OPS in baseball combines the On Base and the Slugging Percentage metric into one complete statistic. Instead at looking at two columns for a baseball player, you can combine these two (on base and slugging) to measure how often a player gets on base and drives in runs for a team. The OPS metric can go even further with OPS+, where it factors in the MLB stadium that a player plays in. For example, a hitter who plays half their games at Coors Field will automatically have a hitting advantage, so the OPS+ formula counts for that advantage and normalizes it across the league.
So, how do you calculate OPS in baseball? What is an example formula, and what is a good number in baseball? What are some of the best OPS seasons in baseball and what does OPS+ mean? How does OPS differ from batting average? What are the flaws of relying on OPS to measure a baseball player’s worth?
Here is the complete breakdown of what OPS means in baseball.
How is OPS Calculated in Baseball?
OPS is one of those statistics that depend on other statistics to make sense. To calculate On-base plus slugging, we’ll first need two statistics:
- On-base percentage (OBP).
- On-base percentage is a cold, hard statistic: how many times does a player get on base through any means, compared to their total at-bats? In OBP, it doesn’t matter how the player got on base. Were they beaned? Walked? Did they hit? It all goes into their OBP.
- Slugging average (SLG).
- This stat is a rare formula that evaluates the quality of a player’s hits. For example, a player’s batting average doesn’t tell you what they hit, only that they scored a hit at a specific rate. SLG incorporates the quality of those hits by using the number of bases achieved as part of the calculation. Theoretically, a player could have a slugging average of 4.000, which means a perfect ratio of home runs to at-bats. In other words, a slugging average of 4.000 occurs when a player has one at-bat and hits a home run. An SLG of 1.000 reflects hitting a single in one at-bat, and so on.
Do Sacrifice Flies Count in OPS?
A sacrifice fly does not impact a player’s batting average, but it will lower their on-base percentage. Since on-base percentage calculautes how often a player gets on base from an at-bat, hitting a sacrifice sly will count against that metric. Therefore, a sacrifice fly will count negatively against a player’s on-base percentage, which then will lower their OPS.
Example OPS Formula
Let’s pretend that a player has the following slash lines. They have an on-base percentage of .385 and a slugging percentage of .435. To get to OPS, you add .385 + .435, which comes out to a .820 OPS. That .820 OPS puts that example player as a good MLB hitter, but probably not an All-Star or MVP that season.
Meanwhile, you have another player with the following slash lines. Their on-base percentage is .475, and their slugging percentage is .505. Therefore, when you add the two metrics together, they have a .980 OPS, which would put them into consideration for an All-Star and MVP season.
How is OPS Different from Batting Average?
OPS measures how often a hitter safely reaches a base via a walk and the power they have when they make contact. For example, a hitter who hits doubles and triples is more valuable than a player who only hits singles. Since walks don’t help a batting average, the On-Base part of OPS credits a hitter for getting to first via a walk.
Meanwhile, the batting average counts every hit as the same. For example, two hitters can both go 2-5 in a baseball game, which comes out to a .400 batting average. However, one of the hitters hit a double and a home run, while the other only had two singles. The batting average counts them both as the same, but the OPS (slugging part of the formula) would give more credit to the double and homerun hitter since those were more quality hits.
What is a Good OPS in Baseball?
It’s challenging to make sense of how OPS for fans of Major League Baseball at times. What does it say about plate appearances? The quality of the ballpark they’re hitting in during the season? The total bases they’ve hit?
To get a good sense of what a good OPS is, it helps first to set the measuring stick. Here are some of the best OPS in MLB history:
- Babe Ruth, mainly of the New York Yankees, is the all-time leader with an OPS of 1.1636.
- Mike Trout is among the all-time OPS greats still playing, with a career average of around 1.0000.
- Barry Bonds scores 4th on the list as of 2020, with an OPS of approximately 1.05.
- Lou Gehrig ranks 1.07, good for third, while Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox is the only other player outside of Babe Ruth with a 1.1+ OPS over a career. That’s among players with at least 3,000 at-bats.
Of course, that only gives us one end of the spectrum. What about the league average? A glance at MLB’s statistics shows the league average in on-base plus slugging tends to be around the 0.700 to 0.800 mark.
What is the Highest OPS in Baseball History?
