Baseball may be the ultimate sport for math nerds. For example, OPS includes formulas from other statistics, which makes it very interesting. But while it might sound like a complicated formula, the result is clear: calculating OPS, or on-base plus slugging, can be a quick way to gauge a player’s actual value to their team. Here’s everything you need to know about the unique baseball statistics known as OPS.
How is OPS Calculated?
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.
Keep in mind that there are exceptional circumstances—like sacrifice flies—that don’t count toward at-bats, and therefore don’t have a significant impact on either of these two statistics. You’ll probably recognize that OBP is a measure of rate, while SLG measures rate and quality. The idea behind combining the two into on-base plus slugging is to get a total picture of a player’s ability to hit. How is it calculated? Simply add the two up.
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?
- The highest OPS in 2020 belonged to Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals, who batted 1.1846 OPS. That was good enough for the 25th best OPS season of all time.
- In 2019, Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers hit 1.1001, good enough for a top 100 OPS season of all time.
Are there Better Stats than OPS?
Some might complain that adding up a slugging percentage or slugging average with an on-base percentage is a crude way to evaluate a hitter’s talent. But there may be more that goes into it than you think.
OBP, after all, includes at-bats, walks, sacrifice flies, and the number of times hit by pitches. Overall, the statistic of OPS takes a lot into account, including at-bats and total bases. Included in the overall formula are hits, walks, HBP, and even sacrifice flies.
People like OPS because when you calculate it for an entire team, it tends to correlate with how many runs that team has scored. For this reason, many people view it as an excellent way to look at the offensive production of a hitter.
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.
Overall, taking the on-base average and combining it with slugging percentage can create good 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.