The classic. For decades, batting average was the main metric used to identify good hitters. It’s simple, and it accurately tells the story of on-field results.
New-age baseball thinkers have grown wary of using batting average, though. While it does tell a story of what happened on the field, the new approach to analyzing hitters is to take the results out of it.
Batting average rewards a player for blooping in a base hit and penalizes him for lining out at 100 MPH. This doesn’t seem right.
A batter should get credit for smashing line drives, even if they result in outs, as this will produce positive results in the long run. Likewise, it really shouldn’t be considered a great day if the hitter goes 3–4 with 3 bloop singles. This is an unsustainable approach to hitting, and this hitter will be hurting his team in the long run if he continues to make weak contact.
There is still a place for batting average in the game, though. We reward the batting title to the hitter with the highest average in each league, and there is something to be said for guys like Luis Arraez who don’t make the hardest contact but are extremely adept at finding holes and “hitting it where they ain’t.”
Team with the Highest Batting Average: Tampa Bay Rays (.278)
The Rays are 26-6. That didn’t happen by accident. These boys have been hitting. Yandy Diaz, Harold Ramirez, Randy Arozarena, and Josh Lowe are all hitting above .300 on the year. Wander Franco is hitting .298 and Taylor Walls .290.
Team with the Lowest Batting Average: Seattle Mariners (.218)
No one on this Mariners team is getting hits to fall right now. Their main man – Julio Rodriguez – is batting .223 on the year after hitting .284 last season. Former All Star Ty France is hitting just .235 this year after hitting .274 and .291 respectively in his last 2 seasons. Only Jarred Kelenic (.304 average, 7 HR) is pulling his weight in this lineup.
BABIP stands for “batting average on balls in play” and is a necessary accompaniment to any hitter’s batting average.
The range of batting averages between a strong hitter and a weak hitter is enormous. The range between a good hitter’s BABIP and a poor hitter’s BABIP is going to be very small, however. League average BABIP is around .300, and everyone is going to fall somewhere near that line given a large enough sample size.
BABIP removes strikeouts, walks, and home runs from the equation as these are not balls “in play.” Strikeouts, walks, and home runs are what separate the good hitters from the poor, not whether those balls in play find holes.
Good hitters will get robbed by diving catches at the same rate as poor hitters. Likewise, good hitters will find some green on a little blooper over the first baseman at the same rate as poor hitters.
If the hitter has a crazy-high BABIP, that is a red flag that he is getting very lucky at the plate by finding an inordinate amount of holes in the field. We should not expect this hitter to maintain his batting average.
Conversely, a hitter with an extremely low BABIP is getting very unlucky at the plate and is likely hitting into a lot of hard outs. Even if the hitter is not particularly skilled, we can expect his BABIP to rise back up to the league average because that’s what BABIPs do.
Team with the Highest BABIP: Philadelphia Phillies (.331)
The Phillies’ offense has been solid in the early going of this season – ranking 18th in runs scored per game. Beware of regression, though. An elevated BABIP means the Phils are getting lucky at the plate. Don’t expect the hits to continue falling forever.
Team with the Lowest BABIP: New York Yankees (.266)
Fans in the Bronx love to overreact. The Yankees are in last place, sure, but they still have a .500 record and a positive run differential. They’ve dealt with plenty of injuries, and have the lowest BABIP in the league – a sign they’re also dealing with rotten luck.
All things considered, the Yankees are navigating this season admirably and are in excellent shape to make a run once they get back to full strength. One peek at the MLB futures odds tells you everything you need to know. The oddsmakers still believe in New York, and so should we.
There’s a classic joke that’s often made in Little League or high school baseball after a batter reaches base on an error. His teammates will often tease him, saying “hey, at least you raised your on-base percentage.” This is not actually true.
It is a common misconception in baseball that on-base percentage is simply the ratio of times on base to plate appearances. This is not the case.
Reaching base on an error does not count for your on-base percentage. The main difference between on-base percentage and batting average is that on-base percentage gives you credit for walks and hit by pitches.
