There are many statistics used to measure the success of baseball players, and some of them are specific to hitting. One of the most common hitting statistics is on-base percentage or OBP.
So what is OBP in baseball?
On-base percentage or OBP defines how successful a hitter is at reaching base in baseball. OBP is calculated by dividing a batter’s hits, walks, and hit by pitches by their total at-bats, walks, hit by pitches, and sacrifice flies to determine how often they reach base.
This article will go into further detail on what on-base percentage is, what a good OBP is, and how you calculate OBP. We also have a list of the OBP leaders in Major League Baseball and how OBP compares to other hitting statistics to measure a player’s success as a hitter.
What Is On-Base Percentage?
On-base percentage is one of the most widely used statistics that people who follow baseball use to track the success rate of a hitter. In the simplest terms, the percentage explains how often a hitter reaches base per the number of at-bats they have, but there are exceptions.
Here is how Major League Baseball defines OBP:
OBP refers to how frequently a batter reaches base per plate appearance. Times on base include hits, walks and hit-by-pitches, but do not include errors, times reached on a fielder’s choice or a dropped third strike. (Separately, sacrifice bunts are removed from the equation entirely, because it is rarely a hitter’s decision to sacrifice himself, but rather a manager’s choice as part of an in-game strategy.)
According to the MLB definition, not all at-bats count towards OBP. The at-bats that don’t count are the ones that are settled by the defense.
When there is an error, the batter only reaches base because the other team could not field the ball and make the out. A similar situation is on a dropped third strike when the catcher can’t get the ball to first before the batter.
Another play that doesn’t affect OBP is a fielder’s choice in which the defense chooses which runner to get out. The batter would have likely been out if the defense didn’t choose to get another runner out.
Finally, sacrifice bunts don’t count because that is a strategic choice made by the team to advance the runner, and the whole point of the play is for the batter to get out.
In all other situations where the batter gets himself on base, his OBP increases as a result.
What Is a Good OBP in Baseball?
In baseball, what is considered good and bad for any statistic is relative to how everyone is doing. A good OBP is usually .020 points higher than the average for a given season or career.
The average OBP in baseball for the 2021 regular season was around .320. Anything over .340 can be considered an above-average OBP.
An OBP over .400 is considered elite and is quite rare in the modern era. As you’ll see in a later section, only three players had an OBP over .400 in the 2021 season.
Let’s look at some statistics from a recent season to see what a good OBP is.
According to MLB.com, the best OBP for a team in the 2021 regular season was .339 for the Houston Astros, and the team with the lowest OBP was the Texas Rangers with an OBP of .294. The top ten teams ranked by OBP all had a season OBP over .320, which we would consider good.
Is OBP Overrated?
The most talked-about statistic for hitters is batting average, but OBP is another one that comes up often. The purpose of OBP is to give a number that quickly describes how well a player is at reaching base.
But, some people don’t think that OBP is a good statistic or that it is overrated. Is OBP overrated?
The downside of OBP is that it doesn’t consider how well the player is hitting the ball or how many bases they get on each hit.
For example, when calculating OBP, a single is worth just as much as a home run. The extra bases don’t factor into the calculation, and neither do RBIs.
OBP may be an overrated statistic just on its own, as is batting average, but when you look at a player’s overall batting statistics, including OBP, they give a good picture of how well a hitter is doing.
How Do You Calculate OBP in Baseball?
OBP is easy to calculate if you know which stats to use and what period you are calculating it for.
Here is how to calculate OBP according to the MLB Rulebook:
On-base percentage, divide the sum of hits, bases on balls and times hit by pitch by the sum of at-bats, bases on balls, times hit by pitch and sacrifice flies
For the purpose of computing on-base percentage, ignore instances of a batter being awarded first base on interference or obstruction.
Here is the equation is written out:
(Hits + BBs + Hit by Pitches) / (At Bats + BBs + Hit by Pitches + Sacrifice Flies)
Make sure you use the stats for the same period and the same player or group of players so your calculations are accurate.
For example, you should use all stats from a single game to calculate a team’s OBP for a certain day. But if you are calculating the season stats for a certain player, you only need to use their stats for every game they played that year.
