What is OPS in Baseball?

What is OPS in Baseball?

Baseball is a statistic-crazed sport. Ever since the game began, people have been tracking performance and assessing player value based on computer-generated numbers. Well, perhaps they weren’t using computers back in the early 20th century — but they were surely still tracking stats.

While that aspect of the game has not (and will never) change, the stats that are considered most valuable in assessing player production do. In fact, the stat that now may be the most valuable of that all — when it comes to assessing hitters — was one seldom used just ten years ago; although the two statistics that are added up to create this new, all-important stat have been around for decades.

I’m talking about OPS. But what exactly is OPS? And why is it important to assessing a hitter’s productivity? Well, those are the questions we’re going to explore in this article. So let’s get right into it!

What is OPS?

According to the MLB (Major League Baseball),OPS adds On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage to get one number that unites the two. It’s meant to combine how well a hitter can reach base, with how well he can hit for average and for power.

A good OPS is generally considered to be .800 or higher at the major league level, indicating that the player is an above-average hitter. This number can fluctuate slightly depending on the era and the league averages at the time.

Therefore, the ‘OPS’ technically stands for On-base Plus Slugging. And the way to calculate OPS would be this simple formula: OBP + slugging percentage = OPS

While OPS is generally considered a tool for evaluating hitters, the stat’s inverse — OPS against — is a tool that can be utilized in assessing a pitcher; although it isn’t used nor considered as important as OPS is for a hitter.

How is OPS Calculated?

OPS is calculated simply by adding a player’s OBP and SLG. For instance, if a player has an OBP of .350 and a SLG of .400, their OPS would be .750. This figure would suggest that the player is an average hitter relative to the major league talent pool.

There is also an adjusted version of OPS, known as OPS+, which takes into account the league average and ballpark factors, normalizing the statistic across different environments so that 100 is always league average. A higher OPS+ indicates a better performance relative to the league average. For example, an OPS+ of 150 means a player is performing 50% better offensively than the league average.

As for historical context, Babe Ruth holds the record for the highest career OPS at 1.1636 and also has the highest OPS+ of all time with 206, indicating his offensive performance was more than twice as good as the average player of his time.

What is On Base Percentage?

Now that we know OPS is actually a combination of two other statistics, let’s discuss what each of those statistics are. Knowing each of these stats — along with why they’re important — will make it clear why OPS is considered such a useful statistic.

On base percentage is, as the name suggests, a measurement statistic which calculates how often a player reaches base per plate appearance. In other words, say that a hitter gets on base 4 times out of every 10 plate appearances they have. Therefore, their OBP (On Base Percentage) would be .400.

There’s a common debate within baseball about which statistic is more important: On Base Percentage, or Batting Average. While Batting Average is the most commonly used statistic to measure a hitter’s performance (at least until OPS came along), many people believe that On Base Percentage is more important. Of course, a hitter will only have their Batting Average increase if they actually get a base hit. A base on balls (walk), hit by pitch, error, or any other means of reaching base that isn’t getting a base hit doesn’t increase one’s Batting Average.

And while Batting Average does display one’s proficiency at, well, batting, it doesn’t matter to a team how the hitter manages to get on base. All they care about is the player reaching base in the first place.

Therefore, if some hitter has an excellent eye and draws a lot of walks, or has a penchant for getting hit by the pitch, their On Base Percentage will reflect that, while their Batting Average will not. It’s for this reason that On Base Percentage is considered an especially important stat for leadoff hitters, whose job it is to get on base and get driven in by the power hitters behind them.

So while it might be fun to debate whether On Base Percentage or Batting Average is the most valuable stat, the bottom line is that they’re different stats entirely, and are useful for different reasons.

Then again, it isn’t only important that the hitter get on base. It also matters to which base they get to — which is where Slugging Percentage comes in.

What is Slugging Percentage?

Now let’s talk about Slugging Percentage, which is the second half of OPS, in addition to On Base Percentage.

Slugging Percentagemeasures the total number of bases a player records per at-bat. Unlike Batting Average, not all hits are valued equally with Slugging percentage.

While Slugging Percentage requires a little bit tougher math than On Base Percentage, it’s calculated like this: (1B + 2Bx2 + 3Bx3 + HRx4)/AB.

In other words, a double is worth double than that is a single, a triple of is worth triple that of a single, and a home run is worth quadruple a single, when it comes to On Base Percentage.

Also worth noting is that, similar to Batting Average, Plate Appearances that in walks, hit by pitches, catcher’s interference, and any sacrifice hit isn’t included in calculating Slugging Percentage.

This stat is obviously considered important because the power (and resulting amount of bases) a hitter is able to amass during their at-bats is of the utmost importance to their team.

Why is OPS Important?

The OPS is considered important because it is a great indicator of a hitter’s ability to produce runs — whether that be by scoring runs, driving them in, or both. Because it combined one’s ability to get on base and one’s ability to hit for power in the same stat, OPS is perhaps the most effective statistic when it comes to a hitter’s offensive production.

What are some OPS Criticisms

OPS has faced several criticisms. One primary criticism is that OPS treats OBP and SLG as equals when they are not inherently of the same value. On-base percentage is generally considered more valuable than slugging percentage because getting on base is more directly correlated to creating runs than hitting for power is. This is especially significant because league-average slugging percentages are often higher than on-base percentages, yet every point in OBP is worth more towards run creation than a point in SLG. This imbalance means that OPS can overvalue slugging when it comes to run production.

Another critique is related to the actual value of different types of hits. Slugging percentage assigns a weight to hits based on the number of bases (e.g., a double is worth twice as much as a single). However, the actual run value of these hits is not as disproportionate as slugging percentage suggests. For instance, a home run is not exactly four times as valuable as a single in terms of run creation, which can lead to an overestimation of a player’s contribution when looking at OPS.

What is a Good OPS?

Before we note what a ‘good’ OPS is, as it pertains to the MLB, it is important to most that ‘good’ is a subjective term, and that there’s really no official barometer between what’s a good, average, and poor OPS. Then again, that’s the same with any other stat.

In the MLB, a good OPS is generally thought to be .800 or higher. If you play in the MLB and produce an .800 hit, you’re one of the better hitters in the entire league.

To give you an understanding of what some of baseball’s best hitters were producing last season, in terms of OPS, here’s who the Top 10 MLB players were last season:

Top 10 MLB players ranked by OPS in 2023

  1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels — 1.070
  2. Mookie Betts, Dodgers — .989
  3. Ronald Acuña, Braves — .986
  4. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers — .986
  5. Matt Olson, Braves — .981
  6. Cody Bellinger, Cubs — .933
  7. Yandy Díaz, Rays — .904
  8. Kyle Tucker, Astros — .901
  9. Juan Soto, Padres — .895
  10. Luis Robert, White Sox — .888

As you can see, many of baseball’s biggest stars and most notoriously excellent hitters are included on this list — which proves that it’s an effective and valuable stat for assessing a hitter’s value.

Perhaps in another decade, another stat will arrive on the scene and usurp OPS for the most valuable hitting stat in baseball. But for now, OPS reigns supreme.

James Idayi
Posted in NHL