The Machine is winding down?

Albert Pujols, hitting the 661st home run of his major league career last September to pass Willie Mays. His wife says he’ll call it a career when his contract ends after the 2021 season.

“Since the time he was a child, [he] would eat, sleep, and breathe this sport,” wrote Deidre Pujols on Instagram Monday. Right after she announced that that day would be day one of her husband, Albert’s final season as a major league baseball player. The loving husband responded to his wife’s post with three heart emojis.

The game and those who love it are liable to respond with a lot more than that. Tears included. Not just because of what Pujols was and the no-questions-asked Hall of Fame greatness he personified, but because of what injuries—almost all involving his feet and legs—made of the second half of his career.

But will he retire after this season, really?

Mrs. Pujols subsequently updated the post. “Today is the first day of the last season (based on his contract) of one of the most remarkable careers in sports!” it now reads. Then, she updated it again, saying she wanted only to send him into this season with blessings.

His ten-year, gigabucks Angels contract expires after this season. His tenure has been so injury addled that there came times Angel fans wondered if the Cardinals, who declined to re-sign the first baseman after the 2011 season, hadn’t slipped a whoopee cushion under their tails.

Under normal circumstances nobody likes to see the greats hit their decline phases. Were there more heartbreaking sights than Babe Ruth as a feeble Boston Brave? Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn, Satchel Paige, Robin Roberts, Whitey Ford, and Henry Aaron showing their ages at last?

Those men at least enjoyed the shorter declines. Pujols’s body turned his into a decade. Willie Mays’s kicking-and-screaming decline lasted seven years, heartbroken that he could no longer play the game he loved the way he did for so long. Steve Carlton spent almost half a decade jumping from team to team trying to find the left arm that went AWOL after almost two decades of Hall of Fame excellence. Pujols beat him and everyone else by almost double.

Last year, Pujols finally met and passed Mays on the all-time home run list. Earlier that pan-damn-ically truncated season, Pujols received a text from Mays: “It’s your time now. Go get it.” On 13 September, Pujols finally got it to tie. He turned on Rockies reliever Carlos Estevez’s 1-1 fastball and drove it just the way he did it in the truly glory years, half way up the left field seats on a parabola down the line.

Five days later, Pujols turned on Texas reliever Wes Benjamin’s fastball right down the chute on 1-2 and drove it into the visitors’ bullpen in Angel Stadium to pass Mays.

For a few brief, shining moments, Angel fans were reminded of treasures not really theirs to know, and Cardinal fans from a distance were reminded of what they were so fortunate to see for eleven transdimensional seasons. Watching a transdimensional talent who never stopped believing he absolutely had to get better.

The three-run detonation off Brad Lidge in the 2005 National League Championship Series, kept inside Minute Maid Park only by the retractable roof bracing wall. The reverse cycle of homers in Game Three of the 2011 World Series, every one of them after the sixth inning: the three-run homer, the two-run homer, the solo blast. The deadly lifetime postseason record. All those seasons as the game’s greatest righthanded hitter as well as a very run-preventive first baseman.

And, the sweet way Pujols paid tribute to the Cardinals legend who’d long befriended him, when Hall of Famer Stan Musial died in 2013. “I know the fans call me El Hombre, which means The Man in Spanish,” Pujols insisted, “but for me and St. Louis there will always be only one Man.”

Pujols was so emphatic about it that, when he became an Angel and the organisation festooned southern California with billboards announcing El Hombre‘s arrival, El Hombre blew his sombrero. He insisted very publicly that only one player should ever be called The Man, and his name wasn’t Albert Pujols. It takes longer for mob hit men to disappear their victims than it took the Angels to dispose of those billboards.

You think that was for showing and not for blowing? Few players have had as deep a reverence for baseball’s history as Pujols has had. That depth enabled Pujols to befriend Musial and mentor Mike Trout, “who might be the only position player this century to match [Pujols’s] level of peak greatness,” says The Athletic‘s Fabian Ardaya.

When Pujols said of Trout last year, ““We have the best player in the game, and five or six years from now, he’s going to be making history, too,” he didn’t have to be told Trout’s already made some history of his own. He knows it. He respects it. He mentored Trout into becoming the Angels’ team leader not by way of claiming the role for himself but by what he does on the field and how he lives off it.

Pujols himself lives a well-apportioned life away from baseball. Among other things, when not raising his own family, he and his wife have worked arduously with Down’s syndrome children—among whom is their own daughter, Isabella—and against human trafficking.

His lower body ruined what should have been a kinder, gentler, simpler decline phase. It’s left him prone to as much criticism under ordinary, non-milestone circumstances as he received high praise whenever the vintage Pujols made the periodic cameo. If the Angels looked foolish for signing him long-term and extraterrestrial salary after the injuries began to chip him down, they never once doubted Pujols was giving the best he had with whatever he had left.

““He plays through discomfort,” former general manager Billy Eppler told after he tied Mays. “He endures a lot and doesn’t talk a lot about it. But I can tell you that he’s definitely someone that wants to play and fights through a lot of adversity to make sure he’s out there and contributing to the club.”

Even those whose admiration for him didn’t crumple the way his injuries forced him to crumple hoped somewhere, somehow, several times the past few years, that Pujols would swallow his formidable pride, leave the rest of his formidable money on the table, let nothing further tarnish his near-singular legacy, and sink into that ten-year services contract he still has with the Angels following his retirement.

“It has been so hard to watch one of the greatest players in the history of baseball fade like this,” wrote another Athletic scribe, Joe Posnanski, almost a year ago. “Each year, I hope against hope for Pujols to be Pujols one more time. Sadly, that just isn’t how time works. He is 40 now and a decade past his prime. It hasn’t been a sad career, though; far from it. It has been extraordinary. It has been an inspiration.”

It’s not unfair to say Pujols’s contract hamstrung the Angels when administrative tunnel vision didn’t when it came to re-tooling the team back to contention. Neither is it unfair to say that spending that much for a well-established Hall of Famer who hadn’t yet been hit with his physical issues didn’t have to mean the Angels ignoring their other issues, either.

Like his final Cardinals regular season, Pujols’s first Angel season was solid, if below his former standard. His 2011 postseason and how he helped the Cardinals win that outer-limits World Series may have deked people into thinking he’d only had one off year but plenty of petrol left in reserve.

Then plantaar fascitis in his heel kept him to 99 games in 2013 and a staggering enough fall from even that 2012 performance. Further injuries below his waistline made sure he’d look like an imitation of himself from then on, despite a few shining hours, a few significant milestones, a few moments in which he looked exactly the way he did over those impeccable St. Louis years.

But he didn’t hold a gun to the Angels’ heads and tell them to waste their remaining resources, either. The Angels have been an anti-model franchise during most of Pujols’s tour with them. If Pujols calls it a career after the season to come, the Angels, their fans, and their critics won’t have Pujols to blame for what wasn’t his fault in the first place.

This is Pujols according to my Real Batting Average metric (TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP / PA):

Career 12,394 5923 1331 312 115 108 .628
With the Cardinals 7433 3893 975 251 68 77 .708
With the Angels 4961 2030 356 61 47 31 .509

That’s what the injuries did in turning what should have been a natural decline phase into a hard-lived one.

