Monday, August 24, 2009

Joe Mauer Rekindles The Elusive .400 Hitter Debate


It seems like every baseball season, I ask myself the same question--why is it so difficult to hit .400? Why can't anyone just do it once? I'm not asking for it to be done every year or on a regular basis. Just once. Is that too much to ask? I mean, it's been done before, 28 times according to baseball-reference.com. So it's not an impossible task.

All I want is for one guy, just one, to fail 6 out of 10 times for an entire season. In 99% of the jobs out there, we'd all get fired with that percentage of success, but in baseball a 40% success rate would mean $30 million a year--easy. Go figure.

But seriously, it is an interesting question that comes up every time a hitter is even close to the magic number. This season, Minnesota Twins catcher, Joe Mauer (a.) has been getting all the .400 AVG-buzz. Currently, Mauer is at .378, but it's highly unlikely he'll reach the magic .400. Even .378 is an incredible achievement for any hitter, let alone a catcher.

Last night, I did a little numbers crunching and if Mauer plays in all of Minnesota's remaining 38 games he would have approximately 152 at-bats remaining. He would need to get 69 more hits or an average of 1.8 hits per game, in order to finish with a .400 average. It's not inconceivable but highly unlikely. I mean, Mauer is a great hitter, but that's asking for a little too much.

As we all know, the last .400 hitter was the great Ted Williams (b.), who hit .406 in 1941. Since then a few have come close, including Williams himself in 1957. Seven players have had averages of .375 or better since his magical .406 season.

Let's take a quick look at the .375 -plus averages since 1941:

Ted Williams - .406 in 1941
Tony Gwynn - .394 in 1994
George Brett - .390 in 1980
Ted Williams - .388 in 1957
Rod Carew - .388 in 1977
Larry Walker - .379 in 1999
Joe Mauer - .378 in 2009 (current)
Stan Musial - .376 in 1948

As you can see, 7 players, including Mauer, have come close. Think about it, a .375 batting average is 3 and 3/4 of the way to .400. But it's the final 1/4 that is so elusive. Why?

There are hundreds of theories as to why players can't hit .400 anymore. I mean, I've read everything from the scientific standard deviation theory to improvement in pitching and defense to expansion. That's all fine. I get all that. But it doesn't mean that it can't happen once. If one guy hits .400, it's not going to change the standard deviation or make pitchers and defenses any worse.

If 7 guys can hit .375 or better, I would think one of them can conceivably crack the .400 mark.

It's an interesting mystery. When Rod Carew, another Twins' great, batted .388 in 1977, all he needed was 8 more hits and he would've batted .400. Yes, only eight. That year he had 239 hits in 616 at-bats for his .388 average. Had he gotten 247 hits, he would've batted .400.

So I refuse to believe it can't be done. Had 8 measly at-bats gone Carew's way, he would have been the last .400 hitter.

Anyway, this is one of those little tidbits that makes baseball such an interesting game to follow.

And who knows, maybe it'll happen one of these years. I mean, I never thought I would live to see a Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. Low and behold, years after I gave up hope, it finally happened in 2000.

So if a Subway Series can happen-- anything can happen.

Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com

1 comment:

  1. I know it seems easy, but sometimes you can hit the ball right on the button and a fielder is just at the right spot. With team scouting and video tape, unless you adjust your swing from game to game, they are going to have a good idea of where you'll hit it. I personally think for someone to hit .400 it'll have to be someone with a lot of speed, a lot of infield singles. 2 out of 4 at bats you're probably going to hit somewhere in the infield unless you're Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder. I would like to see someone give DiMaggio's 56 record a serious run. But that is probably even more unlikely.

    ReplyDelete