We have included some examples of how to calculate OBP in different situations.
How to Calculate OBP for a Single Game
First, let’s look at a simple example and calculate a single-game OBP. Say a player has three at-bats in a game with two hits, one walk, zero hit by pitches, and one sacrifice fly.
Here is the equation for OBP filled in with these numbers:
(2 + 1 + 0) / (3 + 1 + 0 + 1)
This player’s OBP is three divided by five, or .600 for the game, which statistically means they hit very well.
How to Calculate OBP for a Season
Let’s look at a real-life example from the 2021 regular season. Since Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had one of the best OBPs in the league, we’ll look at how his OBP is calculated.
Guerrero Jr. had 604 at-bats, 188 hits, 86 walks, six-hit by pitches, and two sacrifice flies for the season.
Here are the numbers plugged into the OBP equation:
(188 + 86 + 6) / (604 + 86 + 6 + 2)
This equation ends up simplifying to 280 / 698, which equals an OBP of .401.
Since his OBP is higher than .400, we can say that he had a great season as a hitter based on the stat.
As of the end of the 2021 season, Mike Trout has the highest OBP among active players. Let’s calculate his career OBP so far.
To calculate his current career OBP, we need to make sure that we use his numbers from his whole career. Between 2011 and 2021, he had 1419 hits, 865 walks, 86 hit by pitches, 52 sacrifice flies, and 4,656 at-bats.
Here is the equation with his numbers plugged in:
(1419 + 865 + 86) / (4656 + 865 + 86 + 52)
The equation simplifies to 2,370 / 5,659, which is 0.4188 rounded to 0.419 for the statistics book.
OBP Career Leaders
Having a high OBP is an important stat for hitters because it illustrates their success rate of reaching base.
For players to rank on the overall career leaderboard, they must meet the following minimum requirements:
- 1,000 innings played
- 500 games fielded (or 500 innings pitched for pitchers)
- 3,000 plate appearances
Here are the top 10 MLB History career leaders in OBP from Baseball Reference:
|Player||OBP||Years in League|
|Ted Williams||.4817||1939-1942; 1946-1960|
|Oscar Charleston||.4487||1920-1927; 1929; 1933-1941|
|Jud Wilson||.4351||1923-1929; 1932-1945|
|Bill Joyce||.4349||1890-1892; 1894-1898|
As you can see, the best OBPs in baseball history are all over .400, but most of them are in older eras since getting a higher OBP is harder in today’s game.
The players in this chart have played in a wide range of years spanning more than a century. Baseball has evolved so much over the years, so sometimes people question whether or not we can compare players from different eras to each other.
We have also included the OBP leaders from the 2021 season of MLB for comparison. These numbers are only for one season of baseball as opposed to full careers.
Here are the top nine OBP leaders from the 2021 regular season, including a four-way tie for ninth place, according to ESPN:
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||.401|
OBP vs Batting Average
Batting average is another statistic that measures a hitter’s success in baseball, and just like OBP, the higher, the better.
The difference between OBP and batting average is that batting average solely depends on the number of hits per the number of at-bats. Unlike OBP, the batting average doesn’t include walks, hit by pitches, and sacrifice hits.
If a player is walking or getting hit by pitches a lot, their OBP will be significantly higher than their batting average. Let’s look at an example from the 2021 season.
Yasmani Grandal had a season OBP of .420 but a batting average of .240. Why’s his OBP so much higher than his batting average?
Because he drew so many walks (87), he reached base a significantly higher amount than he hit the ball. He is not on the OBP leader board for the year because he didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify, but it’s a very good OBP regardless.
As discussed above, a good OBP is around .340 or higher. As for batting average, anything over .300 is great, and today’s averages are around .250.
Commonly, a player’s OBP will be around .100 higher than his batting average.
OBP vs. OPS
On-base plus slugging, or OPS, is another statistic used to measure a hitter’s success. OPS is the sum of OBP and slugging percentage.
As discussed earlier, some people consider OBP overrated because of what it doesn’t measure, which is power. For this reason, some people prefer to use OPS because it includes the measurement of power.
