Ranking teams by 'OPS factor'
Let's examine a new way to look at team quality -- one that may tells us about the near future.
To state the obvious, wins and losses are the most important measure of team success. This much is self-evidently indisputable. However, cooked into those wins and losses is a good deal of fortune and misfortune. That is, sometimes wins and losses don't capture the true quality of a team. For instance, there's a great deal of evidence that blind luck plays a major role in a team's record in one-run games. That's just one of many considerations, though.
Often, we'll try to correct for these imbalances by looking at a team's run differential (i.e., its runs scored minus runs allowed). By using this we can get an idea of what a team's record should be based on their run-scoring and run-prevention skills. The purpose of using run differential (via "Pythagorean expectation") isn't to criticize the "quality" of wins that have already happened. Rather, it's to provide a glimpse into the future. That is, moving forward teams will tend to play more in line with their "expected" record based on runs scored and allowed rather than their actual record in the standings. In that sense, run-based evaluations constitute an improvement.
That said, there are weaknesses to the method. As other, smarter guys like David Cameron of FanGraphs have pointed out, run differential is prone to "sequencing" flaws. Teams can score or prevent runs based on largely unsustainable trends in terms of hitting with RISP or stranding base-runners on the pitching end. That comprises run-based corrections of win-loss records to an extent. So let's take a whack at correcting that by getting at the performances underlying those runs scored and runs allowed.
To do this, we'll turn to OPS, or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. To be sure, there are better offensive metrics out there, but OPS has the advantage of being a good thumbnail indicator of a team's (or player's) ability to get on base and hit for power -- the two most important things a hitter can do. It's also a stat that's made its way into the baseball mainstream in recent years, so it's not as offputting those prone to being off-put.To evaluate the run-prevention side of things, we'll use a team's OPS allowed. We'll then take the offensive OPS and divide it by the opponents' OPS.
In isolation, OPS needs to be adjusted to reflect ballpark tendencies, but since we're using one team's hitting OPS and pitching OPS allowed, the stat in essence "self-adjusts." After all, both offenses are playing in the same park. The higher the figure, the better the team's ability to produce at the plate while limiting the opposition's production at that very same plate. OPS factors higher than 1.0 mean a team's OPS is higher than its OPS allowed.
All that throat-clearing out of the way, here's where things stand as of Friday ...
1. Athletics: 1.159
2. Rockies: 1.143
3. Marlins: 1.120
4. Tigers: 1.114
5. Angels: 1.086
6. Braves: 1.080
7. Nationals: 1.072
8. Cardinals: 1.068
9. Reds: 1.052
10. Brewers: 1.045
11. Dodgers: 1.039
12. Giants: 1.035
13. Blue Jays: 1.030
14. White Sox: 1.012
15. Red Sox: 1.011
16. Rays: 1.008
17. Yankees: 0.995
18. Indians: 0.991
19. Royals: 0.979
20. Cubs: 0.952
21. Pirates: 0.949
22. Mariners: 0.940
23. Rangers: 0.930
24. Twins: 0.923
25. Orioles: 0.921
26. Diamondbacks: 0.912
27. Padres: 0.887
28. Mets: 0.885
29. Phillies: 0.874
30. Astros: 0.863
No surprise to see the A's, Rockies and Tigers near the top, just as it's hardly shocking to see the Astros at the very bottom.
The surprises, though, are what's instructive. The Angels, despite being one game under .500 and in fourth place, have quietly been one of the best teams in baseball in this very fundamental regard. The Reds also appear to be better than their record suggests. As such, it's reasonable to expect better results in the weeks to come.
On the other end of the continuum, we have the Orioles, who occupy first place in the AL East despite being widely out-thumped by the opposition. Unless those numbers improve, the O's could come hurtling back earth-ward. Similarly, the Mets seem pretty fortunate to be "just" one game below .500.
Again, none of this is to say the Orioles, for instance, haven't earned their spot in the standings (although I'd never want to deprive anyone of their sense of persecution, so interpret it how you like). Rather, it's to say some "market corrections" in those standings might be in the offing for at least a few teams, varying strength of schedules notwithstanding.
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