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In recent years, Major League Baseball has been inundated with new statistical categories, in an effort to better judge almost everything in the game, from the velocity of a ball flying off a bat, to how fast pitched balls spin, and much more. Perhaps the most important hitting statistic is known as OPS ~ yet not all baseball fans understand why.
What is OPS in baseball? The acronym stands for “on-base percentage plus slugging,” which refers to an equation, the sum of 2 other distinct statistics. A batter’s OPS is what you get when adding a percentage for a batter’s ability to reach base successfully, with another figure that indicates a hitter’s power. The other categories are on-base and slugging percentages, which carry their own acronyms, OBP and SLG. Add them together and you get OPS.
How Do You Calculate OPS?
The mathematical equation is simple: OBP (on-base percentage) + SLG (slugging average) = OPS. At its base, it’s a way to measure the value of a player’s at bats. That is, how much, on average, does each at bat produce?
The OPS category has grown modestly in popularity and influence over the years. It’s basically an outgrowth of a boom of interest in on-base percentage starting in the 1990s with sabermetrics, the book “Moneyball,” and a general focus by statisticians on what contributes most to producing runs.
The OPS was designed as a quick way to judge a batter in two significant areas: getting on base, and hitting with authority (e.g. not just all singles, but doubles, triples, and home runs). At one point the category was known simply as “production,” because the intent is to judge a batter’s ability to produce runs.
Statistics are more popular for baseball than pretty much every other sport. It began with the invention of the box score in the late 1880s as a way for newspapers to try to convey all the action of a baseball game in a little printed “box,” with names of players followed by their accomplishments in single games.
With the new box scores, a small number of categories were introduced, to count hitting (and pitching) accomplishments. For batters, it was: at-bats, runs, hits, and runs batted in (RBI). Dividing the number of at bats by the number of hits would produce a hitter’s “batting average,” which became the standard statistic to judge hitting excellence for many, many years.
But by the mid-20th century, baseball insiders thought they could glean more from the numbers. From this era, starting in the 1940s and well into the 1960s, new baseball statistical categories emerged, which eventually morphed into the OPS we see today. An overview:
On-base percentage (OBP) dates back to the 1940s, when over several years Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, with help of statistician Allan Roth, invented it. Really it’s a basic judge of a batter’s ability to reach at least first base, compared with his total number of at bats.
Reaching first base by any means ~ base hit, base on balls, or hit by pitch ~ counts as “getting on base.” A perfect OBP is 1.000, say if a batter batted 10 times and reached at least first base all 10 times.
A batter who reaches at least first base half the time would have an OBP of .500 (which is still pretty good). Basically, for old-time baseball fans very familiar with batting average, the on-base percentage should be higher than the AVG category (but typically not by a lot). That’s because only successful base hits count toward an average, while hits, walks and hit-by-pitches count for OBP, so that average is higher.
The value of OBP increased in the 1990s when what is now known as sabermetrics began to indicate that getting on base is more important to scoring runs (and hence winning games) than just the batting average. On base percentage was not made an official statistic by the MLB until 1984 ~ but that doesn’t mean teams didn’t do the math for many years before that.
Perhaps an underrated baseball statistic over the years is “total bases,” which means, how many bases in all did a batter gain with hits? A single-base hit gets a batter 1 base to count; up to a home run which gets 4 total bases. The idea is, the more power and therefore extra-base hits a hitter gets, the more productive he will be in driving in runs to win games.
Slugging percentage is how many bases a batter gets per at bat. The equation is 1B + 2Bx2 + 3Bx3 + HRx4/AB.
So if a batter gets a home run (worth 4 bases) but nothing else in 10 at bats, his SLG is .400. A single, double, triple and home run in 10 at bats is 10 bases/10 at bats, or a 1.000 SLG. Slugging percentage can exceed 1.000 ~ and league leaders often do. The line between average slugger and good slugger is generally .900.
Its difference from OBP is that SLG only counts base hits, while OBP counts those as well as walks and hit-by-pitches.
