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Mudville: July 23, 2024 12:52 am PDT

Bring Back Batting Avg.

Let’s bring back the .300 hitter to baseball. It’s BBBA time.

Bring Back Batting Average.

It’s important. Believe it or not, hits are important to winning baseball games.

While we are at it, let’s bring praise back to the .300 hitter. Batting average means a great deal, and the Nerds need to stop ignoring what is important in the game and how to win games -and get out from under the thought that everything revolves around exit velo.

Former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, who spent many years in the front office of the Orioles and Indians as well, told BallNine, “Exit velocity does not equate to wins, hits do.’’

That is such a great statement. To the point and accurate. There is too much sizzle in baseball analytics and not enough steak. Hits matter.

Baseball is drowning in numbers that don’t mean as much as the Nerds think they mean in this new crazy Manfred Rules World that have watered down the game. Are we tired yet of the Fake Runner on second base and seven-inning games? How about eighth inning walk-offs with imaginary runners scoring? Is the subsequent celebration fake?

Babe Ruth might say, “I thought games were nine innings, bub.’’

The cheapening of the game is evident by those two rule changes. Then there is the problem that Manfred created in 2021 by changing the ball. The pitchers and the scientists in the back room retaliated by utilizing Next Level sticky substances and now Manfred has fought back with the sticky substance police for pitchers.

“The game always will be interesting, you don’t need to manufacture interest.”

What’s wrong with going back to basically the normal baseball with raised seams?

Also, have you noticed the amount of bad sliders lately? They are hanging everywhere because pitchers aren’t hanging around the sticky substances as much.

Here at Baseball or Bust we seek answers, so I asked a former pitcher, ‘Hey what’s that all about?’

The lack of sticky substance affects the slider most of all, I was told, because that key slider finger has to stay on the ball longer to get the wiffle ball effect the pitcher is trying to establish.

Without Next Level sticky stuff, the finger slips off earlier.

Hang it and bang it.

No Next Level sticky substance is basically like playing wiffle ball with one of those cheap knock-off wiffle balls that don’t have as many oblong holes.

But that’s what the game is getting with Manfred trying to bring offense back any way he can. The offense would return in a big way and there would be sustained rallies if hitters would simply take more advantage of the shifts by creating more bat to ball contact.

I am beginning to see some teams putting the ball in play like the Red Sox, who happen to be in first place in the AL East which has everyone mystified. It’s not mystifying at all, unless you are a Nerd.

The Red Sox are playing a bit more baseball under Alex Cora than their opponents and their 6-0 record over the analytical-driven Yankees is proof of that. The Red Sox pitched better, played better defense, put the ball in play more, ran the bases better than the Yankees in those games and that is why they have outscored the Yankees, 36-17.

Most of all, baseball is drowning in a sea of numbers and WARP-ed abbreviations of measuring tools. Let’s get back to keeping the game simple. Batting average is important as are wins and losses. Try finding value in wins and losses.

Boston manager Alex Cora.

There is a sea of mediocrity in the game now highlighted by the many teams hovering around .500. The Yankees are a perfect example of that with the 15th best record in baseball heading into Wednesday against the mediocre, at-best, Mariners.

Just amazing how so many GMs keep their jobs while turning out run of the mill (or much worse) teams year after year like the Mariners have done under Jerry Dipoto.

While the game is being re-imagined by those in charge, one of the game’s most important numbers, batting average has lost relevance.

Being a .300 hitter used to be something really special.

The importance of the .300 hitter has been watered down by this generation of front offices who have found other ways to measure instead of the time-tested measurement of batting average and watching what is actually going on in the game on the field below, you know – that beautiful green space in front of your computer.

There is a game out there, trust me. And taking advantage of what the opponents are giving you still works to this day, but everything is scripted.

If executives start to highlight batting average again that number would grow in importance.

There are currently 13 hitters batting .300 in the major league with the Astros Michael Brantley leading the way at .338. The Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. is No. 13 at .300 on the dot going into Wednesday’s action, so he could fall off the list.

The Astros' Michael Brantley was leading MLB in BA going into Wednesday hitting .340.

Isn’t it interesting that the first place AL West Astros seem to believe in batting average now that trash cans are not as important? The Astros are making other teams look silly with their .274 average. Then come the young Blue Jays led by Vlad Guerrero Jr. and his .336 mark as the Blue Jays are hitting .265, followed by the Red Sox at .258. The Red Sox believe in batting average too because Cora believes in batting average and, again, isn’t it interesting they are leading the AL East.

The Yankees are way down the list at .237, 16th in baseball, kind of fitting because the Yankees have the 15th-best record. Kind of goes hand in hand even though they tell us that batting average is not important.

The Mariners are dead last with a .218 batting average.

Again, funny how that works. The Everlasting Rebuild continues. Maybe Dipoto will get it all worked out by 2025 for the Mariners.

The game is about pitching, hitting and defense and hitting is about batting average. It was always that way growing up when I would buy a pack of baseball cards for a nickel down at the corner store on 7th Street in Kenilworth, N.J. I’d open the cards, see who I landed and then would turn the card over to read the back and for hitters would immediately look at batting average, then home runs and RBI. Three different numbers told the story.

What’s amazing is that the Astros are hitting .274 overall to lead all of baseball but they are doing even better with runners in scoring position, hitting .276.

