Player’s View: Lead the League in an Offensive Category

I recently posed a question to 12 hitters. It was a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Given the subjectivity involved, it doesn’t even have a right answer.

If you could lead the league in any offensive category, what would it be?

Their responses — some less serious than others — are listed below in alphabetical order.

——

Jason Castro, Houston Astros catcher: “Probably OPS. Just on-base plus slugging. That’s something hitters strive for: not only getting on base, but when you do get on base, get extra base hits. That probably leads to more runs than just singles, and not getting a lot of walks.”

Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels catcher: “OPS, I guess? That’s because it’s a combination of everything. I think it shows that you’re well-rounded and not just about slugging. The importance of getting on base is more valued these days and batting average isn’t even really looked at.”

David DeJesus, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder: “Homers, just because I never hit them. I’ve always been like a leadoff hitter, so it would be pretty cool to see how it feels to hit a lot of them. When you hit home runs, you’re scoring a run, you’re driving guys in, and you’re also having fun out there. I think it would be pretty cool to lead in home runs.”

Jason Giambi, Cleveland Indians DH: “OPS. You’re a dynamic hitter: you’re taking your walks, on-base percentage, you’re slugging, so you’re doing damage. By taking walks and getting on base, I truly believe you’re helping your team out. Walks are just as important as driving guys in. You’re not only helping the guy behind you, but also the guy in front of you. I’ll take a guy that has a .380 on-base percentage and drives in 120. It wins games. It’s the Moneyball/A’s theory.”

Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees outfielder: “Wins. None of the others are all that important. If you win a title in this or that, it doesn’t really mean anything. Batting title, home run title, stolen base champ — they don’t matter. If you ask fans who won each of those titles in the last five years, I bet you’d stump most of them. I don’t know if any one is more important than other, but if anything, it would probably be runs or RBIs. That goes back to my original answer: those two help you win a ballgame.”

Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles outfielder: “I think runs scored or RBIs, because that’s production. If you’re scoring a lot of runs, you’re doing something right for your team. If you’re driving in a lot of runs, you’re doing something right for your team. It’s not about individual glory; it’s about wins.”

Ryan Sweeney, Chicago Cubs outfielder: “I’ve kind of been an average guy my whole career, so I’d have to pick batting average. Winning a batting title would be pretty cool. It would be a real accomplishment to be able to say, ‘Hey, I hit the highest in the league for that year.’

“Individually, that would be the best, but as far as a stat that adds the most value, I’d think OPS. There are different ways to look at it. Are you looking at it as a purely individual thing, or as a stat that helps your team win?

Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians outfielder: “Homers, bro. Chicks dig the long ball. Score ‘em all, bro. Just be the chauffeur, driving them home.”

Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels outfielder: “Homers. I have more walks this year, yeah. But you are what you are. Homers are cool.”

Will Venable, San Diego Padres outfielder: “ I take pride in doing everything well, and I don’t know what statistic actually embodies doing everything. I’m not a guy who’s ever going to lead the league in average or lead the league in steals, I take pride in doing everything well, so if there’s a statistic for that, I’ll take that one.

[After having WAR explained to him.] “Then that one!”

Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds first baseman: “There’s no better thing you can do in baseball than hit home runs, so I’d like to lead in that. That said, I don’t know if there’s a correlation between home runs and general offensive dominance. I don’t know if there is one number that does that.

“I’ve always felt like the top guys in OPS are usually the best hitters in the league. I’m probably biased, because I led the league in it, but I think it’s a big stat. So I guess my answer is OPS, if you’re talking purely offensive stats. If you’re talking overall, I’ll say WAR.”

Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles catcher: “I think it would be RBIs. Whether you’re driving in runs with singles, or driving them in with doubles or homers, that’s how you win games. For me, that category would be most important. In order to win you have to score runs, and if you don’t have somebody driving them in, you’re not going to score runs.”

——

FINAL TALLY

OPS: Four votes (Castro, Conger, Giambi, Votto)

Home Runs: Three votes (DeJesus, Swisher, Trumbo)

RBIs: Two votes (Granderson 1/2, Jones 1/2 Wieters)

Batting Average: One vote (Sweeney)

Runs: One vote (Granderson 1/2, Jones 1/2)

No Definitive Answer: One vote (Venable)

[Note: Thanks to Eno Sarris for providing the responses from Castro, Conger, Giambi, Swisher, Trumbo and Venable.]




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

66 Responses to “Player’s View: Lead the League in an Offensive Category”

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  1. Michael says:

    “I’ll take a guy that has a .380 on-base percentage and drives in 120.”

    Shocker, Giambi would take an All-Star on his roster…
    It would be more interesting to say which one you would rather have, 120 RBI’s or a .380 OBP.

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    • Mitt says:

      .380 OBP.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RBI’s have no real evaluative value, but I’d bet that the average player with 120 RBIs is more valuable than the average player with a .380 OBP.

