchers in 2021 to reach at least 500 plate appearances (Realmuto and Perez the others), but his 11.6% walk rate lapped those other two.
In the end, it all led to a .365 OBP, more than 100 points higher than his batting average. Smith has always had a proclivity for a high OBP since he arrived on the big league scene. While on the Dodgers, Smith has a career .365 OBP, including an astounding .401 in the shortened 2020 season.
How has he done it for three years running? The answer lies in the elite batting eye Smith had the 29th-best outside swing rate (O-Swing%) among ALL hitters with at least 300 plate appearances last season. 2021 was Smith’s sixth professional season with a walk rate over 10% so it’s safe to say he now owns that skill. Behind only Grandal, Smith may be your best bet for an elite OBP season from a catcher this year.
SS Carlos Correa, Free Agent
Where he will sign, nobody knows. But what we do know is that Correa has developed an elite batting eye, finishing five out of his last six major league seasons with a 10.9%+ walk rate. The 2020 season was the only outlier with a still average 7.2%. Correa’s average has more ups and downs than a roller coaster in his career. He hits as high as .315 some years and has dropped to .239 in others. But Correa only has two season with an OBP under .345 in his career.
But the real gains for Correa in 2021 were from a marked improvement in his strikeout rate. Correa struck out more than 21% of the time four of the last five seasons, but that dropped to just 18.1% in 2021 thanks to an outside zone swing percentage that dropped from over 32% in 2019-2020 to just 27% in 2021.
If he can hold onto those gains as he signs a big deal for his prime hitting years, we could be looking at a top-five shortstop again. Correa is currently going off the board as SS15 in NFBC drafts, which do use batting average. In OBP leagues, I would certainly take him over Jorge Polanco, Javy Baez, and Bobby Witt, all of whom are ahead of Correa right now.