Albert Pujols was a .708 batter as a Cardinal. His career RBA with a normal decline phase should have lined him up to finish at the top of the heap of Hall of Fame first basemen who played their careers in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era. If his .628 holds by the end of this year, it’ll plant him in between Jeff Bagwell and Willie McCovey, and Pujols was the better all-around first baseman among those three plus first base RBA leader Jim Thome.

Pujols’s other nickname has been The Machine. Unfortunately, even machines have finite lives to do what they were built to do. They don’t all decline as sadly as this one did. Even if this one’s going make what promises to be a singular Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2027. With Stan Musial smiling broadly upon him from the Elysian Fields, if not blowing him a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on his ubiquitous harmonica.

“Why did he quit?” Joe DiMaggio’s brother, Tom, once said when asked why the Yankee Clipper would call it a career after thirteen war-disrupted seasons and a persistent heel issue that turned into back trouble. “He quit because he wasn’t Joe DiMaggio anymore.”

Maybe the gigabucks Pujols earned as an Angel kept him from quitting precisely when he wasn’t really Albert Pujols anymore. Maybe his pride did it. Maybe both. Maybe, come the next off-season, it’ll be impossible at last for Pujols to tell himself he can be day-in, day-out great again. Maybe he’ll tell himself at last it’s time to let his whole record take him out of the box and into Cooperstown.

And maybe the Angels will find ways to a) make the game’s best player since Pujols joined the team proud; and, b) reach the postseason to send Pujols into retirement in a blaze of glory.

We can dream, can’t we?

On Mather’s cringeable blather

Kevin Mather has put more than his foot in it.

You say you’d like to know why it is that right-thinking baseball fans trust major league owners about as far as Walter Alston could hit major league pitching? (Alston grew up to be a four-time World Series-winning manager—but he struck out in his lone major league plate appearance.) Four words: Seattle Mariners, Kevin Mather.

Over the weekend now past, we learned Mather informed the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club via early February Zoom conference of many things the Mariners probably preferred not reach the public eye and ear. That’s Bellevue the city in Washington state, not Bellevue the legendary New York City psychiatric hospital.

According to Mather’s 5 February blather, the Mariners think nothing of player service time manipulations. Former Mariners pitcher/freshly minted Mariners special assignment coach Hisashi Iwakuma improved his English “dramatically” when told his interpreter would cost the team $75,000 a year. Outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez is larger than life but he “is loud, his English is not tremendous.”

Mather’s English is only too tremendous, alas.

“Perhaps Mather is at the extreme with his discriminatory remarks . . .  and what he perceived as the difficulty [Iwakuma and Rodriguez] have faced in learning English as a second language,” writes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “Or maybe some other executives think this way, but he was the only one in his position dumb enough to say such things in a public forum.”

The Mather blather turned up on YouTube this past Friday but was taken down Sunday—after the SB Nation blog Lookout Landing posted a complete transcript. Rosenthal wonders whether the Mariners, who were tone-deaf enough not to fire Mather after he was accused of sexual misconduct in 2018—resulting in financial settlements to women accusing Mather and two other team executives—will tune their hearing enough to fire him now.

Mather admitted to the Rotarians that the Mariners offered another top outfield prospect, Jason Kelenic, a six-year deal with three team options that Kepnic rejected while planning to demote Kelenic back to what’s left of the minors in April. Mather described Kelenic as “betting on himself,” as though the Mariners president thought the outfielder was plain out of his noodle.

“[Mather’s] cringeworthy musings, one more misguided than the next,” Rosenthal writes, “are Exhibits A through Z in why many players and fans hold owners in contempt. If this is how ownership types really think, why should any of them be trusted?”

“After pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he’s turned us down and in his words, he’s going to bet on himself,” Mather said of Kelenic according to the full transcript. “He thinks after six years, he’ll be such a star player that the 7th, 8th, 9th year options will be under value. He might be right, he might be right, we offered and he turned us down.”

We’re not exactly taking about a group of people who were simon pure in the past. Too often, baseball owners and their designated operators have pointed the way to wisdom by exercising behaviours and offering opinions completely contemptuous of it.

But even among a group historically infamous for disparaging players at designated strategic moments (think for openers of Branch Rickey’s infamous and boneheaded bid to run down Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner during a contract haggle by comparing him to Babe Ruth, with several false arguments), Mather stands now with his own singular infamy.

His “requisite” apology (Rosenthal’s word) seemed just that, little enough more. Thom Brennaman’s spontaneous on-air apology after an unexpected hot-mike moment in which he blurted about “one of the –g capitals of the world” before returning to the Reds play-by-play was more substantial and less scripted.

“By the time the session was over, Mather had given the union 45 minutes of bulletin-board material, at a time when tensions between the players and owners are the highest they have been since the players were on strike in 1994-95,” Rosenthal writes.

His comments about Iwakuma and Rodriguez alone should be enough to prompt his dismissal. But then, the outcome of the team’s investigation after Mather was the subject of two complaints from female employees in 2009-10 should have been enough to remove him. And the good ship Mariner rolled merrily along.

It would be a rank understatement to say here that the Show suffers a long-continuing pandemic of foot-in-mouth disease. To those who think Mather’s firing would be arbitrary and not long overdue, you might care to remember an ancient musing from the historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Viereck: “Any bid to scrape the barnacles off an excellent ship is never taken to be an attack on the ship itself. Except by the barnacles.”


Update: Kevin Mather resigned as the Mariners’ president Monday afternoon. Managing partner John Stanton will act as interim president until hiring Mather’s replacement.

Stan Williams, RIP: High, low, humane

Stan Williams, young and a Dodger.

One minute, you’re the man of the hour in a moment of incontrovertible triumph. The next, you’re the man who wants to find the deepest cave in which to hide in a moment of incontrovertible disaster. Few could tell you more profoundly than Stan Williams, who died Sunday at 84 of cardiopulmonary disease, a family friend announcing the passage on Twitter at the family’s request.

In 1959, when his Dodgers tied the Milwaukee Braves into a three-game pennant playoff, that was Williams entering Game Three tied at five and pitching three shutout relief innings, before old  Brooklyn favourite Carl Furillo won it with an RBI single in the bottom of the twelfth.

But in 1962, that was Williams in another pennant playoff, this time against the Giants, relieving Ed Roebuck in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and a 4-2 Dodger advantage. And he may have been as much a victim of his manager’s momentary judgment lapse as his own wild tendency.

Williams threw an 0-1 pitch Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda lofted for a sacrifice fly, with Felipe Alou taking third on the play. He wild pitched Hall of Famer Willie Mays to second, turning Ed Bailey’s plate appearance into an intentional walk promptly—and walked Jim Davenport on 3-1 to send the tying Giant run home.

Ron Perranoski relieved Williams and was helpless when an infield error allowed Mays home with what proved to be the Giants’ pennant-winning run, as the Dodgers went in order on a ground out (Maury Wills), a fly out (Junior Gilliam), and a line out (Lee Walls) in the bottom of the ninth.

In one way, Williams was a designated fall guy. Dodger manager Walter Alston had him and Larry Sherry throwing in the pen, but Rob Neyer (in The Big Book of Baseball Blunders) notes Sherry had trouble loosening up so Williams it was, with lefty bat Bailey due up after righthanded-hitting Cepeda. “As Williams was leaving the bullpen,” Neyer wrote, “the lefty Perranoski said to him, ‘You get Cepeda and I’ll get Bailey’.”

