While the Houston Astros did fall into second place in the division behind the Rangers yesterday, they are still in a decent spot when it comes to making the playoffs. However, it is hard not to notice that this Houston team is not anywhere near as dominant as Astros teams in years past.
There are a lot of reasons for this including the litany of injuries they have suffered this season, but one major factor has been that the Astros' offense has been seemingly lacking compared to recent seasons. To get a better sense of what we are talking about here, it is first important to understand team OPS and what it means.
What is OPS in baseball?
OPS is among the more misunderstood metrics in baseball and it is actually pretty simple. A player's OPS is simply the sum of his on-base percentage and his slugging percentage (OBP Plus Slugging). On-base percentage is simply the percentage of plate appearances that a player reaches base via hit, walk, or HBP and slugging percentage is the number of total bases a player records per at-bat. Add both of those up and you get a player's OPS.
The idea behind using OPS is to give a more complete picture of a player's offensive performance, but OPS certainly has some issues as a metric. Given that it is just adding two other measurements together, that sort of implies that the measures are of equal weight when it comes to a player's ability to help score runs. However, OBP is almost twice as valuable there. That doesn't mean that OPS is a bad metric per se, but it is important to keep in mind that it does have some limitations.
Why is the Astros' team OPS lower than you would think?
To be honest, the Astros' team OPS is pretty in line with what they have put up since 2020. Over the last four seasons (including 2023), Houston has put up team OPS of .720, .783, .743, and .769 respectively. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at as Houston's team OPS is currently the fifth best mark in all of baseball just as an example.
However, if the question is why isn't Houston's OPS as high as it was in say 2017 or 2019, the answer comes down to their team slugging percentage. While those two seasons also saw high team OBPs of around .350, the biggest difference we see is in the Astros' slugging percentage over the last few seasons. Houston has an average of a .428 team slugging percentage since 2020. Still pretty good, but nothing compared to the .478 mark they posted in 2017 or the historic .495 OPS team posted in 2019.
In short, the Astros have put up bigger OPS numbers in the past, but they are doing just fine especially when you look at their performance against the rest of the league. It would be nice if they hit more extra-base hits, though.