OPS by Position and Decade

The following table shows how each position, as a whole, hit in each decade from the years 1954-2008 (those available on Retrosheet). Two numbers are given for each position in each decade: OPS, in italics, and OPS+, in bold. This shows both how offensive production went up or down at each position as the overall level of production changed (OPS) and how each position has moved up or down relative to the league as a whole (OPS+). The numbers 1-9 are the standard numbers assigned to defensive positions, 10 is the DH (only available from 1973 onward), and 11 is pinch hitters.

OPS/OPS+ by Position

1 .421 14 .369 4 .380 7 .360 0 .362 -3 .362 -5
2 .716 92 .674 89 .689 93 .683 89 .715 89 .721 87
3 .791 111 .771 116 .774 116 .777 115 .823 117 .835 116
4 .692 86 .652 84 .666 87 .686 91 .723 92 .744 93
5 .746 100 .715 101 .726 103 .734 103 .757 100 .775 101
6 .684 84 .650 83 .622 75 .653 81 .694 85 .727 89
7 .803 115 .763 114 .763 113 .758 110 .781 107 .813 110
8 .784 110 .737 107 .734 105 .729 102 .755 100 .764 98
9 .783 109 .773 116 .761 112 .762 110 .797 110 .811 110
- - -
.725 102 .746 106 .789 109 .793 105
11 .638 72 .602 70 .632 78 .644 79 .652 74 .660 72

This is just intended as a reference point, but there are a few interesting things to note.

-The DH is not really that close to being the strongest hitting position. First base and both corner outfield spots hit better as groups than DH. The DH position's peak in this sample, relative to the rest of the league, was in the 90s. It might seem as though the AL has adapted to utilize the DH to develop pure power hitters who need do nothing else and that the position is more potent than in the earlier years when teams were just sticking an extra bat off the bench or resting a regular there, but DH production this decade is about the same as it was in the 70s and 80s.

-Middle infield positions become a little less light-hitting. Second base steadily rose up into the low 90s in OPS+ over the decades. Shortstop lagged a little behind, getting considerably worse in the 70s and then making jumps in each subsequent decade to get back to its old position just behind second base. This reflects changes in positional adjustments that statisticians have noted: these positions have come a few runs closer to the field in recent decades (i.e. shortstop being +7 adjustment instead of +10).

-Catcher, despite being the furthest right on the defensive spectrum, having the highest positional adjustment, and having a reputation as a position where teams settle for players who are obviously not ML-quality hitters, has not been the weakest hitting position in decades past. It wasn't until the upward surge of hitting talent in the middle infield positions that catcher has been weaker than them. The worst hitters may or may not be catchers, but there is probably a skew upward from the handful of really good hitting catchers. Since the position is not limited by requirements for quickness and agility like second and short, you can still have big, powerful hitters who drive the overall average up. I don't know if that is why catcher was ahead of those positions in the past or not, but it seems a reasonable possibility.

-Both corner outfield spots usually hit at about the same level even though most people consider left field the more offensive position.

-Pinch hitters are always bad, worse than having any typical starter at the plate, even at a weak position. Fans should probably stop looking at their teams PH stats with the league average in mind as a baseline. It's not good for your health. So if you happen to notice that your team seems to suck at pinch hitting, and you look up the stats and see that they do, don't worry about it. Everyone does.

Feel free to glean whatever else of interest you can out of this chart. Otherwise, I think it's just a useful reference for comparing positions and mapping their changes over time.


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