They are doing all that with an old school manager in Dusty Baker who has a way of putting his hitters at ease. That counts for something too. Knowing the game counts for something and Baker has done a terrific job.

You can see the subtle ways MLB has devalued batting average and here is one. I’m not sure when this happened, I’m sure someone will let me know, but when you go to MLB.com and the statistics page and call up hitters, individual or team hitting, the page immediately highlights OPS, not batting average.

I switch over to the batting average to get the real story. I can’t help it, it’s the way I was raised and going to MLB.com statistics page is like going to the back of the baseball card.

Give me batting average and then we can talk about other numbers.

Pete Rose was one of five players who hit .300 or better in 1968. A year later, MLB lowered the mound.

Like I said, there are only 13 players hitting over .300. In some ways with the alleged pitching dominance (I’m still seeing a lot of over 5.00 ERAs) this is a bit like 1968 – the last year of the high mound. That season Pete Rose led all of baseball with a .335 batting average. Only five other players managed to hit .300. Matty Alou was at .332 followed by his brother Felipe at .317. Then came Alex Johnson at .312, Curt Flood at .301 and Carl Yastrzemski also at .301.

That’s it. That’s all she wrote. It was time to lower the mound. Now there is talk of pushing back the mound, please don’t do it baseball, 60-feet, six-inches is the perfect length.

Make hitters adjust, choke up a bit, handle the bat a bit, hit ‘em where they ain’t a bit, and take advantage of open spaces in the infield to gather some cheap hits. Hitters mindlessly hit into the shift when base hits are staring them in the face with no fielders on the shortstop side of second base for left-handers or only a first baseman on the second base side of second for right-handed hitters.

With the advent of Launch Angle has come easy fly outs. My friend Jeff Frye who managed to play eight years in the majors with 2,451 plate appearances and hit .290, noted: “The Launch Angle approach has negatively affected our National Pastime. I’ve never seen so many weak fly balls in my life. Maybe Del Monte can be a sponsor of the MLB. The ‘Can of Corn’ era is upon us.’’

That’s a good one. This is the Can of Corn Era, highlighted by fans screaming like it is going 450 feet as the ball softly drops into the outfielder’s glove

I want to make it clear: I have nothing against home runs, I love home runs. But let the guys who hit home runs hit home runs. Let the guys who can’t, just hit.

There will always be superior players and the Home Run Show this year belongs to Shohei Ohtani with 32 home runs. Cora said it best when he noted that he was “in awe’’ of what Ohtani is doing with the Angels, both pitching and hitting.

“It’s something different,’’ Cora said. “This is something MLB hasn’t seen since Babe Ruth.’’

Shohei Ohtani is having a Ruthian 2021.

The game always will be interesting, you don’t need to manufacture interest. Ted Williams created all that interest when he hit .406 in 1941, 80 years ago. No one has hit .400 since the Splendid Splinter. “Hitting is the most important part of the game,’’ Williams once said. “It is where the big money is, where much of the status is, and the fan interest.’’

In that 1941 season 26 players hit .300. Fast forward 20 years to 1961, The Tigers’ Norm Cash led the hit parade with a .361 average as 18 players hit over .300. Twenty years later in 1981 it was Bill Madlock leading the way with a .341 average for the Pirates as 31 players hit over .300. In 2001, the Wild West Era of baseball, 46 players hit over .300 with the Rockies Larry Walker leading the way at .350.

Here we are now with those Lucky 13 players over .300.

Interestingly enough I spent an hour poring over the Future Games rosters and cross-checking with BaseballReference.com, regarding the upcoming game in Colorado. The American League roster had only four players hitting .300. The National League roster was worse with only three players.

And these are Future Stars, or so we are told.

They should rename the Futures Game the “First Round Draft Picks Game” because it is overloaded with first round picks or big international signings that teams need to highlight to show their owners that they really are making progress.

You simply can’t have your No. 1 pick from two or three years ago not playing in the Futures Game if you want to impress ownership, even if that player is hitting under .200.

Josh Winder will play in the 2021 Futures Game as a seventh round draft pick.

This game is more of an advertisement for the future than the actual future. I did find a seventh round pick in the game and I am rooting for him His name is Josh Winder, a right-handed pitcher in the Twins organization who came out of VMI, is 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA with 65 Ks and only 10 walks over 54.2 innings at AA Wichita. He clearly made the game on merit. Others didn’t. But they are highly regarded so they get the nod even with an ERA over 4.00 or 5.00 or 6.00.

Take a look at some of the numbers and you have to wonder how these players made the Futures Game. But again, it’s about the future, selling these players as future stars because they were first round draft picks – and certainly there are real future stars like Bobby Witt Jr. of the Royals and catcher Adley Rutschman of the Orioles, the first pick in the 2019 draft. He is the first catcher selected overall No. 1 since the Twins took Joe Mauer No. 1 in 2001.

It’s all coming up in Colorado with the Home Run Derby, the annual celebrity softball game with a lot of the annual celebrities we’ve never heard of and, of course, the All-Star Game itself that this year, for the first time, will feature an All-Star uniform… not your team’s regular uniform.

Just another bad idea put into place by baseball in the hunt for your dollar.

We all love to see our favorite player wearing his team’s uniform in the All-Star Game. It was a source of pride, but that’s out the window now. If baseball and Rob Manfred can ruin the value of batting average, ruining a uniform and pride in your favorite team is a piece of cake.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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