Because on-base percentage includes hits, it succumbs to the same fluky variance as batting average. On-base percentage is a bit more predictive, however, because walks and hit by pitches don’t go in slumps like a hitter’s swing. Guys that walk a lot are always going to walk a lot. Guys that don’t walk a lot are never going to walk a lot.
Team with the Highest OBP: Tampa Bay Rays (.350)
No surprise here. The Rays have the best batting average in the league. They only rank 19th in walk rate, but that plenty high enough to secure the highest on-base percentage, as well.
Team with the Lowest OBP: Kansas City Royals (.289)
We learned earlier that the Mariners have the league’s worst team batting average, but the Royals reach base less frequently than any other team thanks to both a bad batting average and a low walk rate.
Slugging percentage fixes a major flaw in batting average, which is that all types of hits are weighted equally. A batter who hits .300 with lots of singles is obviously not as valuable to his team as a batter who hits .300 with a lot of home runs.
Slugging percentage accounts for this by calculating the same way as batting average but counting doubles as 2 hits, triples as 3 hits, and home runs as 4 hits. This means that a perfect slugging percentage would be 4.000 – which is what a batter would get if he hit a home run in every single at bat.
Slugging percentage is a better stat for evaluating a hitter’s in-game impact than batting average as it exposes hitters who never hit for power.
Team with the Highest Slugging Percentage: Tampa Bay Rays (.526)
Once again, no surprise that Tampa is #1. You’ll come to find that the Rays lead baseball in many offensive categories.
Team with the Lowest Slugging Percentage: Cleveland Guardians (.338)
The Mariners had the worst batting average in the league, but their slugging percentage ranks 23rd. No one had a lower on-base percentage than Kansas City and yet they rank 22nd in slugging.
On-base percentage is good. Slugging percentage is good, but wOBA is better. wOBA stands for “weighted on-base average.” It attempts to take the best parts of on-base, the best parts of slugging, and combine and tweak them.
Here’s what wOBA does. It factors in all the possible results of an at bat (single, double, walk, etc.) and properly weights them. Math has proven that the weighting for slugging percentage is not accurate. For example, a home run isn’t worth 4 times a single to an offense. Read more about wOBA, here.
Team with the Highest wOBA: Tampa Bay Rays (.375)
Ditto what we said above. wOBA wouldn’t be much of a stat if the Rays weren’t first, right?
Team with the Lowest wOBA: Detroit Tigers (.284)
So who really has the worst offense in the league? Is it the Mariners with their .218 batting average? The Royals with their .289 on-base? The Guardians with their .338 slugging? Modern sabermetrics would argue it’s the Tigers with their .284 wOBA – the lowest in the league.
Finishing just in front of Detroit, however, are the Guardians (.286) and Royals (.292).
There are some who argue that runs are the only stat that matters in baseball. They have a point. You have to score to win.
There is an ongoing discussion in baseball communities as to whether runs or RBIs are more important. Should we place more emphasis on the guys who drive in the runs with the guys who actually score? Would you rather sign a new free agent who just scored 100 runs last season or drove in 100 runs? It’s a good debate.
Teams that score a lot of runs are obviously doing something right. You can get lucky for a brief stretch of the schedule and outperform your abilities, but by this point in the season, the teams atop the runs leaderboard in the MLB are there for 3 reasons. They are extremely talented, put together great game plans, and execute those plans as a team.
Team with the Most Runs: Tampa Bay Rays (6.6 per game)
Team with the Fewest Runs: Miami Marlins (3.4 per game)
This is where heated debate would spark between old-school and new-school baseball thinkers. The old guys would argue that the Marlins have the worst offense in the league as they’ve scored the fewest runs. New-age thinkers would retort that the Marlins are getting unlucky and that there is no way Miami finishes the year at the bottom of the runs scored leaderboard.
The sexiest stat in baseball. It has been said that “chicks dig the long ball.” Chicks everywhere must be very excited these days as home run rates have risen dramatically in recent years.
Today’s coaches are giving players the green light to swing for the fences – even in situations where managers of the past would have demanded contact. The new-age philosophy toward hitting is that fly balls – which lead to more extra-base hits – are better than trying to slap the ball for singles.
