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OPS now SOP for baseball

Published Sep. 27, 2005

On-base percentage plus slugging average rewards hitters for power, reaching base.

Statistics never tell the entire story. But in baseball, they do flesh out the characters.

Baseball and its fans have a century-old love affair with numbers. No other team sport seems as easily measured or as closely linked to its statistics.

A 20-game winner and a .300-hitter mean virtually the same thing today as they did 75 years ago.

"Statistics are one of the great links between fans and the actual people in the game," Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "It is one way for the fans to measure the game. The stats are the stats, they don't change."

The core stats may never change, but every generation seems to bring new variations. For instance, relief pitchers were around 50 years ago, their saves just weren't tabulated.

In recent seasons, there has been an explosion of matchup statistics. Does this hitter do better against left-handers or right-handers? Does this pitcher have more success at home or on the road? At night or during the day?

The latest innovation is the OPS. The statistic is in vogue among the younger general managers and is catching on with the mainstream media.

The OPS is simply the sum of a player's on-base percentage and slugging average, two stats that already are more effective measuring a hitter's performance than a simple batting average.

"You should factor a lot of things into your evaluations, but you also have to decide how much weight you're going to give to stats," Detroit general manager Randy Smith said. "(The OPS) is something you want to look at because it includes some stats that are relevant to a hitter's value."

The OPS has a logical basis because it rewards hitters for the two most important individual accomplishments _ reaching base and hitting for power.

The slugging percentage is a more accurate view of a complete hitter than simply home runs because it incorporates singles, doubles and triples. Tino Martinez hit 28 home runs last season, but had a modest .448 slugging average. Nomar Garciaparra hit 27 home runs, but had a .603 slugging average.

By the same token, the on-base percentage is more revealing than a batting average because it incorporates walks. Jim Thome, for example, is a .285 hitter but always ranks high in on-base percentage because he draws 115 walks a year.

"The batting average, to me, is the most overrated stat in baseball," Rangers general manager Doug Melvin said. "It's only taking into account how many times you reach base by a hit and there are guys getting on base an extra 100 times with walks.

"I think a lot of people are looking at (the OPS) because they've discovered that it means something."

Only 10 hitters had an OPS that rose above 1.000 last season and the list includes some of the game's top players: Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, Chipper Jones, Garciaparra, Jeff Bagwell and Sammy Sosa. The biggest surprise is Pittsburgh's Brian Giles, who had the seventh-highest OPS in the majors.

Larry Walker has finished atop the OPS list in two of the past three years, giving way to McGwire during his record-breaking home run season of 1998.

Giving the OPS credence is baseball's career charts. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, arguably the two best hitters in history, have the two highest marks. Only seven players are over 1.000 for their careers, including Frank Thomas.

Thomas was fourth on the all-time list two years ago, but has slipped to sixth after a couple of subpar seasons.

Like other statistics, however, the OPS is not infallible. It does not measure stolen bases and it does not factor a player's performance in clutch situations.

LaMar said statistics have their place in evaluating players, but circumstance must also be taken into account.

"At the minor-league level, you're going to be looking more for a player's tools rather than his statistics," LaMar said. "And in a player's first year or two in the major leagues you can't judge his statistics the same way you would a veteran.

"But, yes, as a player moves up the ladder, at some point his production becomes a factor. He can have all the tools in the world, but if he is not putting up the stats you have to question whether he is going to be a productive player."

OPS leaders

1999

1. Larry Walker Col 1.168

2. Mark McGwire StL 1.121

3. Manny Ramirez Cle 1.105

4. Chipper Jones Atl 1.074

5. Rafael Palmeiro Tex 1.050

CAREER

1. Babe Ruth NYY 1.164

2. Ted Williams Bos 1.117

3. Lou Gehrig NYY 1.079

4. Jimmie Foxx Phi 1.037

5. Hank Greenberg Det 1.017

What is the OPS?

The OPS adds a player's on-base percentage with his slugging average. The on-base percentage is hits and walks divided by at-bats. The slugging percentage is total bases divided by at-bats. The concept is that the OPS rewards the hitters who get on base often while also hitting for power.

HOW THE RAYS COMPARE

Here are the 1999 OPS numbers for Tampa Bay's projected starting lineup. For the sake of comparison, we have included similar OPS numbers for players at the same position:

CF Gerald Williams .792 Darryl Hamilton .808

RF Dave Martinez .748 Devon White .744

DH Jose Canseco .932 Harold Baines .920

1B Fred McGriff .957 Carlos Delgado .948

LF Greg Vaughn .882 Dante Bichette .895

3B Vinny Castilla .809 Todd Zeile .808

C John Flaherty .725 Tony Eusebio .709

SS Kevin Stocker .739 Edgar Renteria .734

2B Miguel Cairo .703 Eric Young .726