The following post appeared in 2012 as part of WGN’s Stats Sunday series. Thanks to WGN Sports executive producer Bob Vorwald for his work.
The best part of baseball is the never-ending arguments over who is better, especially at All-Star and Hall of Fame time. OPS+ lets you do just that.
OPS (On-base plus Slugging) has arrived safely in the mainstream of baseball metrics and doesn’t tend to inspire that blank look my wife always gives me when I tell her I still have no idea of the names of any of the flowers in our garden.
OPS+ isn’t there yet, but it’s an even better stat in my world. OPS+ takes a player’s OPS to the next level by adjusting for variables in the OPS number (what league you play in and ballpark size/effects are two biggies) and then putting that number on a simple scale, with 100 being the league norm. So if your OPS+ is 107, you are a tick above the league norm. Clock in at 93 and you’ve got some splainin’ to do Lucy. Go above 150 and Scott Boras will be camped out on your lawn. Have a career number of 83 and you are Yuniesky Betancourt (with love to Joe Posnanski here).
The best part of the adjustment to me is you can then compare players from different eras. (For the numbers I’ve added below, all come from Baseball-Reference.com.)
Let’s take a look at some of the third basemen in the Hall of Fame. Ron Santo needed a committee vote to get in posthumously, but you can see why his backers were livid for years at his exclusion. Yes, Brooks Robinson’s glove adds some value, but Santo was right there with Brooks without the World Series stage to showcase his talents. Check out where they rank offensively by OPS+.
Brooks Robinson - 104 (268 HRs, .267 BA), Pie Traynor – 107 (.320 BA for Pirates 1920-35 7 – 100 RBI seasons only 58 homers), Paul Molitor – 125 (the Hall has him as a 3rd baseman, 3319 hits), Ron Santo – 125 (4 – 100 RBI seasons .277 BA, 342 HRs), Wade Boggs – 131 (.328 BA, 3010 hits), George Brett – 135 (.305 BA, 3150 hits), Eddie Mathews – 143 (512 HRs), and Mike Schmidt - 147 (a zillion homers vs. the Cubs). Ronnie truly measures up.
I’ve always maintained Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player of all time. OPS+ backs me up (and this is without considering his dominance as a pitcher):
Top 10 OPS+ Career – I’d go to bat with this group (pun intended):
1. Babe Ruth – 206 2. Ted Williams – 190 3. Barry Bonds – 182 4. Lou Gehrig – 179 5. Rogers Hornsby – 175 6. Mickey Mantle – 172 7. Dan Brouthers – 170 (Big Dan was a 1st baseman in the 1880’s) 8. Shoeless Joe Jackson – 169 9. Ty Cobb – 168 10. Albert Pujols - 168
MLB Top 10 OPS+ 2012 (at the All-Star break) – another pretty representative bunch:
1. Joey Votto - 186 2. Andrew McCutchen - 185 3. David Wright – 177 4. Mike Trout 0 168 5. Mark Trumbo -167 6. Carlos Ruiz – 166 7. David Ortiz – 166 8. Josh Hamilton - 161 9. Ryan Braun – 159 10. Miguel Cabrera – 158
Now take a look at the All-Star break numbers for the Cubs with a team OPS+ of 86 (below average, no surprise there). Here are players (with at least 100 plate appearances) and their 2012 OPS+: Soto – 62, LaHair – 138, Barney – 82, Castro – 99 (surprised?), Mather – 82, Stewart – 60, Soriano – 113, Clevenger – 81, Johnson – 118. Anthony Rizzo checks in at a whopping 180 in 49 PAs and is offset by Marlon Byrd’s -37 (yes negative 37) in 47 PAs. Don’t get me started on all the negative numbers on the Cubs pitching staff when they have a bat in their collective hands. (Pitchers’ OPS+ figures into the team stats, but not the individuals.)
As with any stat, it’s not the be-all, end-all, but to me it carries a lot of weight and is a fun tool to be able to rank players through the years. Isn’t that what being a fan is all about?
Suggested further reading:
Steve Slowinski – FanGraphs http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/offense/ops/