Markakis, Milligan and the art of on-base percentage

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Randy Milligan at Camden Yards Construction

April 17, 2013

I've got OBP on the brain.

Last week, while writing my latest Flashback Friday post, I came across a 1980 Associated Press newspaper brief about Eddie Murray being named American League Player of the Week. The brief mentioned Murray's .513 on-base percentage (OBP), which caught me off guard given that the statistic seems to have gained popular acceptance, including increased usage in baseball copy and during game broadcasts, since the 2004 publication of MoneyBall.

OBP became an official MLB statistic in 1984 - in other words, four years after the publication of that 1980 newspaper article. That doesn't mean it was new, or anything close to it, in 1984. Branch Rickey discussed on-base percentage and other stats three decades earlier in the Aug. 2, 1954, edition of LIFE magazine.

All of which is to say that while I've had OBP on my average baseball mind lately - including during the Orioles' nationally televised, miserable offensive showing Sunday night versus the Yankees - the great baseball minds have been thinking about it for a long time.

Eddie Murray's solid .370 career OBP with the Orioles ranks him 25th in franchise history. With all due respect to the St. Louis Browns and franchise OBP leader Goose Goslin, if you remove the pre-1954 players, Murray would appear much higher on the list.

Who are some other familiar Orioles with top-ranked career OBP numbers?

Frank Robinson, .401 OBP in 2,941 career at-bats in Baltimore (third overall in franchise history, top-ranked Orioles player)

I'm pretty sure they weren't using the phrase beast mode back in the 1960s (I'll be listening for it on Mad Men just in case), but it's an apt descriptor of The Judge's performance during his 1966 Triple Crown season, including a strong showing for on-base percentage.

Newly arrived from Cincinnati, Robinson posted a .410 OBP, which would end up being the third-highest single-season total of his 21-year career. Ho hum ... it was one of 10 offensive categories in which Robinson led the league or all of baseball in 1966.

Ken Singleton, .388 OBP in 5,115 career at-bats in Baltimore (tied for seventh in franchise history)

Ken Singleton posted his best single-season on-base percentage of .438 in 1977. He finished third in the MVP voting that year with the award going to "Hall of Famer Rod Carew" (h/t Adam Sandler), who had a .449 OBP. Singleton's .425 OBP for Montreal led all of baseball in 1973. Both totals topped Frank Robinson's single-season best OBP .421 for the Reds in 1962. 

Randy Milligan, .388 OBP in 1,672 career at-bats in Baltimore (tied for seventh in franchise history)

My memories of Randy Milligan tend to be episodic and unrelated to his abilities as a player. I caught one of his home run balls during batting practice at Memorial Stadium; it is the only Orioles ball I've ever caught from the stands. And then there's the classic 1990 image of the Moose on the grounds that would become Camden Yards, hitting a Pete Harnisch offering with Elrod Hendricks behind the dish. But the Moose had a knack for getting on base during his four years in Baltimore. He and Mickey Tettleton combined for nearly 200 walks in 1990.

Moose. Froot Loops. Early-90s baseball in Baltimore was f. u. n.

Don Buford, .385 OBP in 2,341 career at-bats in Baltimore (12th in franchise history)

Don Buford was the first player to homer leading off a World Series. He was the first Orioles player to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. When he wasn't touching all of the bases, Buford knew how to get on one. He had 96 walks in 1969 and a career-high 109 walks in 1970.

Among current Orioles, Nick Markakis is the guy for OBP. Currently ranked 34th for franchise OBP, Markakis has finished in the top three among Orioles players in the category every year of his career and led it four times (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012). 

Here are the Orioles' OBP leaders during Markakis' career:

2012 - Nick Markakis .363; Mark Reynolds .335; Adam Jones .334 

2011 - Nick Markakis .351; Matt Wieters .328; Robert Andino .327

2010 - Nick Markakis .370; Luke Scott .368; Adam Jones .325 

2009 - Nolan Reimold .365; Brian Roberst .356; Nick Markakis .347

2008 - Nick Markakis .406; Brian Roberst .378; Aubrey Huff .360

2007 - Brian Roberts .377; Kevin Millar .365; Nick Markakis .362

2006 - Miguel Tejada .379; Kevin Millar .374; Nick Markakis .351

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