.300 revisited

October 1, 2018

Before this season began, I guessed at 12 active batters’ chances of retaining their lifetime .300 batting averages, with a nod towards a simpler time when we actually cared about batting averages, and about retiring with the high honor of having one over .300.  I thought I’d update that piece on what the 2018 season has done to their chances, and to the guesswork I put into predicting those chances.

First place, there’s an awful lot of speculation going on about one of the .300+ lifetime batters retiring after this season’s end: Sports Illustrated just posted a piece on that subject https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/09/13/minnesota-twins-joe-mauer-considering-retirement and if I can trust Twitter and my own senses, I’d place a sizeable bet that Mauer will announce his retirement in a few days. (The Twins staged all sorts of ceremonial events, including putting Mauer back behind the plate for the final batter, and having his kiddies run out for an on-field hug.)  I had Mauer as a mortal lock to retire with a .300 lifetime average, based on his .3082 average going into the season and his declining numbers, which left him at least two seasons’ worth of low batting averages before his lifetime .300 would be in danger. As of this writing, Mauer is down to a .3063, thanks to his .282 average in 2018, which would have given him a few more seasons of sub-.300 batting before he lost his .300 average. He remains at "mortal lock."

Ichiro Suzuki, among my mortal lox rated as an immortal sashimi, has already retired with a .3111 (down from the .3116 he entered 2018 with, thanks to an abysmal .215 average at the beginning of the season) so that one is in the books as well. (Thanks, MarisFan 61, for the correction to Ichiro's stats.) The two others I had as certain lifetime .300+ batters were Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto.  In an abbreviated season, Cabrera batted .299, so he still stands at the lifetime .316 average he entered the season with, and Votto batted .284, doing little harm to his lifetime .3134 average, now down to .3108.  Both remain as excellent bets to remain above .300 as they enter their middle 30s. (Miggy is about 5 months older than Joey, both of whom turned 35 this year.) Cabrera remains more of a lock than Votto, being older and having a greater margin of BA points. The counter-example would be Victor Martinez, who went from six points up at age 35 to now being four points under.

All of the batters I categorized under "has a chance"--Jose Altuve, Buster Posey, Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano-- still have a chance, though some did themselves harm and some did themselves good:

I had compared Altuve at age 27 to Billy Herman, who held a .319 BA at that age but whose average declined beginning at age 28, when Herman batted .277.  In contrast, Altuve put up a fine average in his age-28 year, .315, very close to the .3162 lifetime he had coming into this season, putting him one year closer to retirement and no worse off. Altuve’s main obstacle is his relative youth: a lot can happen in the next decade, and as soon as he starts hitting below .300 consistently, it’s all going to be bad.

Buster Posey is a little worse off than he was, entering the season batting .3083 and leaving it batting .3059, having hit .284 in a partial 2018. He’ll be lucky to bat .284 over the rest of his career, and if he lasts three more years at that rate, his lifetime .300 BA is history. It’s going to be a race between his retirement and his lifetime .300 BA, and since he’s turning 32 next March and is signed through 2022, I’d bet on his .300 average losing that race.

Pujols had another poor season, batting only .245, pulling his .3050 average entering 2018 down to .3023. Another year at that rate and his .300 lifetime average will disappear permanently—realistically, his only chance is retirement, and he still has two lucrative years left on his contract, so I’d say he did his lifetime average some serious damage. I’d change his rating from "has a chance" to "not much chance" at this point.  He’s unlikely to retain even the .255 average he’s posted from 2013-2018, but if he does, the .300 lifetime average will disappear for good around August of next season. The only chance he has at this point is retirement (or debilitating injury), and his contract runs through 2021

The fourth player who had a chance is Robinson ("Hello Joe, what do you know, I just got back from a vaudeville show") Cano, who after three straight sub-.300 seasons, helped himself out, like Altuve, by batting very close to his lifetime average entering the 2018 season while getting another year older. Cano, who batted .303, left his lifetime .3045 exactly where it was, give or take a rounding decimal.  He’s still teetering on the brink of extinction (unlike Altuve, who still has .015 points to lose) and I don’t think he’ll make it. His contract runs through 2023, so he’s going to play at least another four seasons.  I see him batting around .270 from here on in, with a little pop, and retiring with an average in the low .290s, but I could be wrong.