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    • Eric R says:

      Out of curiosity I grabbed all of the qualified seasons from 1996 to 2012 [sample 2611 player-seasons]; 157 of them were +/- 95% of 120 RBI. I grabbed a similar sample size around a .380 OBP [and around 120 runs scored]. Here are the players average fWAR who fell into those buckets:

      R: 5.8
      RBI: 4.9
      OBP: 4.1

      So I guess you probably should take the 120 RBI [or 120 R] over the .380 OBP guy, if you don’t know anything else about the players.

      FWIW- The guys with none of those: 2.6 fWAR

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      • Ian R. says:

        You can’t straight-up compare counting numbers to rate stats like that. Try comparing RBI to times on base and see what happens.

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  2. AJT says:

    Votto the best

    +26 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. olethros says:

    Much as I dislike the Reds, Joey Votto is awesome.

    +24 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Disappointed. says:

    Wow, I thought that Granderson was more of the more cerebral players. His response reeks of the typical dumb as doorknob baseball player that can’t even spend 5 minutes reading about statistics to parse through the more important indicators of player worth.

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    • AFP says:

      His answer isn’t that bad. Players that lead the league in runs will typically have a high OBP. Players with lots of RBI will typically have high OPS.

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      • Disappointed. says:

        No, it is a bad response. The correlation between offensive prowess and context-dependent stats like RBI’s is fairly low, as is xFIP and wins, for example.

        @Jabronies: You are discounting all the good players that play on terrible teams. Not their fault that they are stuck with bad teammates.

        I thought that this was a rational statistically oriented audience. :(

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        • Tony says:

          I think there’s a big difference between ‘which stat demonstrates the most (sustainable? true-talent?) offensive prowess’, and the more ambiguous ‘which stat would you like to lead the league in?’.

          Runs and/or RBI might mostly indicate that he’s on a better team than other players, but why is that a bad thing for a player to want?

          +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Nivra says:

          Runs or RBI are about what actually happened on the field, not about future predictive prowess.

          If I’m a player, and I want to win the most games, a 1.000 OPS doesn’t help if I had horrible BABIP luck with RISP. From a retrospective, which season would have had the greatest impact on my teams’ winning percentage, runs + RBI is not a bad answer. It’s a horrible answer for predictive value, but it’s a decent answer for how well the season went.

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      • 3D says:

        >His answer isn’t that bad. Players that lead the league in runs will typically have a high OBP. Players with lots of RBI will typically have high OPS.

        I dunno… it reads like he came to a technically defensible position, through a really dopey thought process.

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        • B N says:

          It doesn’t seem dopey at all. It asked which one he would want to lead in. His first response was, effectively, “Wins.” Isn’t that the point of baseball? To win games?

          WAR is meant to be a context-neutral proxy for… (drumroll) WINS added. But at the end of the season, as a player, wouldn’t you rather have ACTUAL wins rather than hypothetical wins due to your WAR being great?

          At the beginning of the season, you want a bunch of players who project for the best WAR. But at the end of the season? Your WAR doesn’t win that championship. Your runs do. I mean, let’s boil it down to a single game. What stat do you want to be in the lead in? WAR? No thanks, I’ll take the runs. WAR is a useful evaluation and projection tool, but no player wants to be the best-evaluated player to never win a championship.

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    • Jabronies says:

      I like what he started off saying, about wins. Its true, try to name the last 5 OPS leaders, and then try to name the last 10 WS winners. Hes the only one that added a team concept to his answer

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      • TKDC says:

        Yeah, if you are into cheese, he’s your guy. Maybe he is sincere, but come on.

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      • Jason B says:

        Someone might want to let him know that leading the league in wins =/= winning titles. Check with members of the 2001 Mariners (and scores of other teams) about how that worked out for them.

        (And yeah, I kinda get what he’s saying, but if he wants to go that route he should’ve opted for “titles won” rather than “wins”.)

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        • B N says:

          Or went with “postseason wins.” I’m relatively certain that the team with the most wins in the postseason this year will be the champion. ;)

          So long as you don’t count that one-game play-in, at least (which gives a team an extra win before they go into the main playoffs, giving the possibility for them to go 7 in the WS and have the same # of wins as the champion, but not actually be the champion).

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    • cass says:

      I was happy he mentioned Runs and RBIs together. For a long time, Runs didn’t get much attention compared to RBIs.

      Overall, the responses were pretty good and reflect a change in how the game is evaluated from within. Now if only TV announcers cold step into the 21st century. Acually, the 70s/80s. Earl Weaver and Bill James had these basics figured out 30 years ago. Not as developed as now, but the OBP/SLG concepts, yes.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DNA+ says:

      That’s strange, because Granderson’s answer was clearly the most team oriented (and most Yankee) given. It was a great answer. …Nick Swisher’s too.

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    • Ian R. says:

      I’m not sure if this was Granderson’s thought process, but remember that he wasn’t asked which offensive stat was the best measure of performance. He was asked which offensive stat he, personally, would most like to lead the league in.

