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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Generation OPS—How powerful young All-Stars are redefining the game

“If I wanted to hit .300, I’d hit .300,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “It’s an OPS game though. It’s about driving the baseball and getting on base, walks and extra-base hits. If it turned into an average game, I’d get the ball out of the air and hit line drives and hit .330.

“All the hitters care about now is OPS. We don’t care about batting average. Some guys do, I guess. Batting average is an old stat that doesn’t matter. It’s OPS, runs created, WAR. Look at Mike Trout’s numbers. There are guys that hit .340. Mike Trout is hitting, what, .300 on the dot? I’d rather have Mike Trout’s numbers with all the walks and the damage than the guy who hits .340 [with a bunch of singles]. It’s an OPS game.”

Jim Furtado Posted: July 09, 2019 at 07:54 AM | 30 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: all stars, ops

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   1. Rally Posted: July 09, 2019 at 08:20 AM (#5860254)
Mostly agree with Bregman. But "There are guys that hit .340."

Who? Only 1 .340 hitter in 2019 at the break, Jeff McNeil is also a .340 career hitter after 139 games. A very Boggsian start to his career. D.J. Lemahieu is hitting .336, hit .348 a few years back, but doesn't do it every year. He's a .301 career hitter. With a minimum of 3000 PA, there are 9 career .300 hitters, 2 of them above .310, led by Miguel Cabrera at .316.
   2. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 09, 2019 at 08:36 AM (#5860256)
Ichiro could hit .340 if he wanted to.
   3. Cooper Nielson Posted: July 09, 2019 at 08:41 AM (#5860258)
Mostly agree with Bregman. But "There are guys that hit .340."

In the context of this story, I think he simply means "There are guys that hit .340 [in a season]." And of course there are. Mookie Betts last year, Altuve in 2017 and 2014, LeMahieu and Murphy in 2016, Cabrera in 2013 and 2011, Hamilton in 2010.
   4. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: July 09, 2019 at 09:32 AM (#5860262)
it's been done 41 times since 2000--a little over 2 per season
   5. Misirlou gave her his Vincent to ride Posted: July 09, 2019 at 10:04 AM (#5860270)
Mostly agree with Bregman. But "There are guys that hit .340."


Well, there are a few of course, as has been addressed. But it's the implication I take issue with. 5 guys have hit .340 in the last 5 year, including McNeil this year. 3 of them had a higher OPS+ than Bregman's career year. those same 3 hit a ton of extra base hits. Bregman's career high is 82. Betts hit 84, Murphy hit 77, Altuve hit 68. Don't take .340 so literally, drop it down a few points and you pick up Cody Bellinger at .336 with 51 XBH so far this year. Altuve at .338 with 71. Cabrera at .338 with a down year for power, but no one mistakes Cabrera for a banjo hitter. In his 2 seasons of .340+ he had over 70 XBH each year. LeMahieu's power numbers aren't impressive, and McNeil's look middling, but the implication that .340 hitters today don't hit for power is just wrong.
   6. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: July 09, 2019 at 10:35 AM (#5860277)
Batting average is an old stat that doesn’t matter.

Raising your average 30 points raises your OPS by 60 points. Doesn't that matter?
   7. Misirlou gave her his Vincent to ride Posted: July 09, 2019 at 10:41 AM (#5860278)
Raising your average 30 points raises your OPS by 60 points. Doesn't that matter?


Well, assuming you can raise it that much without an accompanying loss of power. That's a big assumption.
   8. Rally Posted: July 09, 2019 at 11:54 AM (#5860296)
It's all about tradeoffs. How much power and walks would Bregman lose if he focused (and succeeded) in hitting .330?

Last year he hit .286 with 96 walks and 31 homers. This year his OPS is almost exactly the same with a lower average but better power and walk rates.

Adjusting his 2018 stats, if his walks fell to 70, homers to 20, and BA rose to .330 while keeping the other stats constant his OPS would improve slightly, to .930. If he loses more than that, he's making a good tradeoff. If less, then he should decide he wants to hit .330 and do it.