One guy I’m not wrong about, though, is Ryan Braun, the second-greatest Jewish ballplayer born with the name of "Braun," who began 2018 with the smallest margin, at age 33. Braun’s .254 average in 2018 pulled him down to .299, and he ain’t clawing his way of that hole, not in this lifetime. Over the past five seasons now, Braun has averaged .277, and is a classic example of a .300 hitter who hung on after he lost that particular tool in his toolkit. Braun headed up my group of four batters classified as "Dead .300 walking," just behind D.J. LeMahieu (.3019/.3018), who also lost his lifetime .300 average in 2018 by batting a mere .278.

Still only 30 years old, LeMahieu might rebound, but virtually no batter has a higher average over the second half of his career than he had in his first, and if you want to find that rare exception, you’d do well to search elsewhere than in Coors Field.  LeMahieu’s closeness to the .300 mark was only one reason I’d pegged him at "Dead .300 walking" in the spring. Coors Field was a bigger part of that designation, since LeMahieu’s batting average was compiled there, and he has no guarantee of staying there for the remainder of his career. Even if he’d won another batting championship there in 2018, I still wouldn’t give him much of a shot—he just doesn’t have much margin to spare, and he’s virtually certain to bat well below .300 from here on in.

His Rockies’ teammate Charlie Blackmon (middle name: "Cobb"), also a Coors former batting champ, was on my "Dead .300 Walking" list as well: his .3049 entering the year got dragged down by his .289 average to .3021.  Despite being two years older than LeMahieu, they have almost an identical (low) number of big league at bats, so a few more years of sub-.300 batting, will pull Blackmon down as well.  He’s signed through 2023, which gives him a long time to lose two BA points.

The last guy on my "Dead .300 Walking" list was the youngest guy of the bunch, Mike Trout, who actually raised his .3060 average  (to .3067) by batting .312. Still won’t get him off the list: barring a career-ending injury, Trout’s going to play for a long, long time, well after his ability to hit .300 has left him. Trout is often compared to Mickey Mantle, so let me remind you that at Trout’s age, 26 (he just turned 27, but 2018 was his age-26 season), Mantle had a lifetime average of .314 and it didn’t last.  Trout’s .307 average will not last either—he’s just too young, and too powerful a hitter for him to lose his job when his average starts to dip below .300, which it will. I can easily see Trout playing for a decade or more with a BA under .280.

By age 26, Mantle had had seasons where he batted .358 and .365, figures Trout has never approached. His lifetime high is .326, and that was seven years ago. Over the past five seasons, 2600 at-bats, Trout has batted .303—dropping ten or twenty points from that level is not only conceivable, it is likely from here on in, and he can still hold his job batting well below that. If he puts in a few more seasons batting above .310 in 2019 and 2020, he can buy himself some time, but I still think it’s a lost cause. He’s just too close, with too much time to go.

The one active player with a .300+ BA whom I didn’t include was Dustin Pedroia, who’s also in the "Dead .300 Walking" club.  Pedroia technically dropped below .300 with a dreadful .091 BA in 2018 (1-for-11) though rounding saved his lifetime .300 BA. He’s ten hitless at-bats away from dropping off the list forever. Under contract through 2021, Pedroia has no chance at all to end up over .300—that ship has sailed, whatever Petey’s future holds. Like Pujols, the only thing that will save him is immediate retirement, and that would mean leaving millions and millions on the table.

Are there any new candidates for a lifetime .300 BA since the spring of this year?

