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What is OPS? January 12, 2015

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
Tags: , , , ,

Sabermetricians (which is what baseball stat-heads call ourselves to feel important) disregard batting average in favor of on-base percentage for a few reasons. The main one is that it really doesn’t matter to us whether a batter gets to first base through a gutsy drag bunt, an excuse-me grounder, a bloop single, a liner into the outfield, or a walk. In fact, we don’t even care if the batter got there through a judicious lean-in to take one for the team by accepting a hit-by-pitch. Batting average counts some of these trips to first, but not a base on balls or a hit batsman. It’s evident that plate discipline is a skill that results in higher returns for the team, and there’s a colorable argument that ability to be hit by a pitch is a skill. OBP is \frac{H+BB+HBP}{AB+BB+HBP+SF}.

We also care a lot about how productive a batter is, and a productive batter is one who can clear the bases or advance without trouble. Sure, a plucky baserunner will swipe second base and score from second, or go first to third on a deep single. In an emergency, a light-hitting pitcher will just bunt him over. However, all of these involve an increased probability of an out, while a guy who can just hit a double, or a speedster who takes that double and turns it into a triple, will save his team a lot of trouble. Obviously, a guy who snags four bases by hitting a home run makes life a lot easier for his teammates. Slugging percentage measures how many bases, on average a player is worth every time he steps up to the plate and doesn’t walk or get hit by a pitch. Slugging percentage is \frac{(\mathit{1B}) + (2 \times \mathit{2B}) + (3 \times \mathit{3B}) + (4 \times \mathit{HR})}{AB} = \frac{\text{Total Bases}}{AB}. If a player hits a home run in every at-bat, he’ll have an OBP of 1.000 and a SLG of 4.000.

OPS is just On-Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage. It doesn’t lend itself to a useful interpretation – OPS isn’t, for example, the average number of bases per hit, or anything useful like that. It does, however, provide a quick and dirty way to compare different sorts of hitters. A runner who moves quickly may have a low OBP but a high SLG due to his ability to leg out an extra base and turn a single into a double or a double into a triple. A slow-moving runner who can only move station to station but who walks reliably will have a low SLG (unless he’s a home-run hitter) but a high OBP. An OPS of 1.000 or more is a difficult measure to meet, but it’s a reliable indicator of quality.



1. Gary Trujillo - January 12, 2015

Kudos if you can explain WAR because Bill James himself couldn’t even do it and frankly thought it was a worthless statistic.

tomflesher - January 12, 2015

Eh, Bill wouldn’t like a lot of what I do. He was never a big fan of linear models (and with reasonable cause). As far as I’m concerned – and believe me, there’s nothing special about my opinion – a stat is as useful as the information it gives you. Maybe I’ll dig into WAR in a bit to learn more about it.

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