Baseball’s largest number, OPS, is of little value
The base percentage (OBP) plus the slugging percentage (SLG) produces OPS, which can be a large and impressive number. However, it has been known for more than sixty years that the sum of OBP and SLG exaggerates and misrepresents the value of each as an individual statistic. The basic problem is that they both include Hits.
In a previous Ezine article on the current MLB strikeout epidemic, the formula published in a 1954 issue of Life Magazine of the General Manager of the Hall of Fame, Branch Rickey, GOODBYE TO SOME OLD MAN BASEBALL IDEAS He offered to indicate how he valued strikeouts. It also reached definitive conclusions regarding OBP and SLG.
The formula for team offense included three, “measurable ingredients,” OBP, SLG and “clutch,” which he said, “is just the percentage of men who got on base and scored.” The question I had to answer was: “But how do they fit together?” He concluded that OBP and clutch went “hand in hand with runs scored, but extra base power had a lower correlation.” its The dramatic devaluation of additional grassroots power, which followed, is in direct contradiction to the current approach to hitting.
Since both OBP and SLG included Hits, he subtracted them from SLG to arrive at the “isolated power” that he had “used for years” to evaluate players. Even then, he had to “make less of the extra base power” for the formula to work. To that end, only three-quarters of the percentage was used to arrive at a “2% margin of error” when the formula was correlated with runs per game, per team, over the previous 20 years. While “isolated power” has recently resurfaced in the media, I have not seen it incorporated with other statistics to produce a reliable and usable number.
Rickey’s next step was to apply the formula to individual hitters. He concluded that “clutch” was “strictly a team figure.” Adding OBP to “isolated power,” he listed the top 25 hitters from “1920, the year the live ball came into use,” to 1953. The top five were Babe Ruth, .752; Ted Williams, .702; Lou Gehrig, .666; Jimmy Foxx, .642; and Rogers Hornsby, .634. However, he admitted that the # 23 – Ty Cobb, .542; “He deserved to be higher because he beat you with more than his bat.”
That statement about Cobb is the problem with these numbers. If batter A hits 30 more doubles than batter B, he has that number included in his SLG. If Batter B has 50 more net stolen bases than Batter A, he does not get credit for adding those extra bases. If batter A lands 15 more double plays than batter B, due to the speed of B’s foot, where do those lost bases appear? Additionally, batter B may go from 1st to 3rd with an outfield single, or score from 1st with a double when batter A cannot. Simply put, the entire speed quotient is, and always has been, absent from the statistics that assess a hitter’s offensive productivity.
Another statistic to consider is the number of unproductive outs a hitter has, as well as caught stealing and double plays. With the strikeout epidemic continuing at a record rate, the difference between the batter’s strikeouts must also be considered as part of the calculations. No runner reaches base, no runner advances or scores in a strikeout. It has no potential value. Neither! Until a statistic is produced that takes into account all the negative factors as well as the positive ones, any formula will be incomplete.