Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
All baseball fans spend their Sunday afternoons the same way: watching their team’s finale of the weekend set. As your favorite player walks up to the dish, there is always that bar of information at the bottom of the screen, which includes the amount of homers they’ve hit and their batting average.
Ever since baseball’s beginnings, these were seen as the two most important statistics for hitters. If a player hit over .300, he had a great season. It was also a great feat to hit over 25 home runs in one campaign. A player that accomplished both of these in the same season would be considered elite. That is true to some extent today.
Except, this is not entirely the case. While the casual fan with nothing better to do on their Sunday may judge a player solely based off of these statistics, the people closer to the game are aware of the more telling numbers regarding a player’s production.
One of the relatively new statistics to determine a player’s production is OPS (on base plus slugging). This is widely accepted by the baseball community as the best metric to determine offensive value. Perhaps the reason this statistic is so highly acclaimed is because it effectively judges various types of hitters: slugger Giancarlo Stanton, hit machine Jose Altuve, and walk machine Joey Votto, all rank in the top 7 in the MLB despite their unique skillsets. This puts the elite hitters in the game on an equal pedestal; statistics such as home runs and average do not provide an equal playing field.
However, speedsters such as Billy Hamilton ( 51 sb) may justifiably disagree with the notion that OPS best demonstrates offensive production. It is sometimes forgotten that the offensive part of baseball isn’t JUST hitting. Base running plays a crucial role in a team’s run production, and the best way to quantify a player’s base running value is the old fashion way: stolen bases.
— Matthew Schaefer (@MattRSchaefer) August 16, 2017
Let’s backtrack a little and define both OBP and SLG.
OBP is the number of hits, walks, or hit by pitches a player has divided by his total plate appearances. Stolen bases do not directly affect OBP, however an interesting argument could be made that speedsters get more fastballs to hit because pitchers are afraid to walk them and put them on base.
SLG is defined as a players total bases (single=1, double=2, triple=3, home run=4), divided by his at bats (plate appearances- (hit by pitch and walks)).
This is where things get interesting. Who’s to say that a single by Billy Hamilton followed by a Hamilton stolen base is any less valuable than a Joey Votto double? The results are almost always identical. In fact, the only scenario where a double would be more beneficial for the batting team is if there was a runner on first base who would MAYBE score on the double. Putting that aside, a Billy Hamilton single then stolen base combination is actually more valuable than a double in a couple different ways.
First, with Hamilton on first base, the pitcher will not be completely focused on the batter. Knowing that Hamilton will run, the pitcher will throw over to first base a couple times, and when he does finally go home, the pitch is almost guaranteed to be a fastball. Pitchers don’t like throwing off speed pitches with threats on the base paths, and any MLB hitter will tell you that fastballs are easier to hit than breaking balls.
As you can see, the argument can certainly be made that the Hamilton single+steal combo is just as valuable as a double, if not more valuable. People around the MLB often excuse speedsters for not having a high OPS, because they provide other sorts of value. This excuse could have been made prior to 1984, when OPS was first popularized, regarding hitters that do not hit for much power, but had a high batting average.
Well, what did the baseball world do? We found a way to quantify and evaluate production of both types of hitters in one formula. It is only time that we evolve even further and give credit to the speed demons in the MLB.
This season, Billy Hamilton has a subpar .625 OPS(.296 OBP + .329 SLG). Let’s see how much his OPS would rise if we added all of his stolen bases into the total bases column when calculating slugging percentage. Hamilton’s SLG would rise to a respectable 0.433, giving him a solid 0.729 OPS. This would tie Hamilton for 127th out of all qualified hitters in terms of OPS, instead of his fifth to last position before this tweak.
Billy Hamilton was the best example to use this OPS formula on.
However, things get even more interesting when we look at the top of the OPS leaderboard. Of the top 7 hitters in OPS, 3 provide substantial base running value: Trout, Goldschmidt, and Altuve. Their new OPS, respectively, are 1.211, 1.064, and 1.054. All of these numbers would lead the league in OPS as of now.
You could argue that these three players have the most offensive value in the whole MLB (sorry Aaron Judge).
Over time, things in life change. As a society, we must constantly adapt to the new realities that we face. There is no denying that the game of baseball has evolved over time. Why can’t this idea be the next big step into determining value?