Most of my friends know that I've been a small-time baseball stats geek for decades. It all started when I read a Bill James Baseball Abstract in the mid 1980s and then became somewhat active on the usenet newsgroup rec.sport.baseball, which was full of lively, brilliant, and very informative discussions.
One thing I learned and have used from those early days is that the "triple-crown" statistics (batting average, home runs, and RBIs) have far less explanatory and predictive power about a player's and team's ability and performance than the two statistics: on-base percentage [OBP] and slugging average [SLG].
OBP is important because it measures how often a batter goes to the plate and does NOT make an out. In baseball, there is no clock; the teams play until the final out is made. Batters who avoid making outs keep their team in the game.
An important example of this happened last night in a game between the London Majors and the Burlington Herd, which I was broadcasting/live-streaming to Facebook. The London Majors trailed 7-1 after seven innings, but in the 8th inning they scored three runs on only 2 hits, but also worked the pitchers for 3 bases on balls [BB]. And then in the 9th inning the Majors scored three more runs on two hits, three BB and a hit batsman. At least twice the Majors had two outs and the batter facing two strikes, but the batter ended up reaching base safely, prolonging the inning and leading to more scoring. This example by itself is one of the reasons I am such a big fan of using OBP to assess a player's and a team's batting.
SLG is also important though because it is a simple measure of how well a batter hits for power. It is the total number of bases a batter gets from his hits divided by the number of at-bats. Batters who hit for power tend, on average, to drive in more batters who are on base in front of them.
The London Majors suffered from a serious dearth of power in that same game. The Majors had 11 hits, 11BB, and two batters reached base safely after having been hit by pitches. That's 24 baserunners the Majors had in 9 innings*. In 6 different innings, their leadoff batter reached base safely, and in five innings they had runners at second or third base and didn't score the runners. One reason was just the luck of the draw: sometimes a batter gets a hit but usually he doesn't. But the other reason was that the majors had only one extra base hit, a double. They had fluke groundball hits, they had solid line drive hits, but they didn't hit for power last night. It was their high OBP as a team that enabled them to score runs and tie up the game in the top of the ninth. They'd likely have won the game with more extra base hits [Burlington had two home runs and three doubles, but only one BB and one hit batsman to score their seven runs].
Generally it takes both having batters on base and having batters with power to win games. And that's the reason many current baseball announcers and analysts use OPS to assess a player's batting ability. The game last night was an exercise in contrasts for sure: London had high OBP and low SLG; Burlington had, comparatively, low OBP and high SLG.
OPS is just the sum of OBP plus SLG. "O" from OBP, "P" from plus, and "S" from SLG. Last night's Majors game highlights the importance of both OBP and SLG. High OBP allowed the Majors to stay in the game but they could have been ahead and maybe even won the game if they had been able to hit with more power. High SLG allowed the Herd to score so many runs early in the game (that and the luck of having so many hits in one inning).
*The game was tied in the 10th inning when suddenly the field lights went out. By the time the lights were turned back on and bright enough for the teams to play, it was too late to resume play because Burlington has a by-law that the field lights must be turned off by 11:15pm.
- League average OBP is about .340
- League average SLG is about .400
- League average OPB, therefore, is about .740
- Going into last night's game, the London Majors had only three batters in the starting lineup with an OPS > .800; the Burlington Herd had six batters with an OPS >.800 and two with OPS > 1.0.
- The Majors had one batter who came into the game hitless for the season in 21 plate appearances. But he had scored 4 runs and driven in 2 runs, and his OPS was .409, all because his OBP was .409. I remarked before the game started that if you had the bases loaded in the 9th, he wouldn't be a bad person to send to the plate.
Wouldn't you know it: he got two hits plus a walk in game, and in the 9th inning he was one of the batters at the plate with the bases loaded and two out, ... and he scratched out a single to drive in a run and keep the game alive for the Majors.
- About two decades ago when I was telecasting the London Werewolves games for the local Rogers television station, I specified that Rogers could NOT put RBIs (runs batted in) on the screen and had to put OBP and SLG on the screen. Only around then were people beginning to recognize that OBP and SLG were much better measures than the triple crown stats, thanks in large measure to Michael Lewis's book Moneyball, which in turn was informed by people who were active in, or influenced by, the smart analysts in the old rec.sport.baseball group.