Enjoy it for what it’s worth

It’s been real interesting in the last couple years as I’ve watched how the importance of statistics has taken over how to analyze a baseball game. I used to play for an old time manager named Dick Williams who used to tell me, 450dickWilliams.jpg“The situation will dictate what happens.” He used to call me to his office and say, “I should never have to give you a sign. You should know this is a bunt situation, you should know this is a situation where you need to take a trike, you should know the situation calls for getting the man over. I should never have to give you a sign, the situation dictates what happens.”

But what I’ve been witnessing while I’ve been a broadcaster is everyone using these stats to try and explain the game of baseball. Not all statistics work. Some do, some don’t. And one of the stats that has become real popular is OPS. On-base plus slugging. All of a sudden, it’s this stat that defines whether a guy is a good ball player or not. And the fact of the matter is, if you’re a power hitter then the situation will dictate what a pitcher does with you – either walk you or pitch you real careful. So more than likely you’re going to end up on base and therefore your on-base percentage goes up. This in my mind has become the stat the everyone thinks is the be all and end all. It is not. If you have a ball club that’s a great offensive team then that changes everything. But if you have a guy like Adrian Gonzalez, for example, his OPS is going to be high – he’s got a lot of home runs and walks a lot…because you’re not going to pitch to him. Power guys like Giambi and Dunn have always had high OPS because no one wants to pitch to them. But it takes two hits to score them from first.

This is how the game has changed. Dick Williams is pulling his hair out. This is not something people have reinvented in the game. You can go all the way back to Dave Kingman. When Kingman was hot, you didn’t pitch to him. If he wasn’t hot, you pitched to him. Big power hitters swing and miss and strikeout. Or they hit home runs and walk. And at the end of the year their OBP is always going to be higher than most of the other guys on the team because they clog the bases.

A few years ago this stat grabbed my ear when someone said that Ichiro doesn’t walk enough. So I said, “What do you mean?” And they said his OBP could be so much higher if he walked more. The guy gets 200 hits a season! And he scores over 100 runs. I think that speaks for itself.

So as the old, wise Dick Williams used to tell me, “I should never have to give you a sign. The situation dictates what happens.”


  1. juliasrants

    I have to agree with you Harold. The flow of the game is lost when everyone is “waiting” for someone to tell them what to do. A good example – in last night’s Yankees-Nationals game, in the 9th, Joe Girardi didn’t “put A-Rod on motion” and Cano hit into a double play. Why didn’t A-Rod know that he should have been running? The fans went crazy because Girardi didn’t tell A-Rod what to do! Ummm…should a professional baseball player know what to do?


  2. ifreezn

    Only knuckleheads think OPS is the end all/be all. Don’t judge us all by a few knuckleheads. There are definitely better stats that tell an even more complete story about a player’s contribution/value than OPS, but OPS *IS* a significantly more complete picture than batting average (and has been proven to be a better indicator of a great hitter), and is just as easy to calculate, which makes it handy, which is why it gets used a lot.

    If you’ve got something that does the job better that’s just as easy, it’s kind of foolish not to use it, even if it’s not perfect.

    P.S. – I agree in principle that players who reach the major leagues should have the awareness to correctly judge the vast majority of situations for themselves. But think about it like this… does every single person in YOUR workplace know exactly the right thing to do all the time? Nope. Counting on that is a surefire recipe for getting your butt kicked with some regularity. Not exactly the best recipe for success, much less a long-term stint as a manager (in the bigs or anywhere else). =)

  3. joebraga@gmail.com

    You sir, are an idiot. Just the latest ‘analyst’ attacking bloggers because he fears/doesn’t understand them.

    Who says OPS is the end all be all? Most people would agree that it is just another stat, along with stats like VORP, WORP, Win Shares, WPA, RC, Clutch, etc.

    The fact of the matter remains that one of the best methods for predicting future success is well founded statistical analysis.

    You make the point that it takes two hits for players like Dunn to score from first. This is a stupid assertion for multiple reasons. Firstly, Adam Dunn (I will use him as a general example for all similar players) is in the linup to DRIVE IN runs, not to score them. Secondly, OPS takes into accounting SLUGGING PERCENTAGE. Players with high OPS generally have high slugging percentages (around .500) meaning that when they get a hit, they usually end up past first.

    You assertion that players should “know what to do” is partially valid, however wholly irrelevant. What is the advantage of a player knowing when to bunt, when to hit behind a runner, etc. Third base coaches give signs for a reason. Certain coaches have certain preferences (some have an aversion to bunting, etc.) so it shouldn’t be up to the player to dictate what stategy is excecuted.

