Going Deep: Reviewing OPS+ Leaders – Who is consistent and who was a surprise
There are several statistics that are used to measure a player’s value and performance. One of the most widely used statistics today is OPS+, which takes a player’s OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) and adjusts it for the ballparks where they play. The purpose of the statistic is to easily compare players and their numbers by smoothing out the difference between extreme hitter’s parks like Coors Field and less hitter-friendly stadiums like Petco Park. An OPS+ of 100 is considered league average so an OPS+ of 110 means a player is 10% better than average. Enough math? O.K. Let’s use this statistic to look at some players who have been consistent performers over the past three seasons and a few who were surprises in 2018.
Mike Trout: Any list of top MLB performers has to start with Trout, the best player in the game and this generation’s Mickey Mantle. Trout has been consistently great over the past three seasons, as shown below:
Mike Trout – OPS+ past three seasons
|2016||172||First (by 8 points)|
|2017||186||First (by 15 points)|
|2018||199||First (by 13 points)|
The first thing to notice is his annual ranking, leading the league each of the last three seasons, and the fact Trout has been at least 8 percent better than any other hitter in baseball over that time. Also, since the baseline for OPS+ is 100, Trout has basically been TWICE as valuable as the average MLB player. Remarkably, Trout is only getting better, just entering his prime at 27 years old. He is a 40 HR / 25 SB threat every year, gets on base nearly 50% of the time, and hits for a high average. If you aren’t paying attention to this already all-time great, please start now so you can tell your kids about him.
J.D. Martinez: Martinez studied under the great Miguel Cabrera in Detroit and he is obviously a good student. Martinez has actually been mashing for the past five seasons, which coincided with this move to the Tigers and Cabrera, but the last three seasons have been his best:
J.D. Martinez – OPS+ past three seasons
2016 was his last full season in Detroit and Martinez blasted 22 HRs and posted a .908 OPS but his 2017 was even better. Martinez played 57 games for the Tigers and hit 16 HRs while compiling an outstanding 1.018 OPS before being traded to Arizona and finding yet another level, hitting 29 HRs in only 62 games for the Diamondbacks and earning a 5 year / $110 million contract from Boston. He saved his best for his first season with the Red Sox, as his OPS+ was behind only Trout and teammate Mookie Betts. Martinez posted a career-high .402 OBP, slugged 43 HR, logged a career-high 358 total bases, and even stole 6 bases! At 31 years old, Martinez still has several MVP-caliber seasons left in his career.
Khris Davis: “Krush” Davis may not be thought of in the same vein as Trout or Martinez but he has been remarkably consistent the past three years for the Oakland A’s:
Khris Davis – OPS+ past three seasons
Davis has increased his HR total each of the last three seasons: 42 in 2016, 43 in 2017, a league-leading 48 in 2018. He has also played at least 150 games each of the past three seasons but what makes Davis most consistent (and most amazing to me) is the fact he has hit EXACTLY .247 each of the last FOUR seasons. Davis may not be an upper-tier overall player but he is an elite power hitter and the level of consistency he has shown needs to be recognized.
Brandon Nimmo – OPS+ past three seasons
*Nimmo did not have enough plate appearances to qualify for the leaderboard in 2016 or 2017
Nimmo seemingly came out of nowhere to post a truly solid season: .404 OBP, 17 HR, 80 walks. This may seem like somewhat of a fluke until you compare his 2018 numbers to the previous two seasons where he played sparingly:
Nimmo was more or less the same offensive player each of the past three seasons with two exceptions: dramatic increases in walk rate and HR rate. In both cases, the improvements in 2017 carried over into 2018 and, because of the increased plate appearances, the counting stats followed. Nothing in the above numbers suggests Nimmo’s 2018 season was a fluke, which could be why the Marlins are asking for him in a potential J.T. Realmuto trade.
Aaron Hicks: The New York Yankees have been known to fill their starting lineup with top-tier talent and high-priced stars but one of the more valuable bats for the team in 2018 was Hicks, who filled a surprising hole in their outfield:
Aaron Hicks – OPS+ past three seasons
*Hicks did not have enough plate appearances to qualify for the leaderboard in 2016 or 2017
Hicks earned regular at-bats for the first time in his career in 2018, initially due to injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner but he kept his job because of his performance. Is that performance sustainable? Let’s check the numbers:
Similar to Nimmo, Hicks has pretty much been the same player each of the last three seasons. He makes a lot of contact with a strikeout rate below 20% each year and takes advantage of Yankee Stadium with a high fly-ball percentage, turning that 19% HR rate into a career-high 27 HRs in 2018. As with Nimmo, Hicks took the increased playing time and made it count.
Joey Votto: Not all surprises are good ones and the 2018 season for perennial all-star Votto is one I’m not sure many people saw coming:
Joey Votto – OPS+ past three seasons
Votto’s 2018 numbers were down dramatically compared to his previous two seasons but do the underlying numbers show a reason for hope in 2019? Let’s see:
Looking at Votto’s last three seasons, there doesn’t seem to be any drop-off in his overall performance. He still walks at an elite rate, strikes out at a lower rate than he walks, and makes plenty of solid contact. The only difference between 2018 and Votto’s previous two seasons is the dramatic decrease in both his fly-ball percentage and HR rate. Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs pointed out in June that Votto may have been dealing with a back injury, which could easily result in fewer balls sailing over the fence. As long as Votto confirms this injury is fully healed in spring training, there is no reason to believe he cannot return to his 2016/2017 level of production.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)