For decades, Batting Average has been hailed as the king of the stats for sportswriters and fans alike. That stops now!
When announcers and analysts speak of a player – any player – many will refer to his batting avarege as an indicator of his performance. Visit MLB, SI, or any of the most visited baseball sites that feature player stats, and hitters will more than likely will be sorted by their batting average.
Created in 1887 to measure the success of a hitter, we have to ask ourselves one question: does batting average really tell me how successful a hitter actually is?
Imagine you’re sitting on a couch watching a game. Player X comes up to bat. You have no idea who he is, all you know is that he is hitting .250. Nothing else.
How would you evaluate Player X?
In 2018, the league average in batting average is .246. Yes, you read that correctly, .246. That makes Player X an above average hitter in MLB by many people’s standards.
Ask anybody to answer the same question I just posed before – do you consider a player who’s hitting .250 to be a successful hitter? – and you’ll be flooded with follow ups.
How many home runs does he have?
Is he a Catcher?
Is he an everyday player?
That’s the problem with batting average. All it tells you is how often a player gets a hit over the number of official at bats. It ignores how often a player walks and, as future guest of our podcast Dr. Jim Albert stated in his paper A Batting Average: Does it Assume Ability or Luck, “(it) implicitly assumes that every base hit has the same value.”
Let’s play a quick game. Below is a table of five anonymous players. If these were actual stats for a given year, which of the five hitters is the MVP?
Now, we can all agree that the object of the game is to score runs. In order to score runs, teams need runners on base. The closer to home a hitter gets, the greater the chance that he will score a run. In short, RUNS = WINS.
By this logic, more often than not, the player with the most Total Bases (TB), a stat that assigns a value to hits (singles = 1, doubles = 2, triples = 3, and homers = 4), should score more runs. You can also safely assume that the player with the highest On-Base + Slugging Percentage (OPS), a stat that combines the total amount of times a player reaches a base with their power, can also closely determine who scores more runs.
The table above shows five players that received votes for MVP in 2001. The winner, as you might have guessed by now, was Player S, Ichiro Suzuki.
Is that who you think deserved the award?
We see by just comparing these five hitters that batting average tells us very little. Sure, Ichiro has the highest batting average, he also has the least number of TB. Alex Rodriguez lead the group in TB and – will you look at that – he also scored the most runs. By the way, Arod scored 6 more runs and had 77 more TB than Ichiro in six fewer at bats. More opportunities for runs to be scored.
Doesn’t that say something about the way we value BA?
This isn’t the first time in history that an award such as MVP has been decided by batting average. It won’t be the last time either, but I hope that moving forward, if you’re a fan of baseball, you start the process of killing batting average. Remove it from your life.
I promise you won’t miss it.