If there is one development in the last couple of years that has drastically improved the casual fan's ability to understand the game, it is the appearance of baseball-reference.com's splits pages. It's especially true of the team and league splits pages, which provide us with endless data on norms, so that when we look at a player's production in various situations, we know how it compares to league or team average.
My favorite stat on those splits pages is sOPS+. OPS you probably know. OPS+ is normalized OPS--that is, 100 is average, better than 100 is better than average, and less than 100 is worse than average. At the moment, Jason Kendall has an OPS+ of 89 while Prince Fielder is at 117. (Last year he was among the league leaders at 156.)
sOPS+ takes that one step farther. The "s" stands for "split," so for any split (say, how a lefty batter does against lefty pitching), sOPS+ tells us how a performance is relative to the average for that split. For instance, Fielder's OPS against lefties is 727--way below average--but it's better than how lefties typically do against southpaw pitchers. So his sOPS+ is above average, at 112.
My favorite application of sOPS+ is seeing how players compare to positional averages. We all know which positions have the most and least offense--you expect a masher to play first or left field, and it's rare to have a middle-of-the-order threat playing middle infield. But those are only general concepts. Do you know how catcher offense compares to shortstop offense? Left field to right field?
So, getting to the point that got me writing today, think about the various production we're getting around the diamond. Braun is mashing the ball, as is Hart; Hardy is hot, Branyan is giving us more from third; Weeks isn't good by any standard at second, while Cameron and Kendall seem rather middling for their positions.
Here's my question for you: At which position are the Brewers getting the best offense, relative to league average for that position? In other words, at which position does the Crew have the highest sOPS+?
(Take a guess, I'll wait.)
(I know, it's a tough one. Don't worry, I'm a patient guy.)
(You haven't guessed yet? Come on.)
(The Jeopardy theme music is about over.)
(Just pick somebody.)
If you said shortstop, you'd be right. Through yesterday's games, it isn't even really close. Brewers shortstops have an sOPS+ of 126. LF is 117, RF is 114, while 1B and CF are 109 and 108, respectively. Here's the whole list.
Those aren't the exact numbers for the starters, since no one has played every single game at their position. But for LF, RF, and 1B, they are pretty close. What's interesting is just how far Hardy is ahead of the pack. His OPS+ is up to 117, tied with Fielder and just behind Braun and Hart. Relative to position, however, his sOPS+ is 135. That ranks him higher than the shortstops of any NL team except for one (Florida). He's certainly not the batsman that Hanley Ramirez is, but his defense may well make up the difference.
We all know that Hardy is white/red/so/extremely hot right now, but sOPS+ puts it in proper perspective. Among non-pitchers, and taking defense into account, it's possible--even likely--that Hardy has been the most valuable player on the Brewers in 2008.
And he's younger than Miguel Tejada, too.