Fun With OPS and WAR

By Rich Sparago

Baseball is a statistically driven game, and probably more so than any of the other sports. Players and teams can be analyzed through a variety of metrics.  Some of them have been around since the game’s inception (batting average/ERA), while others have more recently entered the game’s vernacular (OPS/WAR). In this article, let’s take a look at the OPS and WAR for a typical Mets starting lineup. We’ll see the stories each statistic tells about the player, how they compare and contrast, and how these metrics look against an “eye evaluation” of that player.

May 8, 2013; Flushing, NY,USA; New York Mets catcher John Buck (44) grounds into a double play during the fourth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Many are aware of OPS and WAR and what they mean. If you don’t, OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, simply adding those two values together, since these two statistics are thought to be the most important when looking at a player’s offensive value. OPS breaks down like this (from Bill James):

Great- .900 0r better

Very Good- .833-.899

Above Average- .766-.832

Average- .700-.765

Below Average- .633-.639

Poor- .566-.632

Atrocious- below .566

WAR is a little more nebulous. Unlike OPS, WAR factors in all aspects of the game (such as batting, base running, and defense). WAR then looks at the overall value this player brings to his team (how many wins he may individually account for), over what could be had from a replacement player. Interestingly, the “replacement player” is not a star, rather a bench player or AAA player. WAR stats below are projected from current values through year-end. Here’s the WAR scale (from Fan Graphs):

Scrub 0-1

Role Player 1-2

Solid Starter 2-3

Good Player 3-4

All Star 4-5

Super Star 5-6

MVP 6+

Now, for the analysis of a Mets lineup:

John Buck– OPS of .757 and a WAR of 2.4. Through OPS, Buck is seen as a high-end average offensive player. It’s hard to argue that, since Buck does bring power and the potential to drive in runs, but historically hits for a low average, limiting his ability to score runs and capitalize on RBI opportunities. His WAR of 2.4 is questionable, though. The statistic suggest that Buck is worth two and a half wins over a modest replacement. Buck is not a great defensive catcher (though he calls a good game and the pitchers respect him). He does not run the bases well. But Buck can win several games (and has already) with his bat and long-ball prowess. In Buck’s case, OPS seems right, WAR seems off.

Ike Davis– OPS of .498 and WAR of -3.2. It’s hard to dispute either of these. Davis falls into the last OPS category, and his WAR suggests that the Mets would be better off with a replacement first baseman. The Mets appear to be heading in this direction, with Andrew Brown getting some work at first in Las Vegas.

Daniel Murphy– OPS of .792 and a WAR of 4.0. Murphy’s OPS suggests that he is an above average offensive player, and this seems correct. Murphy is a solid hitter, with occasional power. He can drive in and score runs. His WAR agrees with his OPS, as his WAR pegs him as a good player. WAR factors in defense (Murphy is NOT a bad defender, probably average) and base running (he is a bad base runner).

Ruben Tejada– OPS of .552 and a WAR of -2.4. Both of these statistics paint a bleak picture of Tejada. OPS and WAR agree that Tejada is performing at a sub-standard level, and observation of him would concur. Tejada, in my opinion, is a bench player. And that’s not a bad thing. Tejada fits the mold of reserve infielder, and those are needed. As a starter, Ruben doesn’t seem to be able to put up enough offensive numbers to justify anything but flawless defense, which he has not delivered. His offensive value will come from singles, since he has no power or speed.

David Wright– OPS of .955 and WAR of 9.2. David’s OPS is right on, as he is a borderline great offensive player. He hits for a high average, and mixes in about 25 HRs in a season. His WAR is telling a similar story. WAR considers defense (Wright is among the best) and base running (Wright is an excellent base runner). Wright’s WAR projects him as MVP caliber. While this may be aggressive, Wright is an all-around solid player, as seen in both metrics.

Lucas Duda– OPS of .808 and WAR of 0.4. Here’s where problems may arise with relying on statistical analysis. Duda’s OPS is “above average”. It disagrees with his WAR, which suggests that he’s easily replaceable. If OPS is considered to be a strong indicator of offensive talent, one wonders about its validity here. I don’t think many Mets fans see Duda as above average offensively. He’s hitting .213 with 14 RBI. The WAR statistic drops his value considerably, and certainly defense is driving that. However, if you look at all of this together, Duda does seem to be best suited to a DH role.

Rick Ankiel– in a very limited sample, OPS of 1.033 and WAR of 0.4. These seem to be the opposite of what one would expect. Ankiel will never have a high OBP, a big part of OPS. Therefore, when numbers normalize, one would expect Ankiel’s OPS to be in the “average” area, driven mostly by his power. His WAR should be higher, at least between 2-3, primarily because he’s a good defender and base runner.

Jordany Valdespin– also in a fairly limited sample, OPS of .684 and a WAR of -0.8. These numbers portray Valdespin as a below-average player, and are probably not accurate. Valdespin has already had a big role a couple of Mets’ wins this year (against LA, Miami, and even Friday at Chicago). He is not in the lineup for power (though he does have some power), and this will negatively skew his OPS. Also, he does run the bases well, and is a decent defender. Therefore, his WAR should be higher, as there is no way that he brings less value than a AAA replacement.

Statistics are fun. As fans, we debate them all the time. As we’ve seen above, they even debate each other. If I had to draw a conclusion, it would be that statistics cannot be isolated (“this guy has a higher OPS so he’s better”), and they cannot be used as the only tool in evaluation (is Lucas Duda an above average offensive player)? Perhaps the old world of scouting wasn’t the best way, and the new world of sabermetrics isn’t the best way. Maybe we have the best of both worlds now. So let’s use them together, and let the “informed” debates continue!

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