Fantasy Baseball: The Extreme Value of OPS


Ryan Braun is about as valuable as it gets in fantasy baseball.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user

Steve Paluch


Several months ago, I found myself engaged in a conversation on Facebook with one of our readers, Ken McNabb. The conversation eventually turned into a back and forth, where we were comparing ways that we evaluate players.

With pitcher, Ken said that he generally looks for guys with high strikeouts and ERA totals that aren’t terrible, while I focus more on guys who don’t walk many, because they’ll probably have decent WHIP’s, so you can bring in a few extra of them to make up for what one of them may lack in strikeouts.

Then the issue turned to evaluating hitting, where neither one of us could really find a way.

The truth is that with any form of evaluation, it may depend on your league’s settings and nothing will be an absolute 100 percent success rate. But I said that I love the guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark. On more than one occasion, I have expressed my deep affection for mashers, both current and old. But at the end of the season, I looked back at my strategies to see if they worked. Well, going for the home run ball is a little hit or miss.

Sure, you have a Miguel Cabrera, who won a Triple Crown and could well do it again. Other studs like Prince Fielder, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton belt the long ball with great regularity. But in taking a look at the 2012 home run list, something else jumped out at me. Take a look at the batting averages of some of the guys who belted 30 or more homers in 2012.

So, of the 27 guys who hit 30 or more bombs last season, 14 failed to hit .275 and five couldn’t even crack .250. So, if you followed my strategy, you probably had a season like mine. Pretty good overall, very competitive and you had the league’s home run crown locked up by Mid-May, but you spent most of the season scrambling in the other categories.

So, for the sake of Ken and all of our other readers, I decided to look elsewhere. In doing so, I believe I have found a pretty good statistic in OPS. Let’s take a look at the Top-20 from 2012 in that category and how they managed to do in the other fantasy baseball categories.

Miguel Cabrera.999109441394.330
Ryan Braun.9871084111230.319
Mike Trout.963129308349.326
Buster Posey.95778241031.336
Andrew McCutchen.953107319620.327
Edwin Encarnacion.941934211013.280
Prince Fielder.94083301081.313
Josh Hamilton.930103431287.285
Robinson Cano.92910533943.313
Adrian Beltre.92195361021.321
Aramis Ramirez.90192271059.300
Josh Willingham.89085351103.260
David Wright.88391219315.306
Billy Butler.88272291072.313
Aaron Hill.88293268514.302
Carlos Gonzalez.88189228520.303
Matt Holliday.87795271024.295
Allen Craig.8767622922.307
Chase Headley.875953111517.286
Yadier Molina.87465227612.315

With the obvious exception of steals, all of these guys are valuable in pretty much every other category. Even Willingham, the only player to make an appearance on both lists here, hit .260, which is much better than the .204 clip Adam Dunn produced in 2012. By the way, those of you who can remember back to 2011 know that Dunn’s .204 average in 2012 was a 45 point improvement on the previous season.

See, what’s inviting about a home run hitter is that unlike any other category in standard fantasy baseball, a home run makes four out of the five categories instantly better. Of course it’s a home run, but the base hit bumps your average up, while it also produces at least one run and one RBI. The problem is that many home run hitters aren’t all that good at anything else

If you’re looking for a pretty simple way to see how valuable OPS is, take a look at the top four names on that list: Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, Mike Trout, and Buster Posey. Those four are the winners and runners up of their respective league’s MVP races. Heck, even the stolen bases are a little more erratic, but plenty of those guys had decent totals there. Of course Trout was the Major League leader in that category.

Obviously as a fantasy draft and even season progresses, you’re going to start seeing specific needs that need to be filled in. That’s where you bring in a guy like Dunn, or Rajai Davis, who can provide a category or two, but where also you know that you can withstand the hit they’ll bring in other categories.

But going into the draft, I would advise you start your offense around OPS and go from there.

How far back you want to go is up to you, and it probably depends on the player. For example, the .891 OPS that Aubrey Huff produced in 2010 was 18th in the league, but I certainly hope you didn’t draft him 18th in your 2011 fantasy draft. Heck, I hope you didn’t draft him in the 18th round of that draft. With older guys, you may want to see several years of improvement. With young guys, you obviously aren’t going back as far.

But OPS is a good way to bring some overall value to your fantasy team. You can even bring some pesky steals in if you’re lucky. Going down the draft when you’re searching for sleepers to get you some value, I’d find out what they can do in that category. If they do well in OPS, they’ll do well for your fantasy team as well.