Let’s make an invidious comparison between Shawn Dunston’s 1997 season and Eddie Yost’s 1956 season.
Dunston played for the Chicago Cubs during the 1980s and 1990s. He was a flashy fielder with a rifle arm who set a record in 1997 by drawing a mere eight walks while qualifying for the batting title.
Yost was a good defensive third baseman who played for the original Washington Senators. Known as “The Walking Man,” he led the American League in walks five times despite his .254 lifetime batting average. In 1956, Yost walked 151 times.
In 1997, Dunston batted .300 with 147 hits in 490 official at-bats with the Cubs and, at the end of the season, with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 1956, Yost hit .231, managing 119 hits in 515 official at-bats.The difference was that Dunston had only 511 plate appearances while Yost had 684,
Dunston had to hit his way on base. His 1997 on base average was .312, or a mere 0.012 points higher than his batting average.
Yost couldn’t hit his way on base, but he had a great mastery of the strike zone. Despite his anemic .231 average, Yost had a .412 on base average, which is exactly 0.100 points higher than Dunston’s.
There has been a tendency to give on base average too much credit while denigrating batting average. Admittedly, Dunston’s 1997 season and Yost’s 1956 season are extremes, but they help to graphically illustrate that statistics must be interpreted within a specific context.
Yost batted leadoff for the Senators, but he was guaranteed to lead off only his first at-bat. He reached base more than 41 percent of the time, hitting his way on only 23 percent of the time.
Dunston reached base only 31 percent of the time, but he hit his way on 30 percent of the time, or seven percent more than Yost.
Recognizing that many uncontrollable variables exist, including the Cubs’ and Senators’ batting orders, Dunston’s higher batting average is significant.
With a runner on first and less than two outs, Dunston had a better chance of moving the runner to third than Yost, although Yost had a better chance of moving the runner into scoring position with a walk. What happens next depends on the lineup, opposing pitcher, as well as many other factors.
The old “with a runner on third and two outs” must be mentioned. Dunston had a much better chance of driving home the run than Yost.
Taking 600 official at-bats as a bench mark, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .231 hitter is about 41 hits. How important those hits might be depends on circumstances.
Yost scored 94 of the Senators 652 runs, or about 14 percent of his teams runs. Dunston scored 71 of the Cubs 687 runs, or about 10 percent.
The point is that Yost reached base 270 times between hits and walks. Dunston reached base 155 times between hits and walks.
Statistics must be interpreted within specific contexts. Yost reached base 115 more times than Dunston, but scored only 23 more times.
An amazing statistic is that Yost slugged .336, which supports the contention that taking a .412 on base average out of context can be deadly. Yost could get on base, but that was almost the limit of his offensive value.
It is not being argued that batting average is more or less valuable than OBA. It is being pointed out that statistics cannot stand alone.
One more question. How did Yost lead the league in walks five times with Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle in the league?