OPS is also a better stat than OBP since it factors into account extra-base hits. Each extra base that a hitter gets increases their slugging percentage, and therefore their OPS.
To calculate OPS, you need to first calculate the individual OBP and slugging percentage for a hitter. For example, you can’t combine a player’s career OBP with their slugging percentage from a single season. You would need to use their career OBP and slugging, or the two stats from the same season or game.
A good OPS will be much higher than a good OBP, since OBP is included in OPS. A good OPS is .800 or higher, with anything over 1.000 being considered elite.
Let’s look at a few examples of how to calculate OPS. Earlier in this article, we calculated Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s OBP of .401 for the 2021 MLB season. Now, let’s calculate his OPS for the 2021 season.
We already know his OBP, so we just need to know what his 2021 season slugging percentage is. In 2021, he had a slugging percentage of .601, which was the third best in the league for the season.
To calculate OPS, we add Guerrero Jr.’s OBP of .401 to his slugging percentage of .601 for a 2021 season OPS of 1.002. He had the second best OPS in the league and was considered elite since it was over .1000.
Let’s look at another example by calculating Mike Trout’s career OPS through the 2021 season. We calculate this similarly to the way we calculated Guerrero Jr.’s season OPS, but we use Trout’s career stats instead.
Above, we calculated Trout’s career OBP to be .419. According to Baseball Reference, his career slugging percentage is .583. So, we add his OBP of .419 and his slugging percentage of .583 and the result is his career OPS of 1.002.
Similar to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 2021 season OPS, Mike Trout has an elite OPS for his career thus far.
If you want to learn how to calculate slugging percentage itself, we explain how to in the next section.
What Is Slugging Percentage?
As mentioned above, slugging percentage and OBP combine to create OPS. But what’s slugging percentage on its own, and how does it compare to OBP?
Slugging percentage measures how good a player is at hitting extra-base hits (doubles, triples, and home runs). Unlike OBP, slugging percentage doesn’t take into account walks and hit-by-pitches.
To calculate slugging percentage, you need to add up the total number of bases for every hit the batter has and divide it by the number of at-bats they have. Singles are worth one base, doubles are worth two, triples are worth three, and home runs are worth four.
Here is the equation for slugging percentage:
(Singles + Doubles x 2 + Triples x 3 + Home runs x 4) / At-bats
Home runs give players the biggest boost in their slugging percentage because they receive four bases for just one at-bat.
A good slugging percentage is higher than a good OBP. The average slugging percentage is usually around .400, with a good one being closer to .450.
Let’s look at an example of how to calculate slugging percentage using Barry Bonds career slugging, one of the highest in baseball according to Baseball Reference.
First, we need to look at how many singles, doubles, triples, and home runs Bonds had, and add up the number of bases he had for each hit. Over his career, he hit 1,495 singles, 601 doubles, 77 triples, and 762 home runs.
Let’s plug those numbers into our equation for slugging percentage:
1,495 + 2 * 601 + 3 * 77 + 4 * 762
The equation simplifies to 1,495 + 1202 + 231 + 3,048 which equals .606885 or .607 rounded.
Let’s also calculate his OBP and his OPS. Remember, to calculate OBP we need to know how many hits, walks, hit by pitches, at bats, and sacrifice flies Bonds had.
We also need to make sure that we use his career numbers, since that’s what we used to calculate slugging percentage, and all the numbers we use need to be over the same amount of time.
During his 22-year career, he had 2,935 hits, 2,558 walks, 106 hit by pitches and 91 sacrifice flies in 9,847 at-bats.
Here are his career numbers plugged into the OBP equation:
(2,935 + 2,558 + 106) / (9,847 + 2,558 + 106 + 91)
The equation simplifies to 5,599 / 12,602 which is equal to an OBP of .444.
Now that we know Bond’s slugging percentage and OBP, we can calculate his OPS. OPS is equal to slugging percentage plus OBP so:
.607 slugging + .444 OBP = 1.051 OPS
Bonds has a career OPS of 1.051.