Back in 2013, Brian Kenny of the MLB Network began a campaign called “Kill the Win.” The point of Kenny’s campaign was to help baseball fans, broadcasters, and writers understand that wins and losses are a bad way of evaluating the success or failure of a pitcher. The campaign was overall successful. Sure, there was much resistance from old school baseball folks to begin with, but it seems like wins and losses are beginning to be devalued by baseball people on an overall scale.
Now we need to move on to another statistic that is outdated, and extremely overvalued: Batting Average.
If you are a regular reader of Redleg Nation, you probably already know that many of us here don’t use batting average when evaluating the success or failure of a hitter. In case you don’t, here are the two main reasons why batting average is an outdated measure of a hitter:
- Batting average doesn’t include walks. A player drawing a walk is a good thing, and it should be included when evaluating a player’s success. If you don’t believe that walks are important, watch the 2016 Chicago Cubs.
- Batting average weighs a single the same way it does a home run. Clearly hitting a home run is much better than hitting a single. Why should the two outcomes be equal?
These two concepts seem pretty easy to understand. So why do most MLB radio broadcasters say “here comes Bryce Harper to the plate…..he comes into tonight’s game hitting .260”? Or, if you are watching on TV, a network like FOX Sports Ohio usually only shows a players AVG, HR, and RBI totals when he comes up to the plate. The knowledge that Bryce Harper is hitting .260 literally tells me nothing about how good he is.
Note: Great American Ballpark has done a great job recently by making a players OBP and OPS easily seen on the scoreboard. That is a huge step towards smarter baseball thinking. We also love FOX Sports Ohio’s Chris Welsh. He always tries to incorporate advanced statistics as much as possible.
I understand that I’m not going to convince an old school baseball fan or broadcaster to start using great statistics like weighted runs created plus (wRC+), weight on-base average (wOBA), or wins above replacement (WAR). The formulas for those statistics are complex and difficult to understand, and because of that some question their validity. For the most part, that is alright. However, I have a compromise that I think if people would just give it a chance, it could work.
OPS is not a new stat. Most casual baseball fans have at least heard of it. If you haven’t heard of it, OPS stands for On-Base plus Slugging. OPS literally just adds a players On-base percentage (OBP) and Slugging percentage (SLG) together. In case you don’t know what OBP and SLG are, in simple terms, OBP is just batting average with walks included, and SLG determines a players power by calculating total bases divided by at-bats. So if a player has a .400 OBP and a .500 SLG, their OPS is .900.
Note: in 2015 there were 11 players with an OPS above .900. 10 of those 11 players were also in the top 10 in wRC+, and the only one who wasn’t was David Ortiz who came in at 16th. So OPS and wRC+ many times are very similar in seeing a players batting value.
One thing that hurts a stat like OPS from taking off is simply baseball fans not understanding what is great, good, average, below average, and bad. What is the equivalent with OPS to hitting .300? What is an elite OPS number? What is average?
Fangraphs defines just that for us:
If you are still stuck in the batting average blues, I made a handy chart to use understand what the “equivalent” is (this is an unscientific method that is more of a general idea):
I understand that batting average is embedded into baseball. Everyone knows and understand when a broadcaster says “Bryce Harper comes in as a .260 hitter.” Old habits are difficult to break. It will take time for change, but just like with win and losses for a starting pitcher, I believe we can overcome.
One of my favorite lists of all-time is the list of players with a .300 or better AVG who had a .700 or lower OPS in the same season. So these players were likely drastically overvalued for their seasons. The only player to accomplish this feat since 1981 was Ben Revere in 2014 (that is why he earned the featured image for this post). Revere hit .306 in 2014, but the reason he was actually a below average hitter that season was that only 20 of his 184 hits were extra-base hits, and he only walked 13 times in 626 plate appearances.