“Alston decided to give Bailey the intentional walk,” catcher John Roseboro would remember, “to load the bases and set up the force play at any base. This was quite a burden to load on the wild Williams, and he got too careful pitching to Jimmy Davenport and walked him, forcing in the lead run. That was it.”

“It never bothered me that much because I gave it all I had and it didn’t work out,” Williams was quoted as saying later. “Had I let up and thrown a half-assed fastball and the guy had gotten a base hit I never would have forgiven myself. But I walked him at 100 mph, giving my best shot.”

The bad news was that the Dodgers decided Williams’s ability wasn’t always worth the wildness. They traded him to the Yankees for veteran first baseman Moose Skowron, who’d feel heartsick a year later about having helped beat the Yankees in the 1963 World Series sweep. (Skowron’s heart never left Yankee Stadium no matter where he’d play from there.)

Williams pitched for two Yankee pennant winners, then for the Indians, the Twins (for whom he had a career year—as a relief pitcher in 1970, with a striking 1.99 ERA), the Cardinals, and the Red Sox, before calling it a career to become a pitching coach and, by 1998, a scout. (Before his coaching days ended, Williams as the Mariner’s pitching coach once pulled Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill right out of a bench-clearing brawl.)

He was rather a behemoth righthander for his time at 6’5″ and 230 pounds at prime playing weight. He wasn’t exactly a control master, which probably had as much as anything to do with batters trembling just a little at his presence, but he threw fast enough to finish second in the National League with 205 strikeouts in 1961.

The only reason Williams didn’t lead the league was a Hall of Fame teammate named Koufax choosing that year to smash Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson’s long-standing National League single-season strikeout record.

He looked like he was prepared to clunk you onto the ground with one arm swing, and he threw inside tight with frequency enough to hit 71 and knock at least that many more down, in a fourteen-season career interrupted by arm trouble provoked in 1964 when he slipped on the rubber while delivering.

There were those who thought Williams was a particularly enthusiastic head hunter; the first of Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo’s Baseball Hall of Shame book series claimed the righthander kept a little black book filled with those who were due for a drill.

Yet Williams was also a kind of baseball humanitarian who was known to go the extra ten miles to help a player he thought worthy. When the Indians traded both Williams and Luis Tiant to the Twins in 1970, Tiant ended up being released by the Twins. To Williams, who claimed Tiant his best friend in the game, that was nothing short of a human rights violation.

“I thought what was happening to Luis was a tragedy,” he told Mark Frost, author of Game Six about that surreal 1975 World Series game started by El Tiante. “I knew Luis when he was sound and I was so sure in my heart that he wasn’t finished. He’s the best friend I ever had in baseball; I respected him as an athlete and I loved him as a person. I also knew how much this game means to him, which has nothing to do with cheers and headlines.”

So Williams did something about it, Frost recorded: he worked the phones with every Show team until the Braves handed Tiant a thirty-day contract to try making that team. The Braves let Tiant go on behalf of a youth movement, but the Red Sox snapped him up. “Luis doesn’t want to impress them,” said Williams, by then Tiant’s and the Red Sox’s pitching coach. “He just wants to beat them.”

A native Coloradan who’d be elected to that state’s Hall of Fame for his high school exploits in Denver, Williams told the audience, “I would still want to pitch every day.”

Williams was also something of a practical joker during his playing days, though once in awhile it backfired. On one fine day, then-Dodger behemoth Frank Howard had the day off and decided he wanted to see the game from the bullpen. Williams decided it’d be a kick to grab a rope and make sure Howard couldn’t leave the pen.

“Williams comes around a dirt pile with a noose, and Howard just picked him up and threw him over the dirt pile in the bullpen,” said Sherry to Pen Men author Bob Cairns. “Howard didn’t even get mad.” If the gentle giant had gotten mad, he could have swung an arm and clunked Williams into the ground. Bet they would have had a few belly laughs over it.

Mike Trout’s a .675 batter!

Now, if only his Angels could build a team their .675 batter can be proud of . . .

Few things in baseball are beyond true debate, but one of them is this: As I write, Mike Trout’s major league career could end this instant, and he would be a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer. With the minimum ten major league seasons to qualify on his jacket, Trout has credentials that mark him objectively as the fifth best center fielder ever to play the game.

If you’re my age and you, too, remember seeing Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle still within their primes, you probably thought you’d never see anyone better. Until Barry Bonds, before that other stuff compromised his image, his reputation, and his true value in the eyes of many still. Then, you might have thought you’d never see better than Bonds, until you saw Trout.

For the decade of 2012-2020, Trout joined the arguments over the greatest player who ever suited up for a major league team. His achievements are laid out in enough black ink to fill a regular-size bottle for a fountain pen. One of them isn’t, however. The minute I say it, you’re probably going to sense a few million tempers—including your own, possibly—throwing the kind of tantrums that would make Earl Weaver resemble Edmund Burke:

Mike Trout at this writing is a lifetime .675 batter.

And only one member of the Hall of Fame who played all or most of his career in the post-World War II/post-integration/night baseball era batted higher than Trout.

Trout is a lifetime .304 hitter, of course. For those comparing him to incumbent or should-be Hall of Famers, he’s one point ahead of a guy who’d be there if he hadn’t treated Rule 21(d) like an unwritten rule. He’s also two points ahead of a guy once thought to have the cleanest shot at pushing Babe Ruth out of the career home run leadership until age caught up to him a little too soon.

I hope you noticed I began by saying Mike Trout is a lifetime .675 batter but continued by saying he’s a lifetime .304 hitter. As Edward R. Murrow used to say, I can hear it now: What manner of brain damage prompted you to do that? you may ask. What manner of brain damage prompts you to continue placing a badly-flawed, even fraudulent statistic, on the highest pedestal from which you judge a player? I would ask in reply.

The brain damage is actually not with either you or me. You’ve been misled. The “batting average” to which you still plight your measurement troth deceives you. You’ve known for a lifetime that it’s calculated with hits divided by official at-bats. You may or may not notice that to qualify for the “batting title” a player must have 3.1 plate appearances per team game; or, 501 plate appearances in a full 162-game season.

Perhaps it didn’t cross your mind before that something’s wrong right then and there. You didn’t think to ask, and it’s not even close to your fault, what is the logic or common sense when you need X number of plate appearances to qualify for the “batting title,” but your “batting average” divides only your hits by your official at-bats?

The 2019 National League “batting title” was a dead heat between Arizona’s Ketel Marte and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich: they each hit .329. Marte had 569 official at-bats and Yelich had 489 official at-bats and 580 plate appearances. Between them, there were 150 times (Marte: 59; Yelich: 91) that they didn’t exist at the plate according to official at-bats.

Except that they did exist at the plate those 150 additional times. You saw them there. Unless mine eyes have been deceived, I saw them there. They had bats on their shoulders. They didn’t exactly plan to leave those bats on those shoulders, either. They also did things other than making 734 outs between them (Marte: 393; Yelich: 341) or bagging 348 hits between them (Marte: 187; Yelich: 161)—and those hits weren’t all a pile of singles, either.

“Batting average,” Branch Rickey once wrote, “is only a partial means of determing a man’s effectiveness on offense.” (1) Partial, my foot. Not only does it reject everything else you do at the plate when you’re not making outs, it says, essentially, that all hits are equal. Unless you and me both have been deceived more deeply than I suspect, all hits are not equal.

