According to the baseball-almanac, the median batting average in the league was 249 in 2021. Since 2000, the median batter average continues decreasing as teams value home runs over singles. Even though the median batting average for a hitter falls in Major League Baseball year over year, there is a dreaded baseball term that nobody wants to hear as a batter. That phrase that no-hitter wants to hear is that they are below the Mendoza line. So what exactly does the Mendoza line mean? Find out more in this blog post!
What is the Mendoza Line?
The Mendoza line is an expression that represents shortstop Mario Mendoza’s batting average, which was just a bit over .200 as a Major Leaguer. The Mendoza line means that the hitter is batting near the .200 mark. While Mario Mendoza had a career average a bit over the .200 mark, his consistent batting average around .200 is why the “line around batting 200” became synonymous with his name.
Who Was Mario Mendoza?
Mario Mendoza was a baseball player from 1974 to 1982 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers. During his time as a baseball player, Mendoza batted below .200 five seasons during his career, which led him to a career .215 average. His best season took place in 1980 when he batted .245, roughly what the median batting average is in 2021.
One interesting thing about Mario Mendoza is that he is in the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame for his contribution to the game. While a below-average hitting infielder, Mendoza had a great skill set as a coach of the game. Mario was a manager for a few minor league clubs in both the United States and Mexico.
During his time as a player, teammates began joking about Mendoza’s hitting since he was constantly hovering around a .200 average. The clubhouse joke was to give a name on where Mendoza was hitting, so the phrase began. First baseman Tom Paciorek and second baseman Bruce Bochte (teammates of Mendoza) would joke about the “Mendoza Line” and even would tell George Brett (teammate) that he was hovering around the Mendoza line with his slow start at the plate.
How did the Phrase Move from a Clubhouse Joke to the Mainstream?
Just like all jokes within a small circle, the joke grew to more people through conversations. During an interview with ESPN Chris Berman, George Brett mentioned the “Mendoza Line” saying. That phrase was perfect and easy for audiences to understand when describing a lousy hitter, so the expression grew in recognition and popularity in the mainstream.
Why is the Mendoza Line an Important Benchmark?
Baseball has many stats to represent how good a player is. Some stats like Baseball WAR are complicated formulas to remember, but a batting average is reasonably simple to understand. Your batting average takes your hits and divides them into your plate appearances. Anything less than a .200 batting average represents a hitter who should not be playing in the MLB.
Most MLB hitters who are hitting below the Mendoza Line go back to the minor leagues. One thing to remember is that pitchers are exempt from the Mendoza line conversation because their role is to pitch, not hit. Another exemption of hitting below the Mendoza Line is if the hitter does not have enough plate appearances to call their projected performance.
For example, you wouldn’t call down a player who only has one hit in six at-bats because that sample size is too small. One hit out of six at-bats would be a .166 batting average, so that is below the Mendoza Line. However, if the batter continues to hover around.200 after more at-bats, teams can make a sound judgment call if they should be in the Majors.
What is a Good Batting Average?
According to Baseball-Almanac, the median batting average in 2018 was .249. While that is the average, a good batting average in today’s game is close to .300. Anything above .300 is an excellent batting average via today’s standards. As a reference point, Ted Williams was the last batter to hit over .400, which took place in 1941.
Nevertheless, fans need to understand that the batting average is losing its importance due to more appropriate stats. For example, a batting average treats a home run and a single as the same. That means that a homerun hitter batting .260 and a singles hitter also batting .260 will look the same on paper, but one-hitter is more productive at the plate.
By factoring in stats like OPS and WAR, teams value run-producing at-bats more than simply getting a single to raise their batting average. Also, teams are looking at a launch angle for players, so they ask players with home run power to swing for a home run instead of general contact. Fans can disagree if they think this is a good approach, but that is why a batting average does not tell a complete story on the quality of a hitter.
Conclusion on the Mendoza Line
The phrase “Mendoza Line” represents the career batting average of Mario Mendoza as a .200 hitter. Even though his career average was over .200, he would struggle through most of his career batting over .200. That phrase grew in popularity with the help of ESPN and now is part of the discussion when describing bad hitters.
In today’s age, Mario Mendoza would not be playing in the MLB. While he was a decent position player with average defensive abilities, hitting is the primary focus for teams today. Even with a terrible batting average, Mario had other unfavorable stats that teams would notice. Mario posted a career -2.7 WAR, which meant that an average player would bring in about three more wins during their career than what he did due to his hitting.