Former MLB All-Star and current MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds recently wrote an article on his blog in which he argued that the OPS statistic was overrated. He is obviously an old-school mind who has not embraced the statistical revolution. One of his arguments is that great power hitters on bad teams, like Adrian Gonzalez, have an inflated OPS because pitchers do not pitch to them, meaning they walk a lot in addition to their home runs. He is also claims that they have a higher OBP than the rest of their teammates because they clog the bases; not sure how that one makes any sense.
Obviously, I disagree tremendously with his point of view. OPS is an excellent tracker of player performance, and helps predict how many runs a player or team will score over the course of a season. It is much more accurate than archaic stats like batting average, RBI, and even home runs. Let me put it this way. If you had to assemble a historical team but were only allowed to base your selections on one statistic, what would that stat be? A lot of people would argue VORP, or win shares (which would be difficult due to the lack of historical fielding statistics), and these would be valid, but I think I would go with OPS+. I know it does not take defence into consideration, but like I said, if you want to be using guys like Babe Ruth, there are not going to be any effective defensive stats to monitor them anyways.
I decided to make a team based on OPS+, and OPS+ alone, to prove how ridiculous Reynolds point is. A player can only play the position he actually played that year. This is what my starting line-up would look like, arranged according to batting order. I bet you can figure out who each player is based on the information given.
They are of course Roger Hornsby, Ted Williams (technically a left fielder but I lumped corner infielders into one group), Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, George Brett, and Johnny Bench. As you can see, OPS is so overrated that my nine players include six first ballot Hall of Famers and the asterisked home run king. I would hardly call a team that steals 124 bases a bunch of base-cloggers either. The only player on the team that you could call a legitimate slowpoke on the basepaths is Ruth, and maybe Bench but he is a catcher.
If you were to use more traditional statistics like batting average and RBI, you would get a significantly different team. I will not go through the list, but good players can fluke out and knock in 191 runs or hit .350. It takes a lot more skill to have one of the best single season OPS. To put that in perspective, three players (Bonds, Ruth and Williams) occupy the top eleven spots on this prestigious list, discounting the two guys from 19th century who played a much different game.
You may not find this article overly informative, but I find looking up historical stats a pleasure, so it was a lot of fun to write. I also like to critique individuals like Reynolds who are stuck in their ways and refuse to embrace the changes that are happening around them.
As an aside, I think we should all take a moment to appreciate Joe Mauer. Going through the list of all-time OPS+ seasons, I had to go all the way down to 413th to find the first catcher. The next lowest position was Brett at 45th. It is incredibly difficult for catchers to put up the kind of numbers that Mauer does, and he could be the guy that you tell your grandkids about just as much as Pujols.