You may be the most stubbornly pigheaded clinger to “batting average” as the alpha and omega of prowess at the plate, but quick. Tell me a single equals a double. Tell me a double equals a triple. Tell me a triple equals a home run. Tell me a solo home run equals a two-run homer. Tell me a two-run homer equals a three-run homer. Tell me any of those bombs equal a grand slam.

Remember when you played baseball growing up? Remember hearing your coaches hollering while you were at the plate, “A walk’s as good as a hit?” Well, if a walk’s as good as a hit, why doesn’t it factor into the “batting average?” The last time I looked, a batter who took a walk or accepted an intentional walk didn’t return to the dugout until or unless he was out further along on the bases.

If you can tell me yes about the hits, I still have a beach club for sale below market rate—in Antarctica. If you know in your heart that you can’t tell me yes, with a straight face or otherwise, then I feel safer telling you that, in 2019, Mike Trout was a .745 batter. I feel just as safe, too, telling you that Pete Alonso, the New York Mets’ 2019 Rookie of the Year, was actually a .600+ batter. (Come to think of it, what first baseman Alonso was in 2019, Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Thome was for his entire career: a .sub-.280 hitter but a .600+ batter.)

Welcome to my world of Real Batting Average.

This is the world in which I determine, as best I can with what I have, the total value of everything a man does to reach base from the batter’s box. The world in which I satisfy myself—and hope to satisfy you, dear reader—that there just might be teams who haven’t lost their minds signing “dinky” .260 hitters to luminous lucre because those teams know those players are run creative and productive above and beyond enough to be. 400, .500, or even .600 batters. Even if they don’t yet refer to Real Batting Averages. The world in which the “batting average”—which shall be called a hitting average from this point forward—is sent to jail. Directly to jail. Do not pass Go, do not collect $20,000. (Ever wonder why Monopoly has never adjusted for inflation?)

I’ll pause so you can stop laughing.

Good. Catch a breath. Now hear (well, read) me out.

For one thing, I don’t know for dead last certain if I actually invented Real Batting Average. I’ve read exquisite arguments against the hitting average by Branch Rickey, Keith Law, Brian Kenny, and other analysts, in which one and all of them referenced the elements that go into Real Batting Average . . . without putting them into a formula and giving the result the name I’ve given it.

But since I’ve put it into a formula and given it a name, you might as well credit me or blame me, depending on your point of view. I will hand Law a tip of the beak; it was while reading his imperative book, Smart Baseball, that I first thought of the term Real Batting Average. Law’s leadoff batter was a takedown of “batting average” in which he mentioned the elements I’d put into a formula for tabulating it but never suggested such a formula himself. (If you think you’re going to be P.O.ed at me, you should know that Kenny, writing Ahead of the Curve, titled one chapter, “The Tyranny of the Batting Average.” Bless him.)

Dick Allen, .612 batter.

At the time I finally began reading Smart Baseball, I had concurrent occasion to review the late Dick Allen’s Hall of Fame case. (Two words: He belongs. I will show you soon enough that Allen, too, was a lifetime .600+ batter.) The review was instigated by a fellow online forum participant who said he didn’t want to see the Hall of Fame open to men like Allen who fell short of 3,000 lifetime hits. The fact that there are legitimate Hall of Famers who fall short of the Talismanic Three Thousand tends to elude recall on many occasions. (Feel free. Tell the world you think Babe Ruth has no business in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t reach the Talismanic Three Thousand, either.)

The Hall of Fame is (or should be) about greatness, and not compilation. So I looked closely at Allen’s record as it actually was. Yes, it’s true: Allen and his great contemporary, Tony Oliva, who also deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, came up short of 3,000 hits. What the hell, Allen and Oliva each came up short of 2,000 hits. Their careers were compromised enough by injuries that they didn’t get to experience the natural, expected decline phase great hitters usually experience.

What Allen did when healthy was beyond extraordinary. It only began with his rookie season comparing with extreme favour to Joe DiMaggio’s. We don’t consider Hall of Famers by what they could/might/would have done, but a fair calculation would tell you that injury-free Allen would likely have hit over 500 home runs and injury-free Oliva would likely have hit more than 300. But I digress.

Thus I began my review by asking myself what might be everything we should want to know about Allen at the plate. What did he bring to the table by himself that wasn’t team-dependent, as runs scored and runs batted in are? What was he doing during 983 trips to the plate that didn’t exist because they weren’t “official” at-bats?

(Down, boy/girl. You can’t score without hitting home runs unless the guys behind you in the lineup can drive you home. You can’t drive anyone home if the guys ahead of you can’t reach base in the first place—except yourself, when you hit one out with the bases empty. If you think you can, I’ve just taken a couple of grand off the price of that Antarctican beach club.)

I saw that we ought to look at Allen’s total bases, since that is the number that treats hits the way they should be treated—unequally. If you agree, right then and there you should hold the hitting average in contempt and sentence it to a couple of nights in the clink.

I saw that we should look at Allen’s walks, never mind the poor souls who think even today that they are either cheap, lazy, or both. It doesn’t seem to cross their minds that the batter with the eye acute enough and the concentration strong enough to stop him from swinging at pitches that can’t be hit—because they’re filthy enough to tie even a Hall of Famer into knots, because they’re out of the strike zones, because he lacks the reach, because he’s a batter and not a golfer or a tennis player—is superior to the batter who’ll swing at anything within sight, unless the latter is named Yogi Berra or Vladimir Guerrero.  He’d rather reach base, anyway, than strike out swinging or whack into an out. Who the hell does he think he is?

I saw, too, that we should look at Allen’s intentional walks. Of course those are folded into his walk totals. But I believe, and so should you, that a batter should get all due extra credit when the other guys would rather he take his base than their pitcher’s head off.

I saw further that we should look at Allen’s sacrifice flies. They mean runs crossing the plate. Unlike the sacrifice bunt, a batter isn’t going up to the plate determined or under orders to hit into an out. He wants to rip a base hit or even a home run. Ted Williams didn’t spend his baseball career and afterlife preaching the virtues of sacrifice flying. (Except, most likely, after he agreed by implication to perform such flying when necessary as a Marine pilot.)

And, I saw even further that we should look at the times he was hit by pitches. If the pitcher is willing to drill him, or if the pitcher isn’t trying to drill him but an inside pitch collides with his assorted anatomy anyway, let it be to his credit and on the other guy’s head for letting him reach base on the house. Sure it shows up in his on-base percentage. But he didn’t take one for the team because he took a wild one off his globe in the on-deck circle. (Unless Dr. Anthony Fauci was pitching.)

When I first tinkered with Real Batting Average, I included sacrifice bunts. Then, I thought twice. Why on earth should I give credit for a deliberate, pre-meditated out, regardless of what that out is designed to accomplish? Because 1) there’s no guarantee that the man you just sacrificed is going to end up scoring. And, 2) I am against wasting outs. Outs to work with in baseball are commodities as precious as jadeite is on the mineral exchange. ($3 million a carat; yes, you can look it up.)

Give the other guys an out on the house, and you give yourself one less piece of extremely important wiggle room to put runs on the scoreboard. (Bunt in the ninth inning, when outs make jadeite look about as precious as aluminum foil, and someone should be beaten senseless—except that you can’t beat someone into a pre-existing condition.)