Bregman is one of those guys who is really good at baseball, so I'd lean on the side of he knows what he's doing here.
   9. Howie Menckel Posted: July 09, 2019 at 01:21 PM (#5860331)
Jeff McNeil is also a .340 career hitter after 139 games. A very Boggsian start to his career.

they are two of the three to hit .340+ in their first 500 AB since 1935.
   10. PreservedFish Posted: July 09, 2019 at 02:03 PM (#5860341)
Lotta nitpicking going on here. Everyone understands what Bregman means, and everyone knows he's right. If the Alex Bregman of 2002 said these things, we'd be shitting our pants with joy.
   11. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: July 09, 2019 at 02:17 PM (#5860344)
If the Alex Bregman of 2002 said these things, we'd be shitting our pants with joy.
I mean, I guess it would be cool that a random 8-year-old was saying that kind of stuff, but I don't think I would react that strongly.
   12. Karl from NY Posted: July 09, 2019 at 02:37 PM (#5860351)
Raising your average 30 points raises your OPS by 60 points. Doesn't that matter?

Not exactly, since the denominator of OBP is larger, PA instead of AB.

It's nitpicky, but does matter. Raising your BA doesn't just mean turning outs into hits, it may come at the expense of walks turned into hits.
   13. Man o' Schwar Posted: July 09, 2019 at 02:47 PM (#5860355)
they are two of the three to hit .340+ in their first 500 AB since 1935.

Fred Lynn?
   14. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: July 09, 2019 at 03:52 PM (#5860424)
No idea who the third one is, but Lynn just missed. He was at .336 when he hit the 500 AB mark.
   15. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: July 09, 2019 at 03:53 PM (#5860425)
Saying batting average "doesn't matter" is about as accurate as people who used to judge players 100% on their batting average.

Average matters. OBP matters. Slugging matters.

Batting average was overvalued for a long time. It is undervalued now.

   16. Howie Menckel Posted: July 09, 2019 at 03:54 PM (#5860426)
without looking it up, I thought of DiMaggio?
   17. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: July 09, 2019 at 04:05 PM (#5860432)
they are two of the three to hit .340+ in their first 500 AB since 1935.
Did Ichiro want to? He hit .350 in his rookie season, which was more than 500 AB.
   18. Jeff Frances the Mute Posted: July 09, 2019 at 04:09 PM (#5860437)
Raising your BA doesn't just mean turning outs into hits, it may come at the expense of walks turned into hits.

More players should be like Cody Bellinger and turn half their strikeouts into line drives. A simple way to improve your numbers!
   19. Misirlou gave her his Vincent to ride Posted: July 09, 2019 at 04:16 PM (#5860440)
they are two of the three to hit .340+ in their first 500 AB since 1935.

Did Ichiro want to? He hit .350 in his rookie season, which was more than 500 AB.


The way these things work, I'd probably say he doesn't qualify. Ichiro reached 500 AB in his 112th game of the season. After that AB he was hitting .336. He went over .340 for good 5 games later, but that was after his 500th AB.
   20. Man o' Schwar Posted: July 09, 2019 at 04:16 PM (#5860441)
without looking it up, I thought of DiMaggio?

It looks like he was at .342 after the August 28 doubleheader in 1936, which was exactly 500 ABs.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: July 09, 2019 at 07:11 PM (#5860468)
ABs or PAs?

What Bregman misses is that the launch angle revolution hasn't done anything to LD rates -- if anything, they are slightly higher. This seems sort of obvious (but doesn't have to be true) as LDs are basically in the middle of the launch angle range. Shifting the average launch angle up still leaves plenty of "below-average-angle" contact in the LD launch angle range. What is substantially reduced of course are GBs and the BA on GBs is substantially higher than that of FBs (but way way way below LDs).

Another aspect is that, in theory probably moreso than reality, there's no reason increasing your BA should lead to a change in walk rates. (Which is not a disagreement with #12) Certainly if Bregman is taking strikes he could hit for LDs, he's making a big mistake; and I've got serious doubts there are many pitches outside the strike zone he could hit for LDs. Anyway, increasing your BA, as noted, increases OBP and generally SLG. And OBP is king.