The SLG percentage almost always will be higher than batting average (AVG), since the types of base hits are weighted differently. Basically, extra-base hits boost the SLG, not not the AVG which is about how often a batter reaches base successfully regardless of hit type.
Calculating a slugging percentage dates back at least to the 1880s, when it was called “total base average” ~ which, when you think about it, it is. Some newspapers in the years that followed reported on slugging leaders for the leagues, using the SLG percentage, but it was rarely used by fans until its usage began to spread in the 1940s.
What is a good slugging percentage in the Major Leagues? think .100 higher than a hitters batting average: .400 is a good SLG; .500 is very good; and .550 is exceptional. If you start with .300 as a good batting average, higher SLG figures around .400 and .500 means the batter is slugging well.
Is OPS a Good Stat? Why, and Why Not?
Baseball insiders like OPS because it tells them whether a batter is hitting with power or not. Power hitting produces in more runs (RBIs) than non-power hitting, so baseball managers like to have a lot of “pop” in lineups. Plus, fans dig power, to paraphrase a popular old commercial.
The OPS calculation tells us how often a batter safely reaches first base, plus how many times his hits resulted in taking more bases. Basically, a high OPS indicates a batter is not just having success hitting, but that he’s hitting with authority. In baseball lingo, he’s slugging, or mashing, driving the ball.
This means more home runs, or line drives off walls, in the alleys, or down baselines, than batters who mostly get single-base hits. Sluggers hit long or very hard balls that cause mayhem in the outfield and let base runners run free around the bases. Those with a high SLG knock in a lot of runs (RBIs), typically. They “produce” runs needed to win baseball games.
Put it this way: Tony Gwynn was a great hitter; Dave Winfield was a great slugger. Sluggers are like hitters+. All told, the OPS is a solid way to get an idea about how powerful a batter in baseball is.
What is a Good OPS in Baseball?
Anything close to a 1.000 OPS is very good. Anything above 1.000 is exceptional. Often, league leaders at the end of the season exceed 1.000.
That applies to the current season. By mid-June 2021, 3 players had an OPS above 1,000, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (tops at 1.089), Jesse Winker, and Nick Castellanos. Those who followed were near the “very good” mark: Ronald Acuna Jr. (.989), Kris Bryant (.959), and Shohei Ohtani (.951) ~ all stars in the MLB.
Yes, but it is used less frequently than for hitters. It’s known as “slugging-percentage against,” basically judging how many total bases pitchers give up per hit. The same goes with “average against,” etc.
Teams like to know which pitchers are most prone to giving up a lot of base hits (average against), and among them, who is surrendering the most extra-base hits (SPA). Basically, anything you can think of to measure a baseball player’s performances is being tallied and studied these days.
There is no single way to determine how well a batter contributes to creating runs to help win baseball games. Often it’s a matter of considering more than one measurement tool ~ which is what the OPS essentially is.
The OPS shows how often a hitter reaches base safely, therefore avoiding outs, while at the same time indicating how many extra-base hits he slugs. It measures a hitter’s ability to both get on base, and hit with power, which generally means more runs produced. Those are vital offensive skills to possess, and OPS combines them.
Question: Which batter recorded the highest OPS, both for a season, and lifetime?
Answer: For this career record, only hitters with at least 3,000 at-bats are considered. The all-time leader is Babe Ruth, with a lifetime 1.1636 OPS. For single seasons, the top 10 OPS numbers came from either Ruth, Barry Bonds or Ted Williams, with Bonds’ 1.4217 in 2004 as the all-time season high. Bonds also claims No. 2 with 1.3807 in 2002, while Ruth posted 1.3791 in 1920.
Q.: Who was the best MLB player for total bases?
A.: Hank Aaron, with 6,856 total bases over his career. The most in a season was 457, by Babe Ruth in 1921. Amazingly, the very next season Rogers Hornsby set the record for the National League that still stands, with 450 total bases! Many old-timers consider total bases a very important statistic in which to judge batters. (And total bases weigh heavily in a batter’s OPS).