There’s only one time you and me should really want to see a bunt—when there’s one of those defensive overshifts in play, and the batter has acres and acres of yummy real estate offered up as a free gift. I’ll say it again: show me the batter who shenks the Sacred Unwritten Rules and pushes a bunt onto that terrain just begging to be homesteaded, and I’ll show you a man on first on the house.

Total bases. Bases on balls. Intentional bases on balls. (Never mind the still-new rule about just handing the man first base without having to throw four wide ones.) Sacrifice flies. Hit by pitches. Add those, and divide by total plate appearances. Recorded in math, the formula for this Real Batting Average (RBA from now on) isn’t extraterrestrial calculus:

TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP

A baseball editor of my acquaintance suggested that I was really headed toward just another way to measure weighted on-base average. But then I looked at the wOBA formula and noticed two things:

Thing One—wOBA assigns assorted numbers to unintentional walks, singles, doubles, triples, and home runs that aren’t the bases gained but are intended to suggest their value toward runs. (They fluctuate yearly, depending upon each season’s actual run creation, seemingly.) I get that.

Thing Two—wOBA removes intentional walks from the divisor that equals plate appearances. Remember: Extra credit if they want to put you on first instead of their pitcher into the mausoleum. (Grant that, as a formula, wOBA is a fruit cup compared to the chopped number salads Branch Rickey developed over half a century ago. But still.)

RBA addresses how the batter reached base in the first place. It goes deeper than the hitting average doing so. In that regard, why should a walk, a hit by pitch, or a single be fractions of bases or less than the bases gained with each act?

Now comes the fun part. I’m going to show you all 2019 players who qualified for the “batting title” in each league. (Why not 2020? Short season. Equivalent, more or less, to the first two-fifths of a full season, and wanting a full-season analysis I chose the most recent full season.) Now we’re going to see who the real batting champions were, based on the same 501 plate appearances required to qualify for the “batting title.”

First, the National League, in which 69 players had 501 plate appearances or more in 2019, and sixteen batted .600 or better:

2019 NL Qualifiers PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Christian Yelich 580 328 80 16 3 8 .750
Cody Bellinger 661 351 95 21 4 3 .717
Anthony Rendon 646 326 80 8 9 12 .673
Josh Bell 613 300 74 13 7 5 .651
Pete Alonso 693 348 72 6 3 21 .649
Nolen Arenado 662 343 62 11 8 0 .640
Eugenio Suarez 662 329 70 4 6 11 .634
Ketel Marte 628 337 53 2 2 4 .633
Anthony Rizzo 613 266 86 3 3 27 .628
Freddie Freeman 692 328 87 11 2 6 .627
Charlie Blackmon 634 334 40 1 5 9 .614
Bryce Harper 682 292 99 11 4 6 .604
Josh Donaldson 659 286 100 2 2 8 .604
Kyle Schwarber 610 281 70 5 6 5 .602
Trevor Story 656 326 58 0 3 7 .601
Max Muncy 589 251 90 1 4 8 .601
Joc Pederson 514 242 50 2 2 12 .599
Kris Bryant 634 283 74 1 2 15 .591
Jeff McNeil 567 271 35 2 1 21 .582
Ronald Acuna, Jr. 715 324 76 4 1 9 .579
Michael Conforto 648 271 84 5 5 10 .579
Mike Moustakas 584 270 53 5 2 6 .575
Justin Turner 549 244 51 1 5 14 .574
Yasmani Grandal 632 240 109 2 5 5 .571
Juan Soto 659 297 65 3 6 3 .567
Rhys Hoskins 705 259 116 6 6 11 .565
Javier Baez 561 282 28 3 2 0 .561
Eduardo Escobar 699 325 50 3 10 3 .559
Ozzie Albies 702 320 54 6 4 4 .553
Bryan Reynolds 546 247 46 0 3 6 .553
Christian Walker 603 252 67 6 1 6 .551
Ryan Braun 508 232 34 1 3 8 .547
Trea Turner 569 259 43 2 2 3 .543
Starling Marte 586 271 25 1 4 16 .541
Paul Goldschmidt 682 284 78 2 3 2 .541
J.T. Realmuto 593 265 41 2 8 5 .541
Starling Marte 586 271 25 1 4 16 .541
Corey Seager 541 236 44 3 4 4 .538
Marcell Ozuna 549 229 62 2 1 1 .537
Brian Anderson 520 215 44 1 3 14 .533
Jean Segura 618 242 73 1 3 8 .529
Manny Machado 661 271 65 3 3 6 .526
Paul DeJong 664 259 62 1 6 13 .514
Jason Heyward 589 220 68 5 3 5 .511
Ryan McMahon 539 216 56 1 1 1 .510
Nick Ahmed 625 243 52 2 12 4 .501
Evan Longoria 508 198 43 1 5 7 .500
Dexter Fowler 574 199 74 1 4 8 .498
Brandon Belt 616 212 83 3 4 3 .495
Joey Votto 608 216 76 2 3 4 .495
Kolten Wong 549 202 47 5 5 13 .495
Adam Eaton 656 242 65 0 3 13 .492
Dansby Swanson 545 204 51 2 5 5 .490
Kevin Newman 531 220 28 2 1 7 .486
Kevin Newman 531 220 28 2 1 7 .486
Wilson Ramos 524 197 44 5 3 4 .483
Victor Robles 617 229 35 3 5 25 .481
Colin Moran 503 200 30 4 4 3 .479
Kevin Pillar 628 263 18 4 6 9 .478
Starlin Castro 676 277 28 2 9 3 .472
Eric Hosmer 667 263 40 3 5 3 .471
Adam Frazier 608 231 40 4 1 9 .469
Amed Rosario 655 266 31 2 3 3 .465
Adam Jones 528 201 31 2 3 8 .464
Cesar Hernandez 667 250 45 4 4 0 .454
Jose Iglesias 530 205 20 3 2 3 .440
Lorenzo Cain 623 209 50 0 4 6 .432
Miguel Rojas 526 183 32 2 5 5 .432
Brandon Crawford 560 175 53 5 4 3 .429
Orlando Arcia 546 173 43 5 6 1 .418

Now, the American League, in which 63 players had 501 plate appearances or more in 2019, and sixteen batted .600 or better:

2019 AL Qualifiers PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Mike Trout 600 303 110 14 4 16 .745
Nelson Cruz 521 290 56 8 3 7 .699
Alex Bregman 690 328 119 2 8 9 .675
Francisco Lindor 654 310 98 9 6 3 .651
George Springer 556 283 67 1 4 6 .649
Eddie Rosario 590 281 86 2 6 0 .636
Jorge Soler 679 335 73 3 4 10 .626
J.D. Martinez 657 320 72 9 5 4 .624
Austin Meadows 591 296 54 6 0 7 .614
Xander Bogaerts 698 341 76 2 6 2 .612
Carlos Santana 686 295 108 12 2 3 .612
Mookie Betts 706 313 97 6 9 3 .606
Rafael Devers 702 359 48 7 2 4 .598
Trey Mancini 679 322 63 3 5 9 .592
Yoan Moncada 559 280 40 2 3 4 .589
Jose Altuve 548 275 41 0 3 3 .588
Gleyber Torres 604 292 48 3 6 3 .583
Marcus Semien 747 343 87 2 1 2 .582
Yuli Gurriel 612 305 37 2 6 5 .580
Max Kepler 596 272 60 0 4 8 .577
Hunter Dozier 586 273 55 2 5 3 .577
Matt Chapman 670 295 73 0 3 11 .569
Danny Santana 511 253 25 2 5 6 .569
D.J. LeMahieu 655 312 46 0 4 2 .556
Brett Gardner 550 247 52 0 3 4 .556
Luke Voit 510 199 71 2 1 9 .553
Jose Abreu 693 319 36 4 10 13 .551
Eloy Jimenez 504 240 30 0 2 4 .548
Kole Calhoun 632 258 70 7 2 7 .544
Jose Ramirez 542 231 52 3 6 2 .542
Shin-Soo Choo 660 256 78 3 1 18 .539
Daniel Vogelbach 558 203 92 2 2 2 .539
Jorge Polanco 704 306 60 2 7 4 .538
Tommy Pham 654 255 81 4 1 5 .529
Tim Anderson 518 253 15 0 2 3 .527
Matt Olson 547 263 51 7 1 12 .527
Christian Vazquez 521 230 33 3 3 0 .516
Whit Merrifield 735 315 45 9 5 4 .514
Renato Nunez 599 249 44 1 4 10 .514
Avisail Garcia 530 227 31 2 3 7 .509
Jonathan Villar 714 291 61 0 4 4 .504
Domingo Santana 507 199 50 1 2 2 .501
Rougned Odor 581 229 52 2 1 5 .497
Andrew Benintendi 615 233 59 1 5 7 .496
Jackie Bradley, Jr. 567 208 56 3 2 12 .496
Randal Grichuk 628 268 35 0 2 5 .494
Albert Pujols 545 211 43 1 8 3 .488
Vlad. Guerrero, Jr. 514 201 46 0 2 2 .488
Michael Brantley 637 289 51 3 4 7 .484
Jurickson Profar 518 188 48 2 3 8 .481
Alex Gordon 633 220 51 4 6 19 .474
Willy Adames 584 222 46 1 1 3 .467
Miguel Cabrera 549 196 48 4 5 3 .466
Jason Kipnis 511 188 40 2 6 2 .466
Josh Reddick 550 205 36 1 9 0 .456
Khris Davis 533 186 47 3 2 3 .452
Hanser Alberto 550 221 16 1 3 4 .445
David Fletcher 653 229 55 2 1 0 .440
Elvis Andrus 648 236 34 1 10 4 .440
Leury Garcia 618 218 21 0 3 11 .409
Mallex Smith 566 171 42 0 1 11 .398
Yolmer Sanchez 555 159 44 1 3 5 .382

Go ahead and say it. RBA says it. There were three .700+ batters in the Show in 2019. Maybe it’s time to quit saying baseball’s a game of 70 percent failure because RBA says baseball can be and sometimes is a game of 50, 60, 70 percent success.

When the Washington Nationals let Bryce Harper walk as a free agent and won the 2019 World Series in their first season without him, enough Nats and other fans crowed as if according to a script that lo! we were right, the Nats were better off with the guy who replaced him in right field to reach the Promised Land.

Oh? Aside from Harper hitting better in high leverage situations than Adam Eaton hit that year (Harper: 1.037 OPS; Eaton: .638 OPS), RBA says otherwise, too:

Bryce Harper, 2019 682 292 99 11 4 6 .604
Adam Eaton, 2019 656 242 65 0 3 9 .486

Harper’s detractors love to carp about his .276 lifetime hitting average. They loved snorting that the Philadelphia Phillies overpaid squared for him when he signed that $330 million/thirteen-year contract. Well, snort this:

Bryce Harper, career to date 4883 2088 733 89 40 31 .610

RBA says Harper is better than his detractors think, and that’s despite the injuries that often compromise his seasons. It also says that, sure, the 2019 Nats won the World Series without him, but they’d have had an easier time doing it with him. Harper’s not exactly Mike Trout’s level of all-around great (and Trout has dealt with a few injury issues himself), but a healthy Harper entering his age 28 season, and an on-base machine still, could find himself back on the Hall of Fame track soon enough.

How about some truly mad fun? Let’s examine through RBA all the Hall of Fame position players who played all or most of their careers in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era.

For the sake of Dick Allen, who deserved the honour before his death in December 2020, I’ll include him and his great contemporary Tony Oliva. I’ll include Minnie Minoso—like Allen, he should have been elected to Cooperstown during his lifetime. (I would love to have Minoso’s complete Negro Leagues numbers to factor in, but the complete statistical story isn’t available yet.)

I’ll also include one man who would be in the Hall of Fame, if not for (ahem) the other stuff, including him among the men who played the position where he was actually the most valuable among the several positions he did play throughout his career. I’ll even include another man who would be in the Hall of Fame, if not for his other stuff, actual or alleged; I’ll consider just the seasons that even his most tunnel-visioned detractors acknowledge would have made him a Hall of Famer if he had just those seasons to show. (Please try to resist cracking wisenheimer when you see the result.)

And, just for fun, I’ll include further that certain Angel who’d be a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer if his career ended unexpectedly, right now, since his peak and career values a) are both higher than the average Hall of Fame center fielder; and, b) rank him the number five center fielder ever. You’ll see Allen, Oliva, Minoso, Mr. Other Stuff, Mr. Other Other Stuff, and That Certain Angel in bold.

There’s one catch, however—sacrifice flies. The sacrifice fly wasn’t made an official statistic until the 1954 season. Several of the following Hall of Famers played a third or more of their seasons prior to the rule coming on line. How to  overcome that hole?

I tinkered with a few ideas until I tripped over a best-case scenario. I took those players’ numbers of recorded sacrifice flies and divided them by the number of seasons they played under the rule. Then, I took that result and multiplied it by the number of Show seasons they actually played. The formula is sacrifice flies (SF) divided by sacrifice fly-rule seasons (SRS), multiplied by MLB seasons. Or, if you insist on seeing it in mathematese:


Thus I had as best as I could get to the total number of sacrifice flies you could have expected those players to hit all career long. I marked their sacrifice fly numbers with (*).

Now, on to those Cooperstown RBAs.

