Being around baseball almost my whole life has taken me many places and I have met many people. I have watched a ton of games, watched goodness knows how many swings, and listened to countless “baseball experts” talk baseball and hitting. No matter where I have been in my baseball career, I keep coming back to this one narrative that has always troubled me; I constantly hear this statement or some version of it, “Nobody hits .300 anymore” or “back in my day, everybody hit for average”. Exhibit A:
Epidemic? Is that what is really going on in baseball, especially at the Major League level? While I do agree that players are beginning to value other statistics such as Slugging Percentage and On-Base Percentage now more than ever, the perception is that in previous generations of hitters, hitting .300 was commonplace and players handled the bat better than guys today. Since .300 seems to be the agreed upon “good batting average”, I wanted to dig in and do the research and find out where have all the .300 hitters gone, since apparently there used to be so many of them. Well, I did, and here are the facts.
First, I decided to break the numbers down into 10-year spans. Since most people associate themselves with a certain era or time period of baseball, this can allow anybody to do the numbers and see how many guys were hitting .300 or better during their favorite period. For our simple purpose here, I just started from last year (2017) and worked my way down to the 1940’s. I choose to stop there due to the fact that not all the best players in the country were allowed to play until around this time. Below are two charts. The first one shows the number of .300 hitters through decades while also showing the average from 1940 through 2017. I wanted it to easy to see where the average lies compared to specific decades. In case you are interested in seeing the years broken down individually, the spreadsheet below will illustrate that. You will also see the percentage of .300+ hitters in corresponding columns. This highlights the number of .300+ hitters compared to the total number of hitters in the league that year.
So what does this mean? Well, to me, the data is showing that not many guys ever hit over .300. In fact, only two decades of baseball was the number of .300 hitters higher than the average. Those two decades also just happen to be the steroid era of baseball which is considered to be from 1990 through 2003 and in my opinion has to play a part in the conversation. It definitely doesn’t mean that every hitter who batted over .300 was taking steroids but we do know that PEDs played a major role in the success of a lot of players.
So, did the huge drop from 39.9 to 23.12 between the last two decades come from the extraction of steroids in baseball? Was it the fact the more pitcher’s average velocity has gone up every year? Let’s not forget that every year the average velocity goes up and breaking stuff gets more difficult to recognize, that it only gets harder for hitters. It’s not like pitchers mound distances are changing to make it harder for pitchers. The hitter’s difficulty level is growing exponentially every year with the lowering of reaction time. Something that lots of other generations never had to deal with at this level. There are always multiple variables in this equation so there isn’t ever just one answer but let’s not undermind exactly how hard it is to be just a decent hitter at all levels.
Bottom line, in the almost 80 years of baseball used in this article, there has only been 4 years that saw over 5% of players hit .300 or higher. So let’s drop the “back in my day” narrative, because looking at the numbers, it’s pretty much the same every ten years. And, as a parent, coach, or fan, if you expect your players to be good enough to always hit above .300, then you might be setting yourself up for disappointment because the numbers show that it really doesn’t happen as much as most people think.