Six of the last seven AL Pennant winners have posted a team OBP north of .340. The World Series champion Red Sox (God I hate saying that) were in the middle of the pack among those AL Pennant winners posting a team OBP of .349 in 2013. .340 just happens to be that magic number. As a number itself, I’d consider .340 to be an average OBP for a solid player. Nothing truly special, but still it’s the mark that divides the adequate from the legitimately good.
The Angels before Jerry Dipoto arrived ranked 11th in the league with a meager .313 OBP. In my own research, I’ve found a grand total of ZERO World Series champions that have had an OBP that low. As the Interim and Assistant General Manager of the D-Backs, Dipoto assembled a lineup that had SIX different players with an OBP over .340. That’s two-thirds of a lineup posting an above average ability to reach base at the time. Former Angels GM Tony Reagins had built a lineup with two thirds of the players posting an OBP under .320. Clearly, this would be Dipoto’s mark on the Angels, building a team that got on base more often than in the past. A shift in the philosophy of the organization as a whole.
So how did the shift workout? Once Dipoto took over in 2012, the Angels managed to get four players over .340 and as a team, carried an OBP of .332. The Angels managed to climb from 11th to 3rd in the AL in OBP. 2013 was roughly the same, a team OBP of .329. Not good enough to get over that magic .340 mark, but also not as bad as before. But I think we can all agree, Dipoto wasn’t brought in to simply be better at team building than Tony Reagins. One of those stupid magic 8-balls would’ve done a better job than Tony did. No, Jerry Dipoto was brought in to build a champion and champions clearly get on base at a .340 mark or better.
So how are the Angels planning to eclipse this mark in 2014? Well for starters, one specific thing needs to happen: Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton need to be healthy and need to be hitting the ball. If those two players aren’t healthy and aren’t hitting the ball up to their abilities, no argument would matter because the Angels would be toast regardless of what they did. Hamilton is a former MVP that carries a lifetime OBP of .354, which was brought down considerably by the .307 mark he mustered in 2013, the year he forgot how to hit the ball. Albert Pujols has a career OBP of .410, which is Hall of Fame worthy. But in 2013, the year his foot fell off, he reached base at a .330 clip.
But another way the Angels are hoping to inflate this number is by adding two new players to the lineup that weren’t there before: Kole Calhoun and David Freese. Freese is a former All-Star third baseman that has a .356 career OBP. In fact, last year, the year he’d played with a myriad of injuries, Freese still managed to post a .340 OBP (really is a magic number). Now that Freese is healthy, there isn’t any reason he shouldn’t get on base at a clip above .360 like previous years. This should be a stark contrast to the Angels 2013 third base situation, where Callaspo’s .324 OBP was the high-point, followed by Luis Jimenez and Chris Nelson’s sub-.300 OBP.
With Kole Calhoun, there isn’t a ton to go off of. In approximately one-third of a season’s worth of plate appearances Calhoun posted an OBP of .347. Not bad for a rookie. But it was in the minors that Calhoun truly shined. In his short minor league career (Calhoun was aggressively promoted, skipping A Ball and AA altogether), Kole posted an OBP over .400 at every stop. There’s little reason to believe Calhoun won’t reach base at a clip north of .350 in the majors given what we’ve seen so far.
Granted, the offseason is far from over and we’re very likely to see one of Kendrick, Aybar and Trumbo dealt before the new-year (neither of which has an OBP over .340), but right now it remains perfectly feasible the 2014 Angels boast a lineup with six players (Iannetta, Trout, Calhoun, Freese, Pujols and Hamilton) eclipsing the magic .340 mark. By comparison, the 2013 Red Sox had six regulars get over that mark (and to their credit, three reserves did as well). There are lots of little things a team needs to do to be successful, like have a healthy, consistent rotation, deep bullpen, solid defense and well-timed hits. But among those, reaching base is one of the most important. If the Angels want to win in 2014, they’ll need to eclipse the magic .340 mark, and Kole Calhoun and David Freese should play a big part in that.