Sabermetrics runs organizations, strategy, and in-game decisions in baseball today. One of the most basic statistics that casual fans know about is the batting average. While the batting average stat is easy to understand, is it the best way to measure a hitter’s performance? Find out what the formula is, what a good batting average is, and the flaws in the concept below.
What Does Batting Average Mean?
A hitter’s batting average means what percentage they get a hit to get on base per every at-bat they take. The batting average is a straightforward baseball statistic that most fans and baseball players understand. However, there are flaws to the batting average stat, which I will highlight further down below.
How Do you Calculate a Batting Average?
Batting Average = Number of HIts / Number of Plate Appearances (excluding sacrifice hits and or walks)
For example, let’s pretend that a baseball player had a total of 225 at-bats during the regular season. Out of that 225 at-bats that did not include a walk or hit by pitch, they recorded 48 hits. That player’s batting average would be .213 for the season with those metrics.
What is a Good Batting Average?
A good hitter’s batting average in the MLB typically is over .300. However, baseball teams in the present day don’t value batting average as much anymore. Some new stats that teams value more include baseball OPS and baseball WAR. For example, baseball teams on average have a .252 batting average in 2019, according to baseball-reference. When you compare that to 1999, baseball teams had a .271 batting average.
There are many reasons why the batting average for teams is decreasing. The most common causes include launch angle analysis, OPS, baseball WAR, individual contracts, and the value of a home run against a strikeout. Generally speaking, teams want run-scoring opportunities over reaching base via a single and or walk.
When was the Last Time Someone Had a .400 Batting Average?
The last time a batter had over a .400 batting was in 1941 with Ted Williams. Ted Williams was a baseball player on the Boston Red Sox and hit .406 that season. Remarkably, Ted Williams ended his career as a nineteen-time All-Star, two-time winner of the MVP award, and finished with a .344 batting average for their career. Interestingly enough, Ted Williams never won a batting title but came close to that achievement in many instances.
Who Has the Highest Batting Average in Major League Baseball History?
Below is the list of highest batting averages according to MLB.com in MLB history.
- Ty Cobb: .367
- Rogers Hornsby: .358
- Ed Delahanty: .346
- Tris Speaker: .345
- Ted Williams: .344
What is the Highest Minor League Baseball Average of All-Time?
Gary Redus had a .462 batting average in a season with the Billings Mustangs in 1978. After hitting well above .400, Gary Redus had a thirteen-year career in the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Texas Rangers. His career batting average during those thirteen years came out to .252. As you can see, the over 400 batting average in the minors doesn’t translate 100% to the majors. The pitching in the Major Leagues is better than the minors, so it’s difficult to hit .400 in the MLB.
Is Batting Average a Misleading Stat?
Batting average in baseball is a misleading stat for numerous reasons. First, the batting average does not take into account walking and or getting hit-by-pitches. Getting on base via a single or walk should count as a successful at-bat, which the batting average does not factor. That means players who see many pitches and can get on base via a walk don’t receive a credit via their batting average. OBP (on-base percentage) helps close that gap that the batting average left out, however.
The second misleading measurement of batting average pertains to counting extra-base hits as the same as a single. The current batting average formula calculates a single and a home run as the same in value via a successful hit. However, a home run hitter (or a double/triple) is more valuable than a hitter who only gets weak singles in the infield or outfield. At the surface level, they are hits, but the value in a double is more than a single since you move into scoring position for your team.
Third, the batting average doesn’t include RBI’s (runs batted in) into the equation. For example, let’s pretend you have two hitters on your team with three hundred at-bats. Player A has a .270 average, while player B has a .230 average. On the surface, the .270 batting average looks like a better hitter on the team. However, the .270 hitter only heats weak ground balls and only drove in thirty runs that season. Unlike the .270 hitter, the .230 hitter hit many home runs and drove in one hundred RBI’s for the season. A quick look at the batting average might incorrectly tell you that player A is a better hitter than B, which would not be the case.
Finally, the batting average does not factor in a sacrifice fly and sacrifice bunt into the average batting equation. For example, a hitter who flys out in the outfield to score a run won’t get credit via their batting average. Even though they helped score a run, it won’t show up in the average batting department. Also, a fielder’s choice counts negatively via your batting average, which doesn’t make sense in the grand scheme of things since you did something productive by moving a baserunner over.
In summary, the batting average is an easy calculation for baseball fans to understand. However, the batting average stat leaves out many aspects of the game. Some examples include total bases, SLG (slugging), OPS, baseball WAR, and more. Since there are gaps in the average batting formula, most teams and players tend to overlook the batting average stat today.