This year, Tout Wars, which takes place just a week from now in wonderful New York City, embraces a major change in point tallying by shifting from the traditional category of batting average in deference to the much more revealing on-base percentage.
This is really the biggest change in the league format since I joined, back in 2000, when the scoring went from 4x4 to 5x5, adding strikeouts and runs scored as categories.
Personally, I am pretty ambivalent about the change. Ever since I started playing Strat-O-Matic, in the early 70's, I have regarded WHIP and OBP as the two best indicators of potential player performance.
However, in order to win a league, one has to play by the rules and format of the league, so whether or not I regarded OBP as a better indicator of a player's skill set than batting average, as far as winning the league is concerned, batting average was all that mattered.
Of course in my opinon, a good OBP indicates a selective approach at the plate, and that plate discipline generally points to a stronger average and set of offensive skills irrespective.
So, to finish up this time, let's look at some players with strong on-base skills who might not be as highly thought of in "average" leagues who may get a boost in Tout and other on-base leagues due to looking differently at the numbers.
Gaby Sanchez (1B, Pirates): I still remember back to the completion of Sanchez' rookie year, and my Strat-O-Matic team needed a first sacker. I had a choice between Ike Davis and Sanchez, and chose wrong. Not that it would have helped me that much over the long haul, but the advantage I saw in Gaby was his ability to get on base. I made the wrong choice. What I did see in Sanchez back then was 57 walks to 101 whiffs, and though the first sacker has had ups and downs since, I love the 44 walks to 51 strikeouts (.361 OBP) he earned last season. I think he will add power with the confidence of everyday work, and will be a bargain in NL-only leagues.
Josh Satin (1B, Mets): Speaking of Davis, I have a hard time imagining the Mets playing Davis, potential or not, with Satin and Lucas Duda (also a decent on-base threat with some power) both on the squad. True Satin does not have the power of Davis, but he did hit 15 doubles and walked 30 times to 56 whiffs last year over 75 games, good for a decent .781 OPS. Davis might have the pop, but anyone who gets on base more often will have a chance to score more often, and in this case, that is Satin. At least as of now. Also, Satin is the healthiest of the trio as I write.
Caleb Gindl (OF, Brewers): Gindl was acceptable in the Minors, with 325 walks to 615 strikeouts (.367 OBP), and he upped the ante with a 20:25 ratio over 132 Brewers games last year. Gindl is a fourth outfielder with Milwaukee, playing primarily behind Khris Davis, backing Ryan Braun. It is true that the sample size is small, but in an NL-only set-up, the 350 at-bats the left-handed hitter might get if he makes the roster could be a solid addition (Gindl has some pop to boot).
John Jaso (C, Athletics): I have been hyping Derek Norris since last year as the future of the Athletics behind the dish, and I do think Norris will grab the bulk of the playing time, but Jaso will get his licks both as the back-up backstop and then as a platoon DH so that both players earn close to 400 plate appearances. With 178 walks to 173 strikeouts as a major leaguer, Jaso's skills at reading pitches is clearly established. By the way, it also means a strong chance that the A's will carry a third catcher, meaning a potential payday for Stephen Vogt.
George Kottaras (C, Cubs): There are some things that seem so obvious to me, and yet the world misses. Like I cannot understand why Barry Zito, with four pitches and some serious smarts, cannot become the new Jamie Moyer. Another is why no one give George Kottaras a full-time chance to catch, since despite a horrible lifetime .214 batting average, he has a .730 OPS. That means over his 295 major league games, he has a .324 OBP (remember, his average is 110 points lower) and 29 homers. I do have a bet with the NFBC's Greg Ambrosius that Kottaras has a 20-homer season in him if he ever gets a chance to play full-time. Maybe as a left-handed hitter behind Wellington Castillo, he will get a chance.
Dioner Navarro (C, Blue Jays): I have always been a Navarro fan, although like many, I lost faith when he lost his ability to make contact in 2006. Still, with 193 walks to 342 strikeouts, Navarro's OBP is 62 points higher than his average at .313, and the catcher only has 54 strikeouts over 2251 at-bats. Contrast that to former catcher J.P. Arencibia, who has 64 homers over 1299 at-bats, but just a .258 OBP. That is just seven points higher than Navarro's career average as a case in point. Happy to take a chance here, and, if you notice, catchers do pretty well at this strike zone stuff because they work with it on defense. And, because a catcher's primary task is handling the pitching game, it is why their hitting skills often are not improved until later in their respective careers.
Jose Tabata (OF, Pirates): Still just 25 years old, Tabata has a chance to build off his strong second half--along with the promising future he presented when he made the Majors as a 21-year-old. Tabata has 120 walks to his 220 strikeouts (.339 OBP), which suggests he makes good contact, and the 40 walks to 61 whiffs he culled, despite a 33-point drop in average from 2010 to 2011, fostered a three-point rise in Tabata's OBP (to .349). With a full-time job, as a real veteran, I think Tabata will excel.
Kole Calhoun (OF, Angels): I want to be disciplined when it comes to bidding for Calhoun, as he still has just 218 major league at-bats, but 21 walks to 41 strikeouts last year with the Angels, to go with his 188 minor league walks to 261 whiffs (.402 OBP) point directly to his eight homers and .808 OPS last year. And, that is what earned Calhoun a full-time job going into 2014. I fear he will cost around $15 in Tout, which is a little higher than I would like to go. But, if I can get him for $11 or $12, I am jumping on it.