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Sabermetrics: A Science

In this series I will describe the relatively new phenomena in baseball called sabermetrics. In the 2000's, sabermetrics have really started to gain popularity. Front office decision makers and hardcore, modern fans have really started to pay attention to these stats.

Why aren't sabermetrics well known by casual fans? Well, old habits die hard. Everyone loves batting average and home runs and ERA. However, these simple stats can be influenced by teammates, the ballpark, and worst of all, luck. I am taking on the responsibility of teaching you about the improved statistical analysis called sabermetrics.

 

Installment II: OPS and OPS+

Installment I of my "Sabermetrics: A Science" series was an explanation of the complex metric known as win shares. Win shares is a very difficult metric to calculate, and it is difficult to explain how to calculate as well. Since I started off with such an intricate, comprehensive metric, I decided I will go with one of the simpler ones, OPS and OPS+. OPS is most likely the most popular metric so far and OPS+ is simply a slightly more complicated variation of it.

 

Origin:

Branch Rickey and Allan Roth were the original developers of OPS. However, they left out the sacrifice fly from their equation until 1984 when John Thorn and Pete Palmer wrote a book that helped OPS (including sac flies) really gain traction for the first time. This book was called The Hidden Game of Baseball. Peter Gammons is also partially responsible as he was one of the first baseball journalists to start really using OPS when evaluating and comparing players. OPS is now a widely recognized stat and is generally the most well-received metric to be developed.


 

Calculation:

It is a relief to be able to completely describe how to calculate this metric. With win shares, it is difficult to find one that is even an approximate calculation. OPS calculation, on the other hand, is fairly straightforward. This is how you do it:

OPS = ( (H + BB +HBP) / (AB + BB + SF + HBP) )+ (TB / AB)

Yeah, this looks kind of lengthy, but this is really just a drawn out way of saying:

OPS = OBP + SLG

Easy, right? Right. OPS+ isn't quite as easy, but is by no means difficult. Here you go:

OPS+ = 100 * ( (OBP / lgOBP) + (SLG / lgSLG) - 1)

Not too bad. Yes, OPS+ seems a lot different, but it is essentially the same thing and there is a method to the madness which I will make sure to cover later. Now I will write the steps of calculation in words to help those who are math-illiterate.

OPS:

  • 1.) Add hits, walks and times hit by a pitch (H + BB + HBP)
  • 2.) Add at bats, walks, sacrifice flies and times hit by a pitch (AB + BB + SF + HPB)
  • 3.) Divide the sum from (1) by the sum from (2) (H + BB + HBP) / (AB + BB + SF + HPB)
  • 4.) Divide total bases by at bats (TB / AB)
  • 5.) Add the quotient from (3) to the quotient from (4)

Or, in one step: add on-base percentage and slugging-percentage.

OPS+:

  • 1.) Divide on-base percentage by the league average (OBP / lgOBP)
  • 2.) Divide slugging percentage by the league average (SLG / lgSLG)
  • 3.) Add the quotients of (1) and (2)
  • 4.) Subtract the sum from (3) by one.
  • 5.) Multiply the product from (4) by 100

This process appears lengthy, but it really isn't. This is a very simple formula. However, chances are that you will be able to find a player's OPS or OPS+ on the site you normally look at for stats. If not, I suggest either Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs.

 

What it tells us:

OPS is a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Therefore, it tells us how capable a player is at both getting on base and getting extra base this. On-base percentage greatly favors players who get walks and singles, however, it is more beneficial to a team if you hit a double, triple, or home run. Those stats are combined in slugging percentage, which favors players like Ryan Howard and hurts players like Ichiro. Obviously, neither OBP nor SLG are perfect. And neither is OPS, but it is closer than the other two.

Bill James, the master statistician, created a scale on how to grade players based on OPS:

  • (A) -.9000 and above
  • (B) - .8334 to 8.999
  • (C) - .7667 to .8333
  • (D) - .7000 to .7666
  • (E) - .6334 to .6999
  • (F) - .5667 to .6333
  • (G) - .5666 and below

Therefore, a "D" is an average player, someone with an OPS between .7000 and .7666 while .9000 and above is a truly great player. As for a player .5666 and lower? Get his ass on the bench! Let's take a look the top 5 in the MLB in OBP, SLG, and finally OPS:

 

OBP (2009):

  • 1.) Joe Mauer - .444
  • 2.) Albert Pujols - .443
  • 3.) Nick Johnson - .426
  • 4.) Todd Helton - .416
  • 5.) Joey Votto - .414

SLG (2009):

  • 1.) Albert Pujols - .658
  • 2.) Prince Fielder - .602
  • 3.) Joe Mauer - .587
  • 4.) Derrek Lee - .579
  • 5.) Ryan Howard - .571

OPS (2009):

  • 1.) Albert Pujols - 1.101
  • 2.) Joe Mauer - 1.031
  • 3.) Prince Fielder - 1.014
  • 4.) Joey Votto - .981
  • 5.) Derrek Lee - .972

Notes:

  • As expected, Pujols is on top of both OBP and SLG. Therefore, he is the best in terms of OPS as well.
  • The two reigning MVP's are numbers one and 2 in OPS. Coincidence? You decide.
  • None of the players in the top five in OPS are outside the top 20 in either category. The lowest is Derrek Lee in OBP, where he is 20th.
  • Kevin Youkilis is 6th in OBP and 6th in OPS, but you won't see his name until you go down to 15th in SLG.

