When did On-Base Percentage Come About?

If you’ve watched (or read) Moneyball, then you know that On-Base Percentage (OBP) in Baseball was a second tier stat for the a long time until the advent of Sabermetrics being used more widely as a way to gain advantages as a team by relying on undervalued players instead of superstars.

Wikipedia says OBP became an official statistic in 1984, but when was it created?

August 2, 1954.

30 years earlier!

Life Magazine published an article “Goodby [sic] to Some Old Baseball Ideas” written by Branch Rickey included an equation for On-Base percentage. You can read that article here. (In the article, OBP is called “On Base Average”).

Here’s what the calculation for OBP/OBA looks like:

Why did it take 30 years for an objectively better way to measure getting on base to become ‘official’?

Why did it take another 20 for it to form the basis of Sabermetrics and take the baseball world by storm?

Old habits die hard.

Can you imagine how the course of history for some teams would have changed if they had paid closer attention to something that was sitting under their noses for 50+ years? The baseball world would look completely different.

But, this isn’t a baseball blog. It’s a blog about how to double your productivity, focused on strategies for software teams to produce better software, sooner.

TDD has been around for 20+ years. How many teams have you been on that have practiced TDD? For me, the answer is one. Out of all the teams I’ve been on across all the industries and sized companies, I’ve only been on one team that practiced TDD before I arrived.

I’ve been with seven different companies in my career and twelve or thirteen teams, and there was one that practiced TDD before I arrived (incidentally, it’s also the same team where I first saw the value of TDD).

TDD and OBP share a lot in common as measures. They measure what is objectively important; and they are relatively simple measures. They focus on an outcome-based approach to measurement, instead of a heuristic based approach (unit tests and static analysis are heuristics), and there’s a binary result: Either your code is easy to change with confidence or it isn’t.

Either you got on base or you didn’t.

Now that doesn’t mean getting on base is easy, or that making your code easy to change is easy; but the outcome is essential to software teams: Being able to make changes with ease and confidence. Being able to deliver on time, without regression bugs, and without fear.

Can you imagine how different the software world would be if all teams could do that, right now?

Special Thanks to Ben Orlin and his book: “Math with Bad Drawings” where I found out this tidbit about OBP (Pages 222-226).

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