Not really. Baseball-reference.com keeps a list (https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/batting_avg_career.shtml ) of batting average leaders, with a minimum of 3000 plate appearances, and everyone who appears on it for the first time after the 2018 season is approaching .300 from the wrong angle. Jose Abreu (.2945) and Christian Yelich (.2965), for example, need to be ABOVE .300, not below it, as they get on the list. It is virtually impossible that their eventual lifetime averages will rise very much as they accrue more plate appearances, and virtually certain that they will eventually fall. Other active players (Daniel Murphy at .2994 and Matt Holliday at .2991) are just too close to their decline phases to have any kind of chance of raising their BAs . If Paul Goldschmidt  (.2973) were three points above .300 instead of three points below it at this stage of his career, I’d put him in the "Dead .300 Walking" category.  David Wright (.2964) is a few days ahead of Joe Mauer but on the wrong side of the ledger. To end up with a .300+ BA, you need some BA points in reserve from the time you enter Baseball-reference’s list, and to be close to the end of your career: Victor Martinez, for example, had a .306 BA at age 35, but his past four seasons (.245, .289, .255, .251) have wrecked his chances permanently. Everybody dies, as my friend Lawrence Block entitled the best of his mystery novels, and everyone goes through a prolonged decline phase. Unless you actually die.


COMMENTS (18 Comments, most recent shown first)

Brock Hanke
klamb819 - I'm old enough to have had to have a slide run in college, because calculators weren't in the mass markets yet. The amazing thing was that this slide rule- I admit the I got the expensive one; I was an engineer - could do practically anything. On the other hand it still had the problem common to slide rules, of losing significant digits as fast as it could.
11:13 AM Oct 10th
(typo, stinkin'.....I can do arithmetic but I can't see what I typed)
12:39 PM Oct 2nd
Immediately see that 21 is exactly 3-and-a-half times 6.....

You don't need that sinkin' other stuff. :-)
12:39 PM Oct 2nd
I used a bad example, trying to find a way to illustrate whatever property that is. (Commutative? Associative? Something else? I've long forgotten which is which.

There's an even easier way to do 21/60. Divide everything by 3, and it's 7/20. Any N/20 is N*.050, so 7*.050 =.350. Which probably just restates your way.
12:12 PM Oct 2nd
Main thing I remember about my slide rule is that it kept getting this blackish grime on it and I had to keep cleaning it. Never knew of anyone else cleaning theirs, nor looked much at anyone else's to see if it got the blackish grime too.

BTW, Klamb, did you ever really need any trick for something like "21/60"?
Maybe it's just because of my numerical mental illness :-) but to me it's immediately obviously .350 because 6 x 3 is 18 and that leaves 3 which is half of six, so it's 3 and a half, and since we're dealing in hundreds (actually hundredths of course, but we put it in hundreds) it's .350 (took much longer to describe than how long the thing would take, which is zero time).

P.S. I've kept very numerous mementos but I don't think my slide rule made the cut.
10:50 AM Oct 2nd
You probably know the shortcut for doing ERAs in your head, then. Add a 0 to earned runs, subtract 1*ER, and divide by IP. I only try it for pitchers without extra thirds of IPs, though. Do you have a trick for those harder ones, Steven.

Are either of you old enough to have used a slide rule? My Dad gave me his old slide rule and showed me how to use it for my APBA stats, with which I was meticulous. All the basic numbers are seared in my memory. And of you know 4/15=.267 and 1/12=.083, then when you see 21/60 and see it's 4*(4/15) +5*(1/12) = .083 =.350.

Isn't math fun? (As long as it doesn't go beyond basic algebra?) I consider that slide rule a family heirloom. Unfortunately, my heirs lack my sentiment for it.