Mike Piazza 7745 3768 759 146 45 30 .613
Roy Campanella 4815 2101 533 113 50* 30 .587
Johnny Bench 8674 3644 891 135 90 19 .551
Yogi Berra 8359 3643 704 91 95* 52 .549
Carlton Fisk 9853 3999 849 105 79 143 .525
Ted Simmons 9,685 3793 855 188 100 39 .514
Gary Carter 9019 3497 848 106 99 68 .512
Ivan Rodriguez 10270 4451 513 67 76 58 .503
HOF AVG .543
Jim Thome 10313 4667 1747 173 74 69 .653
Jeff Bagwell 9431 4213 1401 155 102 128 .636
Willie McCovey 9692 4219 1345 260 70 69 .615
Harmon Killebrew 9833 4143 1559 160 77 48 .609
Orlando Cepeda 8698 3959 588 154 74 102 .561
Eddie Murray 12817 5397 1333 222 128 18 .554
Tony Perez 10861 4532 925 150 106 43 .526
HOF AVG .593
Jackie Robinson 5804 2310 740 61 30* 72 .550
Joe Morgan 11329 3962 1865 76 96 40 .533
Ryne Sandberg 9282 3787 761 59 71 34 .507
Roberto Alomar 10400 4018 1032 62 97 50 .506
Craig Biggio 12504 4711 1160 68 81 285 .504
Rod Carew 10550 3998 1018 144 44 25 .496
Red Schoendienst 9224 3284 606 30 38* 21 .431
Nellie Fox 10351 3347 719 30 76* 142 .417
Bill Mazeroski 8379 2848 447 110 70 20 .417
HOF AVG .484
Ernie Banks 10395 4706 763 202 96 70 .562
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 66 67 55 .514
Cal Ripken 12883 5168 1129 107 127 66 .512
Derek Jeter 12602 4921 1082 39 58 170 .498
Robin Yount 12249 4730 966 95 123 48 .487
Alan Trammell 9376 3442 850 48 76 37 .475
Pee Wee Reese 9470 3038 1210 67 64* 26 .465
Phil Rizzuto 6719 2065 651 35 26* 49 .416
Ozzie Smith 10778 3084 1072 79 63 33 .402
Luis Aparicio 11230 3504 736 22 76 27 .387
HOF AVG .472
Mike Schmidt 10062 4404 1507 201 108 79 .626
Chipper Jones 10614 4755 1512 177 97 18 .618
Dick Allen 7315 3379 894 138 53 16 .612
Eddie Mathews 10100 4349 1444 142 58 26 .596
George Brett 11625 5044 1096 229 120 33 .561
Ron Santo 9397 3779 1108 94 94 38 .544
Wade Boggs 10740 4064 1412 180 96 23 .538
Paul Molitor 12167 4854 1094 100 109 47 .510
Brooks Robinson 11782 4270 860 120 114 53 .458
HOF AVG .563
Ted Williams 9788 4884 2021 243 57* 39 .740
Barry Bonds 7403 3343 1227 260 62 42 .666
Ralph Kiner 6256 2852 1011 90 40* 24 .642
Willie Stargell 9027 4190 937 227 75 78 .610
Billy Williams 10519 4599 1045 182 73 43 .565
Jim Rice 9058 4129 670 77 94 64 .556
Carl Yastrzemski 13992 5539 1845 190 105 40 .552
Minnie Minoso 7713 3023 814 43 85* 192 .539
Rickey Henderson 13346 4588 2190 61 67 98 .525
Tim Raines 10359 3771 1330 148 76 42 .518
Pete Rose 15890 5752 1566 167 79 107 .483
Lou Brock 11240 4238 761 124 46 49 .464
HOF AVG .563
Mike Trout 5514 2642 838 104 52 84 .675
Mickey Mantle 9907 4511 1733 148 47 13 .651
Willie Mays 12496 6066 1464 214 91 44 .631
Ken Griffey, Jr. 11304 5271 1312 246 102 81 .620
Duke Snider 8237 3865 971 154 54* 21 .615
Larry Doby 6299 2621 871 60 39* 38 .576
Andre Dawson 10769 4787 589 143 118 111 .534
Kirby Puckett 7831 3453 450 85 58 56 .524
Richie Ashburn 9736 3196 1198 40 30* 43 .463
HOF AVG .588
Stan Musial 12718 6134 1599 298 110* 53 .644
Larry Walker 8030 3904 913 117 65 138 .640
Vladimir Guerrero 9059 4506 737 250 64 103 .625
Frank Robinson 11742 5373 1420 218 102 198 .624
Henry Aaron 13941 6856 1402 293 121 32 .624
Reggie Jackson 11418 4834 1375 164 68 96 .573
Al Kaline 11596 4852 1277 133 104 55 .554
Dave Winfield 12358 5221 1216 172 95 25 .545
Tony Oliva 6880 3002 448 131 57 59 .537
Roberto Clemente 10211 4492 621 167 66 35 .527
Tony Gwynn 10232 4259 790 203 85 24 .524
HOF AVG .583
Designated Hitter PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Frank Thomas 10075 4550 1667 168 121 87 .654
Edgar Martinez 8674 3718 1283 113 77 89 .609
Harold Baines 11092 4604 1062 187 99 14 .538
HOF AVG .600

Ted Williams–The Red Sox didn’t have too many teams for their .740 batter to be proud of, either.

You notice that there’s only one among the Hall of Famers of this era who batted .700+ lifetime. Twenty-one others (including Trout) batted .600+ lifetime. The middle-infield Hall of Famers average to sub-.500 RBAs. The center fielders and right fielders are tied for the most .600+ batters among them (five each). But am I the only one shocked to see three .600+ batters among third basemen, who play one of the harshest positions around the infield?

You might notice, too, that the largest distinction for any position between the average RBA and the lowest RBA is Richie Ashburn (-113), while the highest such distinction is Ted Williams (+177). But I’ll bet you didn’t think Mike Trout’s first ten Show seasons would finish with him owning the second-highest RBA among all incumbent or in-waiting Hall of Famers, including the untainted version of Barry Bonds.

There are other factors to consider when measuring these players objectively. Some players are in Cooperstown as much or more because of their defense as their work at the plate. (See Bill Mazeroski, Ozzie Smith, and Brooks Robinson.) Several have bucketfuls of black ink. A few got there as much because of what they did after reaching base as what they did at the plate and/or in the field. (Jackie Robinson turned baserunning into guerrilla warfare whether or not he stole a base; Luis Aparicio returned the stolen base as a prime weapon in the mid-1950s; Lou Brock swiped Ty Cobb out of the career stolen base record; and, Rickey Henderson did likewise to Brock.)

We may also ponder the point that Roy Campanella, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Duke Snider might lose RBA points if only through total bases if they played more of their careers in homes other than bandbox ball parks. So might Larry Walker if his six seasons in Coors Canaveral had been played elsewhere, even in a neutral park, though observed fairly those plunks he took for his teams probably inflate his RBA, too.

We might see likely RBA spikes for Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Joe Morgan if much of their home cooking wasn’t served in the Astrodome. Or, for Gary Carter, if so much of his wasn’t served in two killer kitchens named Olympic Stadium (Montreal) and Shea Stadium (New York). Maybe even for Trout, who is devilishly close to being the same in both hitter-unfriendly Angel Stadium and on the road:

Home 2696 1273 444 58 26 41 .683
Road 2818 1369 394 46 26 43 .666

Did you realise that Frank Robinson, Henry Aaron, and Vladimir Guerrero could be that exact a trio of matches when it came to their whole pictures? It should also be comforting that—bandbox home park or otherwise—RBA helps settle once and for all an argument that was stupidity personified no matter when it was waged, and it was waged too damn often in the past: Jackie Robinson would be a Hall of Famer even if he was white.

You may have noticed that the so-called Hit King—if he hadn’t written the script himself that keeps him out of the Hall of Fame—would be the second-lowest RBA among Hall of Fame left fielders. You may have noticed, too, that the guy who’s blocked from Cooperstown because of continuing suspicion about actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances would have the number two RBA among the left fielders behind Teddy Ballgame.

Christian Yelich and Ketel Marte led the 2019 National League with their .329 hitting averages.  Tim Anderson led the 2019 American League with his .335 hitting average. But Yelich in the National League and Mike Trout in the American League were the true 2019 batting champions.

Says who? Says Real Batting Average, says who.


