Commentary

Unproductive .300 hitters

A high batting average isn't nearly as valuable as many people think it is

Updated: April 21, 2011, 2:29 PM ET
By Ben Lindbergh | Baseball Prospectus
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireJamey Carroll is giving the Dodgers lots of singles, and not much else.

A shiny batting average can forgive a lot of failings on the baseball field. As Crash Davis memorably observed in "Bull Durham," one extra flare a week can mean the difference between .250 and .300, which in turn can mean the difference between the bushes and the bigs. However, even a .300 average isn't always conclusive proof of productivity. Dramatic swings in scoring throughout baseball history have made the rarity of a .300 average vary wildly: in 1930, batters tore up the league at a .296 clip, making .300 averages commonplace, while in 1968, they managed only a collective .237 mark, allowing Carl Yastrzemski to lead the AL with a measly .301.

Ted Williams once noted, "Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of 10 and be considered a good performer." Thanks to the cult of the .300 average, Williams was right about the reputation aspect, but he of all people should have known that the best hitters succeed far more often than that -- Williams himself succeeded in not making an out nearly half the time, retiring with a .482 on-base percentage. In order to be productive, a batter can't content himself with hitting for a high average; he must also hit for power and regularly reach base by other means.

This early in the season, the majors are littered with .300 hitters doing relatively little to help their teams at the plate. That kind of superficial success can lull a team into a false sense of security. Not only are those averages unlikely to remain inflated -- only 23 qualifying batters ended last season above .300 -- but many of these players don't provide the offensive value that their averages might suggest.


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Ben Lindbergh

Baseball Prospectus
Ben Lindbergh is the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. He has interned for multiple MLB teams and is a member of the BBWAA.