 

OBP (all-time, career):

  • 1.) Ted Williams - .4817
  • 2.) Babe Ruth - .4739
  • 3.) John McGraw - .4657
  • 4.) Billy Hamilton - .4552
  • 5.) Lou Gherig - .4474

SLG (all-time, career):

  • 1.) Babe Ruth - .6897
  • 2.) Ted Williams - .6338
  • 3.) Lou Gherig - .6324
  • 4.) Albert Pujols - .6277
  • 5.) Jimmie Foxx - .6093

OPS (all-time, career):

  • 1.) Babe Ruth - 1.1636
  • 2.) Ted Williams - 1.1155
  • 3.) Lou Gherig - 1.0798
  • 4.) Albert Pujols - 1.0547
  • 5.) Barry Bonds - 1.0512

Notes:

  • There was a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances for these records.
  • Every player in the top 5 in OBP is a lefty and 8 out of the top 10 are lefties.
  • Albert Pujols is the only righty in the top 5 in OPS.
  • McGraw and Hamilton aren't seen on the top OPS list until 105th and 78th, despite their high OBP.
  • Barry Bonds is 6th in OBP and SLG, then moves up to 5th in OPS.

 

Now for OPS+. OPS+ is a variation of OPS is a more effective statistic when comparing players. It levels the playing field because, in order to calculate, the players must be compared to the league average in OBP and SLG during the respective career or season. to compare, say Lou Brock (career OPS+ of 109) and Rickey Henderson (127). It is a way of leveling the playing field.

This is VERY IMPORTANT when looking at OPS+. 100 OPS+ is the league average. Anything below 100 is below average and anything above is above average. Since it is based around the number 100, every single points is worth half of a percent. Therefore, Rickey Henderson is 9% better than Lou Brock according to OPS+ because he has an 18 point advantage.

Having said that, here are the top 5 in OPS+:

2009 Season:

  • 1.) Albert Pujols - 188
  • 2.) Joe Mauer - 170
  • 3.) Prince Fielder - 168
  • 4.) Adrian Gonzalez - 166
  • 5.) Joey Votto - 155

Notes:

  • You must be getting bored of seeing Pujols' name on here, don't worry I have a surprised in the next one.
  • Pujols and Mauer seem to be the Ruth-Williams of all-time, in that they are always 1-2.
  • I was wondering when Gonzalez would show up, and here he is.
  • This is adjusted OPS+, it accounts for the ballpark, which is probably why Gonzalez is here all of a sudden.
  • Votto, one of the more underrated MLB'ers is a popular name on these lists.

 

All-Time, Career:

  • 1.) Babe Ruth - 207
  • 2.) Ted Williams - 191
  • 3.) Barry Bonds - 181
  • 4.) Lou Gherig - 179
  • 5.) Rogers Hornsby -175

Notes:

  • Babe and Ruth and Ted Williams are once again the top two.
  • Albert Pujols has fallen off of the top five and is tied for 6th.
  • Barry Bonds moved up two spots, Gherig dropped one.
  • Hornsby came out of nowhere. He isn't in the top 5 in any other of the three categories.
  • Hornsby is one of two righties, the other being Pujols, in the top 10.
  • Mickey Mantle (tied for 6th with Pujols) is the only switch hitter until Lance Berkman who is 39th.

 

Biggest Flaw:

The only criticism of OPS and OPS+ is that OBP and SLG are considered equal. Many believe that OBP should be favored in this equation because OBP is typically the more important stat.

e.g. Ichiro's 2009 OPS and OPS+ were lower than both Adam Lind and Jason Kubel, despite leading the league in hits.

 

Evaluation:

OPS and OPS+ are very useful statistics. OPS is incredibly simple and is a pretty good indicator of how good a hitter is at not only getting at base, but getting extra bases as well. It rewards players who can get walks and hit doubles, triples and homers.

OPS+ is a successful way of comparing players who play in different parks and athletes who played in completely different eras.

However, you must keep in mind that it is not always correct. There is no way Ichiro is an inferior player to Adam Lind and Jason Kubel. Do not take this stat alone and act as if it decides everything. If you are comparing two similar style players, this is a very good way of comparing their hitting ability.

Overall, I am a fan of this metric. It is probably the simplest one you will see. The calculation is easy, it is easy to find from common sources like ESPN and MLB, and it is a pretty good indicator of a player's hitting ability. It is a hitting-only stat and doesn't account for defense. Also, the biggest issue is that OBP and SLG are regarded as equal when they really are not.

 

Useful sites:

  • Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus wrote a good read about OPS here.
  • You can see a great article on the problem with OPS here. It is somewhat old, it was written back in 2005.
  • This is a quick read and pretty short article that has a short description of both OPS and OPS+. See it here.

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