We’ve already shown you the highest career OPS, which belongs to Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees. His 1.1636 OPS may never be eclipsed over that many at-bats, possibly making him the ultimate hitter of all time. But that’s only one way to look at the metrics. Metrics like OPS also deserve a season-by-season look, which helps highlight just how extraordinarily some players have peaked in their careers.
- Barry Bonds, 2004: 1.4217
- Barry Bonds, 2002: 1.3807
- Babe Ruth, 1920: 1.3791
- Barry Bonds, 2001: 1.3785
- Babe Ruth, 1921: 1.3586
- Babe Ruth, 1923: 1.3089
Ted Williams then enters the picture with the 7th-best season of OPS of all time. It’s not until the 13th spot when a fourth player, Rogers Hornsby, shows up on the list.
What about High OPS Seasons in Recent Years?
- Aaron Judge had the highest OPS in 2022 with a 1.111
- The highest OPS in 2021 belonged to Bryce Harper, with a 1.044.
- In 2020, Juan Soto had the highest OPS with a 1.185. However, the 2020 season had a limit to the number of games that season.
- In 2019, Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers hit 1.1001, good enough for a top 100 OPS season of all time.
- Mike Trout had the highest OPS in 2018 with a 1.088.
Are there Better Stats than OPS?
Baseball WAR tends to be a more complete metric to evaluate a player over OPS. Baseball WAR bundles in the (Wins Above Replacement) to show the value a player has against a regular backup who would play their position. Essentially, the higher the WAR, the better and more valuable you are to a team.
If you want to learn more about this stat, check out the What Does WAR Mean in Baseball article?
What about OPS+?
There is also OPS+, which takes this statistic and “normalizes” it across the league. OPS+ factors in external issues such as the ballpark in which a player was hitting. This measurement curves so that an OPS of 100 is the league average, which gives people an immediate insight into how a player’s offensive production compares to the entire league.
For this reason, a Cubs player’s statistics might look different from a Dodgers player, who might look different than a Cardinals player or a White Sox player. A player’s OPS with the “+” at the end of it seeks to even the playing field. OPS+ is significant during free agency because a player may benefit from primarily playing in a smaller ballpark where it is easier to hit home runs.
What are the Flaws of Using OPS in Baseball?
One major flaw of relying on OPS is that it overlooks batters who are not power hitters but can consistently get on base via singles. From there, that hitter might be fast, which means they can steal second base and get into scoring position. While the stolen base is impressive, OPS won’t factor that into their equation and therefore put, devalue a hitter who only hits singles and then uses their speed to steal a base or two during a game.
Another flaw of the OPS model is that some hitters will face easier pitching than others. For example, playing in a weaker division with pitchers with high ERAs and WHIPS will make average hitters look even better. Meanwhile, batters in a more pitcher-dominant division will tend to struggle due to the quality of the pitches they are seeing, and therefore their OPS will be lower than some.
Finally, another area for improvement of the OPS model is that it doesn’t measure the clutch ness of a hitter at the plate. For example, some hitters might pad their stats during a blowout game, like hitting a grand slam against a position pitcher pitching, which will help their OPS number grow. These games and at-bats are treated like any other at-bat. Meanwhile, some hitters who hit well in pressure situations, like hitting a home run on the run in the ninth inning to tie a game, won’t receive any extra credit in their OPS statistic. Therefore, the model can sometimes be flawed where some situations are more important for a hitter to get a base hit or get on base than others.
Conclusion: What Does OPS Mean in Baseball?
Overall, taking the on-base average and combining it with the slugging percentage can give insights into a player’s offensive performance. But as with any other sabermetrics in baseball, it’s not always easy to measure everything without seeing it for yourself. One of the best suggestions is to consider using OPS and combining it with additional metrics to help tell a complete picture of a baseball player’s performance.
However, while the formula does have value, there are flaws to remember. First, the formula does not give credit to a hitter who gets on base and then steals a base to get in scoring position. Some hitters are not power hitters and can only hit singles, but then they use their feet to get into scoring position to help their team score runs.
Second, the formula doesn’t factor that some hitters will see tougher pitching than others. For instance, if you are playing in a division with weaker pitching, you tend to have an easier time hitting, which means a higher OPS.
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