This week, a reader asked the following:
“I've been noticing all the hitters that are hitting in the .100s this year and it seems like there are a whole lot of them. What got me to thinking about this was Tuesday night I was tuned in briefly to the Cubs/Reds game in Cincinnati and Darwin Barney was hitting .108. I know that it is still somewhat early in the year and as a result numbers can change in a hurry but it still seems to me that there's a whole lot of them so far in 2014. What do you think?”
I was tipped off to an interesting article that ran about 10 days ago at Grantland.com. The author suggests batting averages are indeed trending lower, with three primary reasons suspected.
- Rising strikeout totals
- Increase in defensive shifts
- Analytics-driven personnel decision making
To be honest, I never got into these reasons in depth. I remained stuck on the base assertion that batting averages are lower. Given the incomplete data presented in the article, it is impossible for me to tell.
The author compared the 2014 partial month of April MLB batting average of .248 versus full seasons under .250. That seems apples to oranges. Then he only showed the partial seasons through April 21 that were .242 or under. Why .242?
Why did he not list all years up to and including .248 to put the 2014 results into proper context? I was left wondering exactly how many more partial Aprils were between .242 and this year's .248. My guess is there were so many it would weaken the article’s story line. It would also be nice to see how many more partial Aprils were up to say .252, still very close to this year's .248.
It feels to me like the data was cherry-picked to set up his story.
As a result, I went back to the original question of how many hitters are under the Mendoza Line.
First of all, due to the rebirth of Emilio Bonifacio in Chicago, Barney is now a reserve, so he isn’t getting enough at-bats to rank among the league qualifiers. Among MLB players with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting titles, however, 18 were batting under .200 as April turned to May.
Again, context is really important, so I also checked the first month of the 2013 season. 16 hitters logged sub-Mendoza Line batting averages last April. I have no idea whether 18 versus 16 is significant, but I did notice one interesting thing.
While the 2014 names cover the gamut from “A” to “Z,” Aaron Hicks to Zack Cozart, three stand out because they also made the same list last April. That would seem to make them interesting buy-low candidates.
As a rookie last season, Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks did not get out of the gates well. In fact, the former top prospect’s .113 mark was dead last in the Majors in April 2013. As a result, the fact he added 79 points the rest of the way still did not enable the switch-hitter to reach the Mendoza Line. One small point worth noting is nine stolen bases in 81 games last summer, and three this April. But before you target Hicks, ensure his collision with the outfield wall on a Scott Van Slyke triple Thursday night is not serious.
If you are like me, you are getting weary of hearing Mike Moustakas is nearing a breakout. Though still only 25, Moose is in his fourth season in the bigs. Of perhaps even more consolation than his 38 points of batting average improvement post-April last season is that the Royals’ third baseman is on pace for career bests in home runs and RBI. Still, it would take some guts to acquire a .149 hitter.
But then again, as they say, “no guts, no glory.”
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.