Sure, hitters strikeout more today as they are taking daddy hacks in every count, but they are hitting into fewer double plays. Double plays are actually more detrimental to an inning then a strikeout, so these new coaches may be onto something.
Regardless of if you agree with the philosophy or not, home runs rates are on the rise. Here’s the leader. It will NOT surprise you.
Team with the Most Home Runs: Tampa Bay Rays (67)
Team with the Fewest Home Runs: Cleveland Guardians (17)
It now makes perfect sense why the Guardians were dead-last in baseball in slugging percentage. Home runs are weighted so heavily in the slugging percentage formula that it’s nearly impossible to achieve a good rate without them.
HR/FB% is to home runs what BABIP is to batting average. It’s a measure of “luckiness.” HR/FB% is a ratio of home runs hit to the number of fly balls hit.
Take a look at every team in the league. Everyone is going to be crammed around the league average HR/FB% rate of 12%. Even the best home run hitters in the league can’t get their HR/FB% very far above 12%.
The worst home run hitting teams in the league don’t do so because none of their fly balls result in home runs, they do so because they don’t hit a lot of fly balls in the first place.
Anytime a team has a HR/FB% rate that is much higher than 12%, we can be sure that this will regress a little bit. Likewise for teams whose HR/FB% is super low. Enlarge the sample size and it becomes nearly a certainty that those stats will regress (or progress) toward the mean.
Team with the Highest HR/FB%: Tampa Bay Rays (19.5%)
This is not a stat that the Rays should be happy they are leading the league in. An elevated home run rate means that Tampa is getting an inordinate amount of their fly balls to leave the yard. This is not sustainable.
While the Rays are a good hitting team, we can fully expect that their current, torrid home run pace will decline by season’s end.
Team with the Lowest HR/FB%: Cleveland Guardians (6.0%)
The Guardians have hit the fewest home runs in the league, and luck has played a role in that. 6.0% is a very low home run rate. The Guardians may not boast a powerful lineup, but we should expect their hitters to start getting a few more balls to go out than they have been lately.
A byproduct of the new home run culture in the MLB was a reduction in steal attempts. Why take the risk of advancing a runner 90 feet when your overarching plan is to just hit a home run?
MLB league officials wanted to reintroduce stolen bases back into the game so they made a couple of rule changes for the 2023 season which did just that. The bases were enlarged by 3 inches – shortening the distance for runners – and pickoff restrictions were placed on pitchers These two new rules have increased steal attempts roughly 4x from last season.
The running game is once again a very effective offensive strategy, and many teams are using the new rule to their advantage by swiping bags every chance they can get.
Team with the Most Steals: Pittsburgh Pirates (44)
Ji Hwan Bae has 13 steals this year. Outfielders Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski both have 5. The Pirates would have even more steals were it not for the injury to Oneil Cruz. He’s a speedy guy who is always itchin’ to go.
Team with the Fewest Steals: Minnesota Twins (6)
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli doesn’t like to run. He wants his hitters to mash. The epitome of the Twins’ philosophy on steal attempts is Byron Buxton. Buxton is in the 93rd percentile in the league in sprint speed and yet has attempted only 2 steals this year. It’s just not what they do up in Minnesota.
Batter Pitch Timer Violations
This one has very little impact on the game, it’s just fun. The new pitch clock rules in the MLB have thrown many in baseball through a loop as they’re used to being able to take their time on the mound or at the plate.
Oftentimes, hitters will forget about the new rule, step out to stretch or take a couple practice cuts, and then get called for a violation.
This happens infrequently enough that it rarely affects a game, but it is still interesting to look at which teams have been dinged the most for these violations.
Team(s) with the Most Batter Pitch Timer Violations: Mets, Red Sox, Nationals (6)
Nothing to read into, here. Just an interesting little side note.
Team(s) with the Fewest Batter Pitch Timer Violations: Cardinals, Orioles, Tigers, Yankees (1)
Avoiding violations at the plate obviously has no tangible benefit toward performance as the Yankees and Orioles are both doing well this year while the Tigers and Cardinals are not.