This is an enjoyable project to keep up with, Steven, if a bit disheartening. Of all the players to reach the AB minimum for BBR's list, the only ones with a shot at lifetime .300 are Altuve and (barely) Posey. Do you know how many names have reached the list in producing only one good chance and one outside chance?
7:14 AM Oct 2nd
Steven Goldleaf
Fixed. Thanks again, MarisFan61. Believe or no, I share your fascination with numbers. I enjoy computing ERAs in my head, which sometimes lands me in trouble.
6:43 PM Oct 1st
You gotta have lunch some time with the boss.... :-)
4:37 PM Oct 1st
Steven Goldleaf
Slight delay. I seem to have locked myself out of the editing function (passwords change October 1) and am trying to get back in. Wilbur, I gave some details as to when and where Mantle's .300 average disappeared in my February ".300" article.
3:49 PM Oct 1st
I remember Mantle's last couple of years, where there was noticeable public attention to his lifetime average possibly dipping under .300. There were a lot of sad sighs when he finished at .298.

At least Willie kept his head above water at .302.
3:29 PM Oct 1st
Steven Goldleaf
Well, I don't like to change an article if the changes confuse readers of your corrections. Kinda makes you look like an idiot, and me like a beleaguered savant, neither of which is the case here.
1:16 PM Oct 1st
(My "permission"? You don't need any stinkin' permission!) :-)
12:59 PM Oct 1st
P.S. Where I discovered this "fraction x amount over-or-under" method was in figuring report card averages, when we started getting number grades, which was in 7th grade. I always loved numbers and averages -- it's probably a mental illness :-) -- and pretty soon I realized that you could know how much of a difference it would make in your average from whatever difference in one subject, by dividing that difference by 5, since there were 5 "majors." Like, if you get 5 points higher in English, that makes a 1 point difference in your average. One time a friend bemoaned his 87 average and went around saying he deserved 5 points higher in math or something, and that would have made his average 90. I pointed out that this wasn't so, explaining the 'method.' He didn't get it, and kept insisting that 5 points higher in one subject would have raised the average from 87 to 90. He was a good kid anyway....​
12:58 PM Oct 1st
Steven Goldleaf
I can edit the article. With your permission, I will go back and change Ichiro's number (and thank you in the process).
12:52 PM Oct 1st
It would all be 'no problema' if only this section had an EDIT function, which probably would spare me the most embarrassment of anybody.

Next time you have lunch with the boss maybe you can mention....
12:48 PM Oct 1st
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks, MF61, for catching that error. It looked very fishy to me, too, and I promised myself at last three times to doublecheck it, but I didn't.

I was in a rush to post this as soon as the season ended, but later this morning, I realized that the stats of the 163rd game would count as regular-season stats, affecting Yelich's stats, Blackmon's, Lemahieu's...shouldn't have been so hasty to hit "submit."
12:38 PM Oct 1st
BTW, besides just pointing out the error, maybe look at that as a good quick way in general to estimate how much any additional anything changes the cumulative average. I do it all the time.
11:49 AM Oct 1st
.....only started reading, but wanted to mention right away, that right away at the top, you've got a mistake. I'm very surprised you didn't immediately catch it yourself, because it's a simple arithmetical thing.

It says:
"Ichiro Suzuki....has already retired with a .3051 (down from the .3116 he entered 2018 with, thanks to an abysmal .215 average at the beginning of the season)...."

It will shock some to know that I'm actually sensitive to numbers :-) but I wouldn't have thought it takes much sensitivity to numbers to jump out of your seat at that and to know that such a thing is impossible. How could such a small additional mass of at-bats lower a lifetime average that much??
It can't, not nearly.

A good quick way to know such a thing is, think of what is the amount lower that he hit this year, take the fraction of his career that the amount of additional playing represents -- and the amount of lowering is the fraction x the amount lower. In order for an approximately-100 point drop (which is what that is -- a bit less, but it's fine to make such things simple and just round off) to lower a lifetime B.A. by 6½ points, that would mean that this year had to be about a sixteenth of his whole career, and obviously (even without looking at his stat page, which I didn't yet) it couldn't have been.

So, looking at the stat page:

First of all, it didn't get lowered to .3051; it got lowered to .311 (won't bother to get the 4th decimal, doesn't matter).
And let's see what it was going into this year:
Your figure was right: .3116

It got lowered from .312 (.3116 if you prefer) to .311.​
11:38 AM Oct 1st
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