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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Who down with OPS?

A few surprises in baseball statistics: take a look at the league's players ranked by OPS--on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, the best of the common statistical measurements of a player's offensive production, calculated by adding the percentage of at-bats in which the player reaches base (either through a hit or a walk) plus the average number of total bases hit per plate appearance (so a home run counts four times as much as a single).

A presumably un-juiced Jason Giambi is currently second (at 1.134, behind Albert Pujols' amazing 1.302), Moneyball hero Nick Swisher is fifth (at 1.069), and the top Red Sock is the hated Mike Lowell (at .974). As expected, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez also have OPS numbers above .900, as do Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Trot Nixon, Jorge Posada, Kevin Youklis are all in the upper .800s, while Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are close to .800.

That means that among possible all-stars, Swisher, with his $335,000 salary, leads baseball in the made-up statistic "OPS-per-$100k", at .319. Youklis, who is paid $355,000, is not far behind, at .246. These are incredible numbers. In comparison, Ortiz, who is generally considered a steal at his salary of $6,500,000, has an OPS-per-$100k of .015, and Giambi, a money hole top-dollar player, is .006. Of course, most decent players have a higher OPS-per-$100k than Ortiz and Giambi. The first .500 of OPS seems to get a player something like the league minimum; another .250, and it's around a million or two dollars per year; another .250, and it's a good ten or twenty mil. Which reinforces the argument of Moneyball that two good, cheap players are a much better value than one great player.

By the way, Giambi's turnaround is an amazing vindication for Joe Torre, who ten months ago was seen to be losing touch when the Yankees were under .500 and Giambi was batting something you could only write in scientific notation. I don't know if he's on the juice again or what, but I wouldn't mind sending his urine samples to the same lab in France that handled Lance Armstrong's. Whatever the cause of Giambi's comeback, I have to hand it to Torre and Yankees GM Brian Cashman--it's hard to imagine Theo Epstein and Terry Francona or Grady Little showing patience and support for a Red Sox player through thick and thin like that. Sox fans would have turned faster than cod from a Flatbush Ave. fishmonger you bought at 6pm.

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Anonymous Katy on Tue May 16, 04:03:00 PM:
Sox fans should be worried in particular to see Jonny Gomes and Vernon Wells (who is a dead ringer for Worf on Star Trek!) in the top 10 in OPS. Wells seems to have Boston's number these days. Interestingly enough, the Somerville Poodles, my fantasy team, has six members (Beltran, Tejada, Nick Johnson, Carlos Delgado, Glaus, and Blalock) in the top 50 in OPS, but the team ranks in the middle of the pack for OBP in my league. Behold, the power of the slugger.

I have warmed to Lowell (he leads the league in extra base hits), and I think many other people have or are on their way there. Hey, for a throw-in, all he had to do was be better than last year--but the question at this point is whether he can keep it up.

The support for Giambi is an interesting contrast to the way Yankee fans are turning on Randy Johnson. Newsday is pretty much calling for his head. Giambi has been around for a few years, sure, but he's no Bernie Williams when it comes to tenure in New York, and he didn't win a Series with the Yankees. It's impressive that he's turned around, but it could just as easily have gone the other way. I think Torre and Cashman took a gamble and got lucky. I don't know that I would have been as forgiving--as a fan of baseball more than anything else.

Sorry for the novel-length comment! Maybe I need my own sports blog.