  4. mattwithanh@yahoo.com

    I can totally relate Harold. I am a farmer and I can’t believe how science has taken over the agriculture business. Like I had an old neighbor who was much like Dick Williams. He said, “If something is going wrong with your crops, then the situation will dictate what to do. Like, if rain is your problem, then sacrifice two goats or one pig. If pests are your problem, then yell at the moon for a forenight and bury three red stones in your field. Problem solved. But I shouldn’t have to tell you beforehand, you should know this.” Now days they have fancy inventions like irrigation, meteorology, crop rotations, and fertilizers. I am like, “Phooey and bunk!” I am just like you Harold, I don’t need their new fangled theories and hocus-pocus in order to understand farming better. I mean a meteorologist has never farmed, what can he tell me or my old neighbor about farming? We reached the pinnacle of understanding with yelling at the moon! The point is that I have nothing left to learn just like you, Harold.

  5. goetzo

    “Why would you want to walk the guy, he’s score even more runs and steal even more bases.” …sigh…
    Try to stay with me here. If you’re a pitcher, you WOULDN’T want to walk Ichiro for the reasons you stated. Now, if that is the case, then wouldn’t it make sense that if you’re Ichiro, you WOULD want to walk? If you’re Ichiro’s manager, wouldn’t you also WANT him to walk more?

    Yes, he gets 200 hits a season, but shouldn’t tell you something that he’s second in hits this year, but he still isn’t even in the top 10 in runs scored?

  6. krbd2a@hotmail.com

    Bravo “mattwithanh” Fantastic!

    Maybe this a spoof meant to actual demonstrate how valuable OPS truly is. Harold can’t seriously believe that the bases should be left empty of power hitters who walk so the fast guys can run freely. Genius! We want less people on base!!!! Only then can more runs score!!!!

  7. chris3402@gmail.com

    “Power guys like Giambi and Dunn have always had high OPS because no one wants to pitch to them.” Isn’t that because they’re good hitters? No need to pitch around someone who sucks, right?

    “But it takes two hits to score them from first!” How many hits does it take to score the guy who — rather than draw a walk — makes an out and isn’t on base at all?

    “Dick Williams is pulling his hair out.” No, Harold. It’s your readers doing that.

  8. tclancy@gmail.com

    Did anyone ask Dick Williams what situations call for pulling your pants down? Because I think I’m doing it wrong.

  9. sisterdaedalus

    Worst. Blog Post. Ever.

    Harold, can you add without a calculator? Your post demonstrates a lack of a grasp of mathematics.

  10. rromanoii

    wow. i mean, wow. harold, the lack of basic understanding of (fundamentally) the job of the batter is just missing. outs are the time clock in baseball. you only get 27 of them. you must use them wisely. certainly we’d love batters to get a hit every time up….that would be stellar. but even the ‘best” ones only get hits around 30% of their plate appearances (let’s not get in to plate appearances v. at bats now). the other 70% of the time the players who do not walk are making outs. isn’t it better to reduce the % of plate appearances that leads to outs? my head is about to explode.

  11. joeychooch@yahoo.com


    We don’t want anyone to get hurt here. Step awaaaaay from the statistics. Please put down the OPS, back up slowly, get on your knees, and clasp your hands behind your head.

    Seriously though Harold, you seem like a good guy. And as someone who has played baseball at the highest level, you undoubtedly have a ton to offer. Things like this:

    – How do you hit a curve ball?

    – What cut-off man should a RF throw the ball to?

    – How best to read a pitcher’s move in order to swipe a bag.

    Stuff like that. But what you have proven yourself hopelessly incapable of doing, which is not your fault because it’s not your background, is providing any cogent analysis into player performance and team construction. Like I said, it’s not your fault, as it’s not your background as a player. So, now that you know this, stick with explaining the Xs and Os of the game to us, something you are quite good at, and leave the commentary about subject for which you are woefully unprepared to give to others.


  12. gflynn@comcast.net

    Hard to pick out single flaws in the argument but Kingman couldn’t have been a worse example to use. He had a career OBP of .302 and ranks #559 in all-time OPS though he ranks higher in OPS+ at #468 all-time.

  13. webreg.jg@garretts.us.com

    I see everyone is piling on. Harold is arguing that OPS is a statistic people value, but it can sometimes be misleading. He says the best offensive player on a bad team often has a high OPS. However, he says that player’s OPS is inflated due to the team dynamic, i.e. opposing teams will not pitch to the player in certain situations unless they have to, resulting in a lot of walks a player on a better team wouldn’t get. I think it is a valid point. Explained poorly, but a valid point. No need for childish personal attacks.

