(Updated) The Trouble With OPS+

I wanted to update this post with a chart by Mr. North Jersey who plotted David Wright’s first 87 games for each season of his career. It helps to illustrate further why I don’t see 2013 as Wright’s career year, at least not so far…

wright gfx

Hat tip to MNJ…

Original Post:

Though I enjoy employing and often using many of the new advanced metrics in my own posts now, I still see some of these new metrics being manipulated or misused to frame a poor argument. Ken Davidoff was guilty of that when he used WAR to select the nominees for his 2013 Hall of Fame Ballot and in the process he ended up snubbing Mike Piazza for Kenny Lofton because of it.

I don’t believe that there is any one statistic that should be used that way, especially when making a determination of who is and isn’t worthy of going to Cooperstown.

There is nothing wrong with developing new ways to analyze a player’s performance and to try and project a future outcome. The more tools one can use to help render a good decision, the better. But this trend of using one “catch-all” stat to base your conclusions on and make outlandish determinations is simply not the way to go. It does more harm than good and only fuels the ire of those who find all these new stats disconcerting.

Let me show you a sampling of three seasons, two of which are historic and one partially historic (I’ll explain further along in the post). I would like you to consider what you see and choose which of these seasons is the best.

  • Example 1: 604 AB, .325/.416/.546, 113 R, 42 2B, 30 HR, 107 RBI 
  • Example 2: 626 AB, .302/.390/.534, 115 R, 42 2B, 33 HR, 124 RBI
  • Example 3: 610 AB, .308/.403/.517, 89 R, 36 2B, 23 HR, 79 RBI 

I would bet that the vast majority of you chose either of the first two examples, right? I myself would opt for Example 1.

Examples 1 and 2 are actually David Wright‘s 2007 and 2008 seasons. Example 3 is a projection of what Wright’s 2013 season would be, barring injuries and producing at his current pace.

I present this to you because I felt compelled to do so after reading an article by Matt Meyers of ESPNNewYork.com, who wrote that David Wright was having his best season ever.

Anyway you slice it, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around his assertion and conclusion. This was his explanation:

There are two good reasons why Wright’s season is flying under the radar, the first of which is that the team is mediocre. It’s a lot harder to get excited about a player having a career year when his team’s best realistic finish is third place.

But the biggest reason Wright’s not getting the attention he deserves is the decline in run scoring across the National League since he debuted. As a result, his raw numbers, such as batting average and slugging, are down relative to his early peak from 2006 through 2008, but his performance relative to the rest of the league is better.

For example, in 2007, Wright had a .325/.416/.546 line with 30 homers and 34 steals in what was previously the best season of his career. That was good enough for a 149 OPS+, a metric which scales a player’s OPS relative to league average and accounts for ballpark factors (100 is average). But in 2007, National League teams scored 4.71 runs per game.

This year, NL squads are averaging 4.09 runs per contest, which as you math majors can surely tell is 0.62 fewer runs per game than six years ago. That’s a huge difference, one that must alter our perception of what an elite performance really is.

So even though Wright’s raw line this season is .308/.403/.517, his OPS+ is 159, which reflects the change in run scoring across the league since 2007 — not to mention a change in Wright’s home park — and represents a career high.

Okay… Now lets back this baby up a bit…

david wrightIf you want to say that Wright currently has the best OPS+ of his career, that’s fine and dandy and I would absolutely concur. But to tell me that Wright is having the best season of his career? No way. No how. I’m not buying it.

This is exactly what I don’t like about “catch-all” stats like OPS+ or WAR. I like to use those statistics to compare one player to another, but using either stat to draw an empirical conclusion is simply wrong. This is exactly what Davidoff did, and it appears that Myers is no different in this regard.

I love stats to tell me who is the best batter or who has the best power or who is the best base stealer, but when it comes to deciding who’s the better player between Ike Davis and David Wright, I don’t need any one stat to make that call.

Anyone who has watched and admired the career of David Wright like I have, would never subscribe to a claim that he is in the midst of the best season of his career.

Tell me that he’s having a great year, but please don’t tell me that Wright is having a career year in 2013. He is clearly not the player he was during the 2007-2008 seasons and I don’t need any stat to tell me that. Those were his peak seasons and every season since has seen a decline – which is the absolute norm for a 30-year old baseball player. His power has deteriorated, but luckily his batting eye and average have maintained. His speed has deteriorated as well, but he makes up for it because he’s become a better base stealer and choosing his moments wisely.

Wright is having a remarkable season – an All Star season – but lets not kid ourselves here… I would take the 2007-2008 version over the 2013 version, any day and any time.

About Joe D 7966 Articles
I'm a lifelong Mets fan who loves writing and talking about the Amazins' 24/7. From the Miracle in 1969 to the magic of 1986, and even the near misses in '73, '00 and '15, I've experienced it all - the highs and the lows. I started Mets Merized Online in 2005 to feed my addiction and interact with other passionate Met fans like you. Follow me on Twitter @metsmerized.