Yesterday on RAB Joe Pawlikowski wrote a post asking if Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher were of equal offensive value because prior to Tuesday’s game they both had an OPS of .779. The post is excellent, and worth reading in its own right, but to summarize here the answer is that Swisher is the better offensive player because of his power. It is just a coincidence that Gardner’s and Swisher’s lines had aligned to that point in the season.
To dig into the numbers, Joe also pointed out that Nick and Brett had produced similar wOBA’s to that point in the season. Swisher had hit to a .345 wOBA entering Tuesday’s game, while Gardner had hit to a .344 wOBA. This too, however, was more of a coincidence as well. At a certain point Swisher’s power should allow him to produce a higher wOBA and OPS than Gardner, but both are valuable players who produce offense in different ways.
To help illustrate this point, Pawlikowski referenced an article on fangraphs that Matt Klaassen wrote. In the article Klaassen asked whether or not AVG/OBP/SLG are still valuable now that wOBA and similar stats have become so popular. Klaassen correctly argues that the slash line remains valuable, because it serves a different purpose than wOBA. wOBA is valuable because it tells an analyst which player produces offense at a better rate, while the slash stats are valuable because they explain how a given players produces that offense, for example through getting on base or through hitting for power. Neither stat (or stat line) alone tells the full story.
Both Klaassen and Pawlikowski were spot on in their analyses. My purpose here is to add an element that reinforces why it is smart to provide both a player’s slash line and his wOBA when describing performance. wOBA on Fangraphs is calculated as follows, according to the Fangraphs stat calculator:
Where the less well known acronyms NIBB and RBOE stand for non-intentional walk and reached base on error, respectively.
The equation holds the secret to why the slash line still has considerable value when describing a player, compared to wOBA alone. Simply put, the bulk of wOBA’s mathematical components are also components in each of the slash stats. There is almost nothing in wOBA, for example, that is not in one of the individual slash stats. As a result, when the slash stats are presented together, but not blended, mathematically you have a series of numbers that explain almost precisely what wOBA does, by design.
The difference between the two, of course, is that wOBA is weighted. It assigns a logical value to each of the events that occurs during an at-bat. The slash line doesn’t do this, but it doesn’t need to. OBP describes one aspect of a player’s game, while SLG describes another. (Of the three, AVG is the least important.) Left separately, these two statistics tell us a lot about how a player produces offensively. While they may not reduce to a single number, as elegantly as wOBA does, they actually give someone evaluating an entire lineup more to work with because they work to explain where a high (or low) wOBA comes from. These two methods of evaluation will virtually always point in the same direction because they are different ways of presenting almost the exact same numbers.
The statistic that actually obscures value is OPS. That’s because OPS purports to do what wOBA does, but applies no intelligence to how it weighs a hit. Doubles count twice as much as singles, while SLG is equal to OBP. This is wrong. For example, a player with a .300 OBP and a .500 SLG is a productive hitter, but is not as valuable as a player with a .400 OBP and a .400 SLG, even though they both have an .800 OPS. The player with the higher OBP is more valuable. OPS may be fun because it rounds to nice, easy to understand numbers, but it is incorrect to add OBP and SLG to create a stat to draw comparisons across players. The best way to do that is to use both wOBA and the slash line.
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