  14. blcartwright

    Here is the simplest reason why on-base percentage is so important. Outs are the clock of baseball, they are a precious commodity, you only get 27 of them. If the batter reaches base, he didn’t make an out!

    Yes, Ichiro getting a hit is better than Ichiro getting a walk, because the runners may advance more than one base on a hit. But I don’t want Ichiro to make outs. The higher his OBP, by whatever means he reached base, the fewer outs he consumed.

  15. tapin

    webreg.jg, I don’t know anyone who claims that OPS is a perfect statistic, but your comment is nonsense as well. What determines that the player in question is the “best offensive player on a team” prior to pitchers pitching him carefully? Could it be a previously-high BA, SLG, or OBP?

    Additionally, you (just like HR) seem to be buying into the idea that a walk is entirely the fault of the pitcher and that a batter has nothing to do with it.

    Having said all that: I agree, the personal attacks aren’t necessary.

  16. PWHjort

    I have a story. I was in a Calculus II class in the spring semester of my Freshman year in College tought by a man named Roman Iviknajov. On the first day of class we walk into a lecture hall with about 300 desks and a sylabus lying on every one, presumably left there by his TA. After the bell to begin class rang, Roman proceeded to attempt to explain to us in a very thick, almost to an unintelligble degree, Russian accent and severly broken English that a sylabus was on our desk and to review it over the next two days. After that, I was completely lost. He attempted to give a 40 minute lecture on vectors, but I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I understood a word or two here and there, but he wasn’t capable of communicating to the class well enough to convey the information he was trying to fill our heads with. After 40 minutes of sitting there trying to listen (OK, that’s a lie, I gave up after about 10 minutes), he stops and says, “Is there any questions?”, again in a nearly unintelligible Russian accent. A gentleman about 10 rows back raised his hand. Roman pointed to him and said, “Yes?”. He responded:

    “Uhh, yeah. WHAT?!?!?!?!?”

    I feel like that gentleman after reading this post.

  17. gocanes61284@yahoo.com

    The hard part about OPS is that it’s an acronym, which makes it really hard to understand. I tried to understand it, but it turns out the O stands for OBP. An acronym within an acronym. Me and Dick Williams think that’s a load of fooey. Dick Williams used to told me that the situation would dictate what happens. I can’t think of a situation where I would be at the plate and have to decipher acronyms. Therefore, Adam Dunn is slow and just clogs up the bases and pitchers would be stupid to walk Ichiro. Case closed.

  18. abravesfan

    Let me just say this about OPS, it’s one of the better stat out there because a) it’s still relatively easy to calculate, basing on 2 stats that people already are familiar with b) it’s been proven to be fairly consistent year to year for players. I think SLG x OBP is supposedly an even better stat but that is a bit harder to grasp (or calculate).

    Yes, OPS is not “perfect” and some game time situations will skew the OBP but it’s all expected to be evened out by the end of the day.

    Finally, if you do have a team of good power guys (like Adrian Gonzalez, instead of Chris Davis, for example) and assume that they play decent defense, who wouldn’t want that?

    Also, Ichiro’s OBP has always been quite good.

  19. brtebhrthnrj

    It’s pretty sad that I, having never played the game of baseball past the high school level, understand the concepts of baseball more than someone who played at the highest level for multiple years and is now paid to discuss the game of baseball.

  20. toddisgod9

    Harold I respect the way you break down a game but come on. The world is constantly moving forward and OPS is a valuable stat. The fact you try to devalue Adam Dunn’s production by saying he walks more like it’s a bad thing is so dumb even Dick Williams is pulling his hair out right now. I’d try to explain these new fangled stats to you but i have plans for the next couple months.

  21. bigmojoe69@aol.com

    Ichiro is a terrible person to use for your argument. His OPS is usually great. And when you look at the leaders in OPS for a year, it’s usually the best hitters in the game.

    And if you were a pitcher facing Gonzalez, would you pitch to him? He’s not in the lineup to steal bags or score from first. He’s in the lineup to mash the ball.

    Oh yeah, and speaking of scoring from first…


  22. dboy13177@aol.com

    Harold, you were rolling, but then you had to go to a second paragraph. This made absolutely no sense.

  23. efelde


    But what I’ve been witnessing while I’ve been a broadcaster is everyone using these stats to try and explain the game of baseball. Not all statistics work. Some do, some don’t.

