What Does OPS Mean In Baseball?

- March 23, 2022
What is OPS in baseball - how to calculate OPS

Baseball fans generally love the statistics behind the game. One statistic that has become a popular way to measure the overall effectiveness of batters is the OPS stat. Lets define OPS in baseball – What does OPS stand for?

OPS in baseball stands for On-base plus slugging. This is a stat that sums a player’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

History

On-base percentage was first used by Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey some seven decades ago during the team’s rise as a juggernaut in the National League.

On the other hand, slugging percentage wasn’t an official statistic in MLB until 1923, but had been in use since the 1800s. However, slugging percentage hasn’t been at the forefront of offensive statistics until in the last two decades.

How Should You Calculate OPS?

The wonderfully intriguing aspect of the OPS stat is that it depends on two other statistics to make sense: On-base percentage and slugging percentage. The simple formula for OPS is:

OPS = on-base percentage + slugging percentage. 

On-base percentage is the number of times a player gets on base divided by total plate appearances.

Slugging percentage is a statistic that considers all the players’ hits, weighting doubles more than singles, triples more than doubles, and home runs more than triples.

In essence, slugging percentage takes total bases divided by total at-bats. 

For example, suppose a player hit a home run and double in four at-bats. He had four total bases with the home run and two for the double. That is six total bases for the game in four at-bats, for a slugging percentage of 1.500. In theory, a batter could have a slugging percentage as high as 4.000 if a home run comes at every at-bat.

Think of on-base percentage as more of a rate statistic, whereas slugging percentage is more of a quality of hits statistic. The combination gives a great overall view of a player’s offensive production.

OPS Scale – What Is a Good OPS in Baseball?

Good OPS vs. a great OPS vs. a poor OPS? Generally, a “great” OPS is any value of .9 and above. A “very good” OPS range is between .833 and .9. An “above average” offensive player will have an OPS range between .767 and .833.

What is an average OPS in baseball? Those in the .700 to .767 range are considered as having average OPS. An OPS between .633 to .7 is “below average,” while anything below .633 means the player has had a “poor” offensive season.

To put these ranges in perspective, note that Babe Ruth is the all-time leader in OPS at 1.164. Mike Trout’s career OPS is around 1.000.

Ted Williams ranks second with an OPS of about 1.1. Lou Gehrig is third at 1.07, while Barry Bonds is 4th all-time in OPS at 1.05.  

Downsides of OPS

The biggest issue is that adding the two numbers (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) doesn’t make sense mathematically.

On-base percentage measures the number of times a player gets on base, while and slugging percentage measures total bases compared to at-bats.

So what does an OPS really measure? From a practical standpoint, it doesn’t measure anything tangible that we can wrap our heads around.

It’s just that people around baseball have come to an agreement that the two statistics are perfect for determining how good a player is.

The actual number doesn’t mean anything except that the higher, the better.

Highest OPS Seasons in Baseball History

While Babe Ruth has the highest career OPS, interestingly enough, his career mark has been passed numerous since in a single season. A great way to utilize this stat is to show how far players have peaked and the peak years of a player’s career. 

Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth hold the tops OPS seasons. Bonds has the highest of 1.422 in 2004 and 1.381 in 2002. Babe Ruth’s highest single-season OPS was 1.379 in 1920. Bonds’ 2001 season OPS of 1.379 is 4th all-time. Ruth had the 5th and 6th highest OPS seasons of 1.359 in 1921 and 1.309 in 1923.

Ted Williams is 7th on the single-season OPS list, and you have to drop until 13th before another player appears, and that is Rogers Hornsby.

The highest recent OPS was 1.185 by Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals in 2020 and 1.100 for Christian Yelich in 2019. 

Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies led MLB in OPS in 2021 at 1.044.

Are There Better Stats Than OPS?

Determining if there are other stats better than OPS depends on what you’re trying to measure. Nearly every stat has some credibility, and it’s just a matter of how it helps analyze a player’s performance.  

If you think about on-base percentage, it includes at-bats, hits, walks, hit by pitch, and times reached base on errors. The overall OPS statistic considers several things, including at-bats, total bases, hits, walks, and hit by pitch.

Some people like the “runs created” statistic or the “runs created per 27”, which shows how many runs an entire lineup produced the same way that player would put on the board in nine innings.

The OPS is a solid way to approach those who like to scan the statistics and look for a quick indicator of how well a player or team produces offensively.

Generally, the higher the OPS, the more runs put on the board, which isn’t entirely the case with just batting average, for example.

What is OPS+?

OPS+ is a normalized version of OPS. What this means is that it takes into factors such as ballpark. Some ballparks are easier to hit in due to their dimensions, wind conditions, and altitude. The measurement curves the scores so that an OPS of 100 is the median level. OPS+ gives immediate information about how well a player is doing compared to the production across the entire league.

OPS is seen as applicable because it considers both getting on base and power to drive the ball. Although the OPS is a solid overall statistic, the value doesn’t mean anything particular other than a scale level, and it misses essential factors. 

The OPS doesn’t consider that some parks are pitcher or hitter-friendly. It doesn’t know when a player is hitting at home or on the road. A batter generally performs better at home. Break down a hitter’s OPS at home and on the road when looking for a more accurate account of a player’s offensive production.

The OPS+ is particularly important to look at during the free agency period. Players may have higher output in a smaller ballpark than in a large pitcher’s park.

What is Batting Average?

Batting average is simply the percentage of time that a player gets on base via a hit. This number depends on at-bats and not plate appearances. Therefore, based-on balls, sacrifice hits, sacrifice flies, and times hit by pitch do not figure into the batting average calculation.

Generally speaking, a batting average of .300 or above is considered excellent. The highest career batting average is .366 by Ty Cobb. The highest single-season batting average was .426 by Nap Lajoie in 1901, and the last player to hit .400 was Ted Williams, who hit .406 in 1941.

Conclusion

While OPS doesn’t mean anything in particular since it’s adding two numbers that naturally wouldn’t be, it’s a handy tool to measure the overall offensive production of a player.

The on-base and slugging percentages consider all aspects that a player wants to accomplish on offense, getting on base and hitting the ball with some power.

OPS+ is an even more useful statistic to use since it compares a player’s production against a baseline across the entire league.

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One response to “What Does OPS Mean In Baseball?”

  1. Paulie says:

    While in Peace Corps, I made up a baseball league and played with a deck of cards during those many rainy days of being confined in my hut. I kept detailed stats of every player (36 teams worth!) and the one parameter I didn’t understand was OPS. By trial and error I figured out which numbers to plug in to get it, but I never understood it. This explanation finally makes sense of it for me. Wish I’d had it back in 84-86…thanks a lot!!!

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