Trea Turner finishing the 2021 season with a .328 “batting average” is the National League champion. Right? And Yuli Gurriel finishing with a .319 “batting average” is the American League champion. Right? Only if you continue accepting the fraudulence of the traditional batting average.
Yes, I wrote “fraudulence.” There’s a reason for it. The “batting