The American League Batting Averages

During the Rays/M’s game, announcer Dewayne Staats noted that Carl Crawford’s .307 batting average was good for seventh best in the American League. Erik Hahmann – my co-writer at DRaysBay – questioned the rank, insinuating it seemed a little on the low-end for a top 10 BA. Sure enough, Staats and the Rays media notes were correct.

22 AL batters (who have qualified) have recorded hits in roughly 30% of their total at-bats; last year 17 hit .300; 20 in 2007; and 20 once more in 2006. How about Erik’s assertion that .307 usually doesn’t land you in the top 10? Here are the cutoff averages – so to speak – of the tenth highest BA in each of those years:

2008 – Nick Markakis .306
2007 – Dustin Pedroia .317
2006 – Reed Johnson: .319

In some ways this is a renaissance of .300 hitters on the Junior Circuit – the Angels are to thank for some of this – however the quality of the best batting averages appears to be slipping a bit. The first reason that pops to mind for deflated batting averages is an increased emphasis across baseball on defense. The A.L. features the Rays, Mariners, and Rangers – three of the best defensive clubs in the game – and if this is the case, shouldn’t it show up in the league’s non-pitcher BABIP rates? Let’s look.

2009 – .305
2008 – .303
2007 – .309
2006 – .307

Nothing there other than simple fluctuation. The only other thing I can think of is a possible increase in strikeouts. Here are those totals:

2009 – 20.4%
2008 – 19.6%
2007 – 19.6%
2006 – 18.5%

Well, there’s certainly something there, albeit not nearly enough to point to an increase in whiffs as the reason for deflated batting averages. Does it play some kind of role in the change? Certainly.

It’ll be interesting to see if the league strikeout rate continues to climb into next season and whether batting averages continue to drop.

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