      For Granderson to lead the league in runs scored or RBI, he needs to have a great offensive year and his teammates (or at least the ones who bat close to him in the order) also need to have a great year. It at least makes some sense that a high RBI total for Granderson would be more indicative of team success than, say, a high HR total or OBP for Granderson.

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  5. Tristan says:

    If that is actually what Swish said, he’s the best.

    +36 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Krog says:

      That quote felt like a parody of Nick Swisher rather than something an actual human would say. Wait, maybe Swisher isn’t human…

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      • Adam says:

        Or maybe Nick Swisher was doing a parody of Nick Swisher in an ironic manner making it something he would actually say.

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  6. abreutime says:

    I’m pretty surprised Venable doesn’t know what WAR is. I guess he didn’t take any statistics classes at Princeton.

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    • RF says:

      It’s laughable to think that they’d waste any time in a real stats class on something like WAR (and no, most “sports stats” classes don’t come close to counting as real stats classes).

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • dragnalus says:

        I don’t think the insinuation was that they teach WAR in a stats class, but that by taking a stats class it would show an interest in statistics and in playing baseball he would be more likely to be interested in baseball statistics.

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      • abreutime says:

        By going to Princeton, one might assume he has some level of intellectual curiosity. It’d be silly to go there for the athletics alone. And given that he’s a professional baseball player, well, it might be good to know the statistics that are used to evaluate your performance.

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  7. Dave says:

    The other day I was trying to convince my friend that Nick Swisher wasn’t a total douche. While my opinion hasn’t shifted and I assume he was mostly joking, this won’t help my case very much.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. tz says:

    One reason why OPS is so popular is that the values give an intuitive “grade” for a player’s hitting:

    .900 or above = A
    .800 – .899 = B
    .700 – .799 = C
    .600 – .699 = D
    below .599 = F

    This makes it a bit easier to separate the “good” from the “bad” values than say wOBA, which is more technically correct but less intuitive.

    Maybe rescaling wOBA to the OPS scale might help it catch on. (Just don’t call it wOPS).

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TKDC says:

      wOBA is scaled to OBP. OPS is popular because it has been around for a very long time, and it is fairly easy to understand, even though it is really just two rates smashed together for no particular reason.

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      • Nick says:

        All these players would fucking love wOBA if it was explained to them.

        “It’s like OPS, except it accounts for the fact that a homer is not 4 times more valuable than a single, and gives each event a more appropriate rate.”

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        • Curtis Granderson says:

          Homers aren’t worth four singles? Fuck DAT shit!

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jay says:

          Except OPS doesn’t treat a homer as 4 times as valuable as a single. It treats it as 2.5 times as valuable (all singles: OPS=2.000, all homers: OPS=5.000). I think players might agree with that.

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    • rusty says:

      Yes, and while we’re rescaling wOBA, maybe we can add in some adjustments for league average, ballpark, and position played. Yeah, that’d be a great metric. Maybe we can call it… wRC+?

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  9. J6takish says:

    That can’t be how swisher really talks, can it?

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  10. Handsome Joey says:

    “Just be the chauffeur, driving them home” LOL I’m going to use that term from now on!

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. leeroy says:

    if MLB were WWE, then Nick Swisher = The Miz. He’s awesome.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Youthful Enthusiast says:

    Why is it that driving runs in is SO important, but getting on base and actually scoring them not as important? If there wasn’t anyone on base, there’d be no one to drive in. If we discount the run scored because it took someone else to drive him in, why don’t we discount the RBI because it took someone else to get on base and likely in scoring position?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • RPT says:

      Did you fail to read the article? Not only were runs mentioned multiple times, but OPS was the winning stat. Half of what makes up OPS is ON BASE percentage…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ian R. says:

      You’ll notice that most of the players interviewed mentioned R and RBI with roughly equal weight.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Vince says:

    I’m surprised the Orioles didn’t say record in one run games

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. bada bing says:

    Nick Swisher is the worst.

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Reddickulous says:

    Granderson has TWTW.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Nick says:

    If I was an arb-eligible player, I’d much rather lead the league in HR than WAR. If I’m close to free agency, it’s still probably home runs as long as I’m a reasonably well rounded player.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Jay says:

    I think runs or RBIs are a defensible answer. It certainly doesn’t make you the best offensive player in the league but it indicates that you’re a part of a very dynamic offense. In other words, leading the league in OPS, wOBA or WAR means that you’re a great player. Leading the league in runs or RBIs means you have a very good offensive team. I wonder which single indicator is more likely to correlate to a winning team, a single player who leads in OPS or a single player who leads in runs?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Jack_S says:

    What, no one chose OPSbis?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    Thoughts…

    1) Jason Giambi is apparently very proud that his name appears in Moneyball.

    2) Curtis Granderson is the Antichrist.

    3) Joey Votto is awesome.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Judy says:

    David Laurila is awesome, too.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Brandon Phillips says:

    I’d like to lead the league in tweets.

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. AC says:

    I wonder if you could do this for pitchers? One guy I know swears major league pitchers only care about wins and nothing else.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. David Ortiz says:

    What about walk-off homers?? Ok, no.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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