(1) Branch Rickey, “Goodby to Some Old Baseball Ideas”; Life, 1954.

14 years, $340 million, for a .600+ batter

One full season worth of elite-level play makes Fernando Tatis, Jr. almost as valuable as the entire Marlins franchise. Sort of.

Pan-damn-ic or no pan-damn-ic, spring training has arrived at last. The coronavirus is trying its best to butt into our fun and succeeding in several ways. But not even COVID could butt in when the Padres decided to make Fernando Tatis, Jr. wealthier than an island nation’s economy. Or, two thirds the value of the entire Marlins franchise.

It seems on the surface a little on the ridiculous side to give a young man who’s played only two partial seasons money usually reserved for the Mike Trouts of the game, right? Not to mention the longest contract (fourteen years) in baseball history?

Actually, in two major league seasons Tatis has played just about one full season. (2019: shortened by injury. 2020: COVID compelled a short, irregular season. But what a season. He’s made himself the most must-see baseball player this side of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. Sometimes it seems as though he’d get a standing ovation in a full ballpark just by ambling up from the dugout and kneeling in the on-deck circle.

His work at shortstop is improving though still a bit in the negative column for run prevention. But at the plate he’s somewhere between a machine and a Jolly Green Almost-Giant. And, a .600+ batter while he’s at it.

Say what?!?

Say this. I don’t truck in the traditional batting average, never mind that Tatis has hit .301 in his season-over-two. It’s misleading and incomplete. Counting all hits as equal, which is what the traditional batting average does, is deceptive right away. You can even call it fraud. You think all hits are equal? I’ll see you on line waiting to buy a pulled pork sandwich at a kosher delicatessen.

Now, look at Tatis by way of Real Batting Average (RBA):

Add total bases (which treats hits they way they deserve to be treated: unequally), walks, intentional walks (damn right you deserve extra credit if they’d rather you take your base than their heads off), sacrifice flies (you get an RBI for them, you damn well deserve credit for hitting them in the first place), and hit by pitches. (They plunk you, let it be to your credit and on their heads.)

Now, divide by total plate appearances. Tatis in 2019-20 had 629 of them. He also had 558 “official at-bats.” As if he just didn’t exist during 71 trips to the plate. Last I looked, he had a bat on his shoulders, and he wasn’t up there to be disappeared like the hapless audience volunteer in a magic act.

Here’s Tatis so far, according to RBA:

Fernando Tatis, Jr. 629 325 57 2 4 10 .633

The Padres probably don’t have a clue about RBA, but if they did they’d think to themselves, they’ve got a .633 batter on their hands and wouldn’t it be wonderful to make and keep him a Friar for life, or for fourteen years, whichever comes first. But for $340 million? The kid hasn’t poked his nose out of his hole during more than two Show seasons, and the Padres are handing him Trout Machado Harper money?

Well, it’s their money, and they can spend it any old way they choose it. The Padres these days aren’t exactly shy about opening the vault. They want to give the defending world champion/National League West behemoth Dodgers a run for it. Not necessarily for a single season, either.

But TMH money for a 22-year-old shortstop, even with Tatis’s likely higher ceiling and being a .600+ batter as it is so far? Maybe we ought to have a look at the all-time top Show hitters through age 21, based on 600+ plate appearances, men who played all or most of their careers in the post-World War II/post-integration/night ball era, and see where Tatis rests. He rests rather well in that company, in fact:

Player Through Age 21 PA OBP SLG OPS+
Mike Trout 1490 .404 .544 166
Ted Williams 1338 .439 .601 161
Albert Pujols 676 .403 .610 157
Fernando Tatis, Jr. 629 .374 .582 154
Juan Soto 1349 .415 .557 151
Mickey Mantle 1552 .384 .497 145
Eddie Mathews 1274 .366 .541 145
Frank Robinson 1345 .378 .543 139
Ken Griffey, Jr. 1805 .367 .479 135

Tatis through age 21 is fourth in a crowd of nine that includes six Hall of Famers, two more who will be, and one who’s on the track at bullet train speed so far. By the way, RBA says Tatis through 629 plate appearances so far is an intriguing match to Mike Trout’s 639-appearance Rookie of the Year campaign. (Tatis is a few points higher for one good reason: Trout hit nine fewer home runs.)

Fernando Tatis, Jr. 629 325 57 2 4 10 .633
Mike Trout, 2012 639 315 67 4 7 6 .624

Nobody’s saying Tatis is the second coming of Mike Trout just yet, and there are those people who still look at Trout’s career to date and can’t believe they’ve been watching a transdimensional talent the Show still can’t figure out how to elevate. In fairness, Trout himself doesn’t help: it’s great to let your work speak for itself, and Trout’s shouts. But he settles for being Mr. Nice Guy off the field and asks little enough more. Mr. LED he isn’t.

The Padres are laying a $340 million bet that Tatis will be as close a match to the astonishing Angel as you can get by the time he reaches his age 29 season. They’re also laying the same bet that Tatis is going to be one key piece in something the Angels—for whatever perverse reasons—have refused to allow their once-a-century man: championship teams.

You can’t win it all with just one player, but if you can put a solid team around and astride him the Promised Land isn’t as far across the river as it usually looks.

“Beyond the fact that he is very, very good, the projections remind us of several facts. First, that Tatis Jr. is still developing, a necessary reminder in a period when so many prospects seem to come to the majors fully formed . . . the shortstop is developing at the major league level,” writes Baseball Prospectus analyst Ginny Searle.

There’s no reason to think the 22-year-old won’t make further gains at the plate: While between seasons he made just a minor gain in swinging at off-the-plate offerings (31.8 to 29.6%), he made a huge leap in making contact on such swings (46.3 to 63%). Scary as pitchers might find it, he could tap into further ferocious power at the plate. One obvious way would be hitting the ball on the ground less than his 47.3 percent career rate—though it’s hard to imagine asking the major league scion to make any changes, given his production. If we’re due to get him at a typical aging rate, as PECOTA expects, Tatis Jr. may be better yet, and could keep it up into next decade.

You might take a moment to consider this, too: Tatis’s landing his fortune may have such other young titans as Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna, Jr. ringing their accountants and agents soon enough.

Just hope and pray that they didn’t make one error Tatis made: as a minor leaguer, he signed a deal with Big League Advance, an outfit that makes minor league life a lot more bearable financially in return for a portion of a player’s Show earnings. How much hook BLA has into Tatis isn’t known yet. But he won’t be getting every one of those 340 million dollars as a result, and that’s before the California tax man helps himself to part of Tatis’s dinner plate.

Beyond that, though, suppose the Padres’ maneuverings, investments, and developments don’t translate to the threshold of if not the taking of the Promised Land? Mookie Betts got his transdimensional payday from the Dodgers last year, and they opened spring training as the defending world champions. But Trout himself, the very essence of a team player and loyalist, has let himself speak softly but firmly about how little fun the Angels falling short or losing plainly has become.

If the Padres end up in the Angels’ mire by the time Tatis reaches age 29, they may hear similar whispers from him. They won’t sound like sweet nothings, either.

Like the Angels may with their franchise face, the Padres with theirs may discover in due course that there may have to be life without them, after all. The kind of life that makes the unthinkable now thinkable to come, seeing Trout and/or Tatis in alien fatigues. Love Tatis while you have him, Friarland.