    Here’s what really bothers me about people “attacking” the use of certain statistics. You say “Not all statistics work.” That is not a useful argument. Statistics do not “work.” They are a tool for analysis of PREVIOUS EVENTS. Some are more accurate in determining a player’s value than others, but none is fully determinative. Anyone who thinks one statistic sums up everything is naive, and anyone who dismisses a statistic as not “working” because it doesn’t capture every aspect of a player’s value is ignorant.

    That is all.

  24. tmelander@team-stat.com

    Love the post. Basically Harold is trying to tell you that OPS is biased toward power hitters, and he then implies that power hitters aren’t worth as much as (or any better than) other hitters…thereby using logic to conclude that OPS is therefore not a good statistic to evaluate players.

    Fox News and Rush Limbaugh actually use this technique all the time for their arguments. The flaw, of course, is with a statement somewhere in the middle of everything that is actually wrong or exaggerated. Can you find it here? I know the key to my political arguments is finding that somewhat hidden “fact” and knowing the truth about it.

    As for OPS, it is also flawed (counting hits twice, adding different denominators), and I don’t like it for that reason. But as a general rule for non-statheads, it’s easy and somewhat robust.

  25. ekanenh

    Dick Williams may be pulling his hair out, but Earl Weaver is kicking Dick Williams’s butt.

    By the way, its not suprtising that a guy with a career OBP of .327 would deride OBP, the only measure of how often a player makes an out. Speaking of “outs:”

    Harold Reynolds:
    5th in the AL in outs made in 1988.
    1st in the AL in outs made in 1990 and 1991.


  26. 405z06@sbcglobal.net

    I remember reading something Bill James said about Dick Williams running 2nd baseman Rodney Scott out there every day for 3 years and batting him in the 2 hole while in Montreal. Scott in those 3 years had a line of .225 / .312 / .283 in 400 games, 1702 ABs.

    In 79 the Expos finished 2 games back of the Pirates in the NL East, and then in 1980 finished 1 game back of the Phillies. Dick Williams probably cost the Expos 2 division titles due to his sticking one of the worst hitters in the league right in the meat of the lineup everyday.

  27. mr_work_str97@yahoo.com

    Mr. Reynolds, I feel your pain. You’ve attempted to say that stats don’t say EVERYTHING about baseball, that there is an inherent knowledge acquired by players that should inform their decision-making paradigm on the base path as well as in the batters box. This has exposed you to unmasked vitriol of the presumptive defenders of math-ball. To those so rigorously riposting Mr. Reynolds, please go back to enjoying your fantasy teams.

  28. mattwest


    I’m a huge fan of not only your baseball career, but also your work that you do on TV. Your style is unique and the way you deliver everything is just plain old fun to watch. I write a blog about the Angels, I was wondering if you ever get a break during your hectic day, if you could give it a read and let me know what you think. I would be very appreciative and honored. Thank you.

  29. corhill@bgsu.edu

    The issue that I see with the OPS is the problem of double counting. Simply put, if a player hits a double, this both affects the player’s on base percentage as well as slugging percentage. By combining these two stats, the problem is that both the on base percentage and slugging percentage are not entirely separate because, in some ways, they influence each other. The OPS treats them as two entirely separate stats which they are obviously not.
    I agree with you, Harold. Human beings are relying more on technology to do the thinking for them and the increased use of computers within the game of baseball creates ridiculous statistical measures that break every situation into an all-encompassing complexity. And when that happens, how are reductionist statistics (looking at only a few variables when there are a million at play) do anybody any good?

  30. erik@ealightworks.com

    As has been noted, OPS is not the be all end all statistic and virtually no one would insist it is. Classifying one stat as such is idiotic, that defeats the whole point of statistical analysis.
    Very genreally put, OPS is a very useful metric because the two best things that an offensive player can do is to drive in runs and be driven in. OBP as a leading indicator of runs scored is obvious, and guys with a higher slugging % are much more likely to drive in more runs by virtue of the fact that they can clear the bases almost 50-60% of the time they are up.

    Here’s all you need to know about the value of OPS: Through August 23, here are the top 10 players in OPS in order: Pujols, Mauer, Fielder, Dunn, HanRam, Youkilis, Miggy Cabrera, Mark Reynolds, Utley, Adrian Gonzalez. That’s the cream of the league right there, and not coincidentally, the leaders in OPS.

  31. geraldderec@gmail.com

    Despite the back and forth debate over statistics calculations, its obvious that stats are ruling all managerial choices in pretty much every professional sport. thats not really up for debate. Good point, Harold.
    Gerry, goldenrule.com

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