One thing though that has changed in recent times is that BA is a much lower proportion of SLG than it used to be. It's now reasonably common to find players whose ISO is about the same as their BA ... and Bregman this year is one of those. For careers of 3000+ PA, there are only 10 batters with an ISO>=BA -- Ruth, Bonds, Thome, Stanton (active), Mac, Khris Davis (active), Dunn, Kingman, Branyan, Deer. For 2018-19 combined, at least 500 PA, we've got 12 -- Trout, Muncy, Hoskins, Renfroe, Pederson, Davis, Matt Adams, Thames, Encarnacion, Gallo, Palka and Gary Sanchez. That's mostly a list of solid players but, other than Trout, not murderer's row and four of them have below-average OBPs.

An interesting comparison I came across several years ago is Jose Hernandez vs Miguel Tejada. As a hitter, Hernandez was equal or better in pretty much every respect -- except a massive K-rate difference creating a massive BA difference. Hernandez had a career 88 OPS+ and Tejada a career 108 OPS+. Of course it would be silly to assume Hernandez could just turn off the Ks without affecting other areas of his hitting but, given he wasn't a very useful hitter as he was (about average for a SS of his era I guess), you'd think somebody would have tried.

Anyway, I don't think Bregman could hit 330 if he wanted to (very few have been able to before) although his K rate is relatively low so maybe ... and I suspect that if we took a closer look, we'd find that the main difference between him and, say, Eric Thames (as hitters) is BA/contact.
   22. Rally Posted: July 10, 2019 at 09:10 AM (#5860636)
Anyway, I don't think Bregman could hit 330 if he wanted to (very few have been able to before) although his K rate is relatively low so maybe ...


Depends on how we define a .330 hitter. I would not put it past Bregman to hit .330 for a year, even if he's more focused on power. But establishing yourself as a .330 hitter, a guy even money or better to hit that mark every year, probably not. In my lifetime there have been only 1-3 guys who could do that, and none of them very recently.

Gwynn is the only .330 hitter who played any seasons after 1970. Boggs and Carew are close enough at .328, and it's just their final decline years dragging them below .330. Puckett was over .330 3 times in 12 years, Vlad Sr. 4 times in 16 seasons.
   23. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: July 10, 2019 at 09:49 AM (#5860653)

But establishing yourself as a .330 hitter, a guy even money or better to hit that mark every year, probably not. In my lifetime there have been only 1-3 guys who could do that, and none of them very recently.

I agree with your overall point, but I think there are other guys who met that criteria over an extended period of time even if they didn't do it for their entire careers.

Pujols had a .334 career average after his third season and maintained that above .330 through the end of his tenth season, for example. He was above .330 five times during that run.

Miguel Cabrera never had a .330 career average because he started out much lower, but from ages 26-33, he put up a .330 average over eight seasons. He's also been above .330 five times (one time outside of that eight-year run).

Frank Thomas batted .330 over his first eight seasons, with 4 seasons at or above .330. Joe Mauer was less consistent but batted .328 over an eight-year span from ages 23-30. And while you have to discount him a bit, Larry Walker batted .334 during his 9+ seasons in Colorado, including .353 over a six-year span (he hit over .350 four times). However, that .353 only amounts to a .312 on a context-neutral basis, according to bb-ref.
   24. Don August(us) Cesar Geronimo Berroa Posted: July 10, 2019 at 10:22 AM (#5860666)
Ichiro hit .331 over his first 10 mlb seasons, and was over .350 (i think) in the Japanese leagues before that.
   25. Greg Pope Posted: July 10, 2019 at 10:29 AM (#5860669)
Another aspect is that, in theory probably moreso than reality, there's no reason increasing your BA should lead to a change in walk rates.

I think there's two different things at play here. One is the take-and-rake approach and the other is launch angle. It depends what we're "asking" the players to do to get a higher batting average.

If we're asking them to stop take-and-rake, then we're asking them to shorten their swing with two strikes, not swing as hard, swing at borderline pitches early in the count, etc. Changing that approach would change both walks and strikeouts in some manner.

If we're asking them to change their launch angle to reduce homers and fly outs and hit more line drives and grounders, then it's possible that strikeouts and walks won't change, but BA will. In theory they're still swinging at the same pitches and hitting the same pitches.
   26. . Posted: July 10, 2019 at 10:29 AM (#5860670)
The ball and launch angle have pretty much ruined everything now. The odds of a fly ball hit with a 103 exit velo leaving the yard have gone up 19% in just the last year. That's just absurd.
   27. Misirlou gave her his Vincent to ride Posted: July 10, 2019 at 10:32 AM (#5860672)
Ichiro over those 10 years was kind of like Tony Gwynn. Never really particularly close to the average. During those 10 years, he was .350 or higher 4 times, and .322 or lower 6 times.
   28. . Posted: July 10, 2019 at 10:37 AM (#5860675)
With the current equipment and approach, the stadiums now are the functional equivalent of playing Augusta National or Pebble Beach at 6,600 yards. They're too small. Since it's really hard to increase the size of the field, the only thing left is the equipment. The ball thing is just beyond ridiculous and the bats should be regulated along the general lines proposed by Bill James years ago. The current Home Run Derby style is excruciatingly boring, but maybe that opinion is simply out of vogue now and for the indefinite future and that's the way the ol' rugelach crumbles. Home Run Derby is certainly better for instagram, chat sites, and social media.
   29. Walt Davis Posted: July 10, 2019 at 07:16 PM (#5860840)
swing at borderline pitches early in the count

You basically get at it in your last paragraph -- as I said, probably more in theory than in reality. But basically this -- swinging at borderline pitches early in the count is (I believe) never a good idea ... and is not going to help your BA.

"Only swing at strikes" has always been excellent advice. The question with rake and take is about not swinging at strikes hoping for a more hittable pitch or four outside the zone. And whether it is better to whale on that hittable strike even if that means you'll swing through it half the time. The answer in both cases is pretty clearly yes but the main reason the answer is yes is because very few hitters could hit 330 (or 320 or 310) if they wanted to, no matter how hard they tried. In general, the only way to do it is to hack but be very good at it (theory vs reality). (And yes, we're talking about consistently doing so ... of course Bregman might have a 330 season along the way, Thome was the king of rake and take and he hit over 300 three times and 293 from 1995-2002.)

So in theory, you're swinging at the same pitches and taking the same pitches, so your walk rate doesn't have to change. Now pulling that off in practice takes some doing. Unless you can start hitting LDs 40% of the time (or whatever), raising the BA presumably means making more consistent contact on the good hittable pitches earlier in the count, that presumably does cost some power and some walks. To get some walks back, you probably need to be very good at fouling off 2-strike pitches. "Easier" in practice would surely be raising the BA while maintaining enough walks to increase the OBP.

There aren't a lot of real-world examples but, at age 36!, Schmidt decided he was striking out too much. He cut his Ks, hit over 290 at 36-37, still had a 390 OBP, still had a 250 ISO. Braun might have done something similar at ages 26-27 with a sizable drop in K-rate, high BA (but he hit 312 over his first 7 seasons anyway), same walk rate -- a drop in power at 26 then his MVP year at 27.

But Bregman's not really the guy anybody is particularly worried about as he doesn't K much. In fact, his current K-rate is about what Schmidt's was in those age 36-37 years. His raw OBP/SLG is basically the same as well (a bit lower) so he's walking a bit more and has a somewhat higher ISO. That latter Schmidt was also basically peak Santo. The 330 version of peak Santo is sort of Clemente ... then Clemente saw a big power jump late in his career without affecting his BA (he never walked much).

In the end of course, it matters pretty much nothing at all if Bregman hits 270/380/530 or 330/380/530 ... but he'd probably be a bit better off at 300/410/500 if he could pull it off (thanks to slightly more OBP heavy). If I was him, I'd be content at 270/380/530 and not risk messing anything up.
   30. SoSH U at work Posted: July 10, 2019 at 07:22 PM (#5860843)
So in theory, you're swinging at the same pitches and taking the same pitches, so your walk rate doesn't have to change.


No, if two guys are swinging at the same pitches (say Jim Thome and Tony Gwynn), the guy who swings and misses more frequently is going to walk more often because the swing in miss is going to get him more chances to get to Ball 4, whereas the ball put in play prevents that.

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