Are You For Real? Kotchman, Hawpe, Young
"OPS was the simple addition of on-base and slugging percentages. Crude as it was, it was a much better indicator than any other offensive statistic of the number of runs a team would score.
--Michael Lewis, "Moneyball"
First popularized in the 1980s by baseball thinkers such as Bill James, John Thorn and Pete Palmer, OPS was formerly the territory of a small group of researchers known as sabermetricians. Now, thanks to Michael Lewis' best-seller "Moneyball", along with analysts with wider audiences such as Peter Gammons and Rob Neyer, OPS has entered the mainstream.
The statistic certainly has its flaws, such as weighting a player's on-base percentage and slugging percentage equally when in fact each additional point of on-base percentage is more valuable in terms of creating runs for the player's team. Nor is OPS by any means the holy grail of predictive analysis; it only scratches the surface. Researchers have continued to pour millions of hours into divining the true relationship between OBP and SLG, contextualizing OPS for different parks and eras and creating more complex formulas that more accurately assess -- and predict -- performance in more traditional statistical categories such as batting average and home runs.
However, while merely adding on-base percentage and slugging percentage together to create one simple measure of a hitter's worth is indeed oversimplification of what can be a complex process, the resulting figure is still very useful.
Although used as an actual category in only a small percentage of leagues, OPS is used widely by fantasy owners to track and predict players' overall performance patterns. An OPS of .900 puts a hitter in the upper echelon of offensive producers, and, as with most statistics at this point in the season, the OPS leaderboard reveals some surprises. This week, Are You For Real examines some of those unanticipated offensive outbursts and determines whether they are ephemeral or sustainable.
This is Kotchman's fourth year in the majors, but he had managed only 321 at-bats before 2007. Now he's raking to the tune of a .333 average, eight home runs, 16 doubles and 24 walks against only 16 strikeouts. His OPS stands at .967, ninth-best in the majors. All this production is from a guy who went undrafted in the vast majority of mixed leagues and still is owned in only a quarter of ESPN leagues. Can he keep it up?
Will: For Real. Don't forget what a great prospect this guy was before the mononucleosis that cost him most of the 2006 season. He's a career .325 hitter in the minors and walked more than he struck out. He's always had trouble staying healthy, but the only part of his performance that's not fully supported by his minor league track record is the eight home runs; Kotchman hit only 34 home runs in more than 1,200 minor league at-bats. However, when he was drafted in 2001, scouts believed he eventually would develop above-average power thanks to his natural strength and superior bat speed. His power has shown gradual signs of improvement throughout his career, culminating with his seven home runs in only 126 at-bats in 2005. Think of Kotchman as a great hitter continuing to develop serious power, not a great hitter lucky enough to hit a handful more first-half homers than he should.
Adam: Unreal. The problem with Kotchman is that he's at a position where power is mandatory. No one wants Sean Casey incarnate; 40 home runs and a .260 average is more appealing than a .310 average and 20 home runs. At no level in the minor leagues -- and remember, the Angels' system is full of severe hitters' parks -- has Kotchman shown a semblance of home run power. Kotchman has hit .379 in 124 at-bats since May, yet has netted only six home runs. For a full season, that results in about 26 home runs, and that's assuming Kotchman hit .379 for a season. Some players just never develop more than doubles power.
Despite an OPS that ranks 22nd in the majors, Hawpe is still unowned in almost a fifth of ESPN leagues. Are his substantial gains legitimate?
Will: For Real. Hawpe marked himself as a developing player when he hit .293/.383./515 with 22 home runs last year. The key to his continued success is his rising fly-ball rate, which means some of the 33 doubles he smacked last year are going over the wall now. Hawpe's career minor league line of .306/.392/.560 supports the skills he's displaying. He's just entering his prime at 27 and should become a .300-30-100 force in the middle of the lineup for years to come.
Adam: For Real. Hawpe is a bit of a late bloomer, which is a negative in terms of upside because he can't regain the missed developmental time. But who he is right now is a plus second outfielder with solid, but not great, power. I am not as high on him as Will is. Hawpe's inability to hit lefties hurts, and 30 home runs is more of his best-case scenario than his fallback. But with Matt Holliday, Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins hitting in front of him, he's in a good position to succeed.
Young has been one of the surprises of the season, hitting .335/.391/.506, the 32nd-highest OPS in baseball. Just a hot start, or is his career back on track?
Will: For Real. Last year was a lost season for Young, thanks to injuries and off-field issues, but his strong second half was a signal that he wasn't done. Young posted some fine seasons with Cincinnati and Detroit, and his performance this year isn't that far out of line with skills he has displayed in the past. He's still only 33, and he should be able to come close to the .290-20-80 line he has exhibited in the past for a few more years. Young's biggest problem is playing time. Defensively, he's not suited for the outfield anymore, and when Nick Johnson returns, Young will need a trade to play regularly. Fortunately for him, Johnson is a slow healer and could still be a month or two from returning. If Young continues to find playing time, expect him to keep producing.
Adam: Unreal. I am not sure what's more amazing: the fact that Young is hitting .392 since May or the fact that he has only four home runs in that same time frame. Considering that Young has hit only .278 since 2002, there is no reason to believe he can sustain this. Even though Young has performed better at home, his home park is still one of the majors' most severe pitchers' parks, and even if it doesn't suppress his own stats, the production of his teammates -- the Nationals have the worst home OPS in the majors -- is damaged. The second Young slows down even a little bit is the moment most of his value collapses.
Will Harris and Adam Madison are fantasy baseball analysts for TalentedMrRoto.com. Will can be contacted at WillHarris@TalentedMrRoto.com and Adam at Adam@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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