This Year's National League Batting Champion Could Be Historically Bad
After his 3-for-5 performance against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, Phillies center fielder Ben Revere increased his NL-leading batting average to .314. For the moment, that is good enough to lead all qualified National League hitters, better than Colorado first baseman Justin Morneau's .312 and Pittsburgh third baseman Josh Harrison's .310.
If you're less-than-impressed by those numbers, you're not wrong.
The National League batting race is not producing eye-popping numbers this year and the top contenders are not exactly considered among the best pure hitters in the game. It's one of the reasons that the batting average statistic, long considered the go-to stat for ranking hitters, is losing a lot of its influence. It has been replaced by on-base percentage (OBP), weighted on-base average (wOBA), OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and weighted runs created (wRC+) as a more reliable metric for evaluating offensive performance.
The reason for that is batting average only tells a part of the story. In most cases, a single is as good as a walk, yet batting average doesn't count walks. Also, a player who has a .300 batting average but only a .315 on-base percentage makes more outs than a .285 hitter with a .340 on-base percentage, given the same number of plate appearances. And the name of the game in baseball is to not make outs, which is why OBP is considered a better measure of a batter's individual performance than batting average.
But while batting crowns no longer hold the sway they once did, it is still a feat to lead the league in batting average. Here are the top three contenders, with some other stats to help give you a better picture of their overall effectiveness.
These two tables show the man in third place, Harrison, is actually the most valuable of the three players. His nERD of 1.99 means a lineup full of Josh Harrisons would score 1.99 runs a game more than a lineup full of league average players. His fWAR of 4.2 is also much higher than that of Revere or Morneau, aided greatly by his defense. And his wRC+ of 139 means Harrison has created 39% more runs than a league average player, the best out of the three.
Ironically, the player who is having the least productive season out of the three is the one currently leading the batting race, Revere. His on-base percentage is the lowest, as is his slugging percentage and wOBA. And his nERD and wRC+ indicate he's actually been a below-league average performer when it comes to creating runs. However, he has done a terrific job stealing bases, with 42 so far this year. If he can tally eight more stolen bases and keep his batting average at .300 or better, he'll become the first Phillies hitter to hit .300 and steal 50 or more bases since Ed Delahanty in 1898.
Morneau is a former MVP and is having a very nice bounce-back season for Colorado. However, he's playing in Colorado, with its huge outfield gaps and thin air. It's not surprising to see a Rockie near the top of the list, considering Michael Cuddyer won the batting title with the Rockies last year, when he hit .331. Since the Rockies joined the league as an expansion team in 1993, they have won eight of the last 21 batting crowns, accounting for 38%, including four straight from 1998 to 2001.
But whoever wins the batting title, barring an extreme month of red-hot hitting, the finishing total will likely be among the worst in MLB history.
|Snuffy Sirnweiss||New York-AL||1945||.309|
|Tony Gwynn||San Diego-NL||1988||.313|
The lowest batting average to ever win the batting crown belongs to Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, who hit .301 in 1968. That is unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon. However, the lowest batting average ever by a National League batting champion is Tony Gwynn's .313 in 1988. Certainly Revere, Morneau and Harrison are all within that same range and could finish as the worst NL batting champion in league history.
Still, batting champions are cool. The Phillies have not had a player lead the league in average since Richie Ashburn in 1958 (.350) and Pittsburgh's last was by Freddy Sanchez in 2006 (.344). And don't sleep on San Francisco's Buster Posey (.305), Aramis Ramirez (.303) or Andrew McCutchen (.303) to make a late charge, although health will be key for all three players.
Batting crowns are no longer the way we determine the greatness of a hitter. But it's still a cool accomplishment, even if the number is among the lowest ever recorded in baseball history.