To borrow a quote from a movie, “growing up we all wanted to know who the strongest kid on the block was.” Well, I have always been interested in trying to discover who the strongest baseball kid on the block was.
During my amateur baseball years, I remember a young man on my team named Blake. Blake was the youth league definition of pure power. The guy could swing the bat with absolute authority, and while his baseball skills were not exactly polished, he was without a doubt a masher. High flying home runs followed by extraordinarily slow trots around the base path was his M.O. and it held a certain intimidation factor over other teams.
Power bats have always been held in high regard in baseball. Who among us did not grow up hearing the stories of Babe Ruth, “The Sultan of Swat?” In Major League Baseball, the teams with the biggest stick always seem to be able to have successful seasons and deep playoff runs.
So who carried the biggest stick in the MLB this year?
In my opinion, the simplest way to break it down is with a stat labeled OPS. Quite simply it is a team or player’s on-base + slugging percentage. This is the best way to measure the number of power bats in your system and to categorize how they stack up against the 29 other clubs in the league.
Many Ranger fans want the front office to make an offer to Prince Fielder, the best free agent bat in on the market today. When looking at how the numbers match up against Mitch Moreland, the current Rangers first baseman, it isn’t even close. Fielder has a career slash of .282/.390/.540. Those numbers represent batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage. Comparatively, Moreland has a career slash of .258/.331/.427.
The OPS stat is calculated by combining the last two numbers in that slash: on-base percentage and slugging percentage. These numbers give us the most accurate example of how often the batter can reach base and how many bases he can reach on a single swing. In simple terms, it defines who has the biggest stick.
So if we are comparing the OPS of the two first basemen the Texas Rangers might be looking at in the future, it seems obvious that Prince Fielder has the better line and has it by a mile. However, a much different number must also be put into perspective.
This statistic means average annual value. In simplest terms, it defines how much a player is truly worth financially every year. With the contract that would be necessary to sign Fielder (8 yrs /172 million has been reported) how much value could this one-strike-away Rangers team truly get back in a deal for him?
This story changes in about a thousand different ways if the team is desperate for a power bat, one that could offer protection for Josh Hamilton, or just make a difference late in a close game. This team; however, was ranked second in the entire league in OPS last season, sitting at exactly .800. Only the Boston Red Sox, who compiled a .810 did better.
This tells us two things, the first being that OPS is not a tell-all-end-all stat (the Red Sox did not even make the postseason). The second is that once you do get into the postseason, power bats can do nothing but help you (look at Nelson Cruz in the ALCS).
How does all of this boil down in the hot stove of the offseason? What does it mean to the Rangers?
In its most simple terms, the Rangers don’t NEED to spend the money it would take to bring Prince Fielder to Arlington. This is a team that bats its first baseman in the seven hole with regularity. Mitch Moreland hit a 472 ft home run against the Astros at home this season; his total power has never been in question. Batting your first baseman so low is unorthodox of course, but match the numbers up against the first six guys in the line up and you see where Ron Washington is coming from.
What are you willing to do to bring Fielder here? Would you be comfortable bringing in a guy whose father played the same game and broke down at age 32? Would you be willing to sacrifice the defense that Moreland brings just to add a bat to an offense that is already potent enough to win a World Series? Are you willing to hamstring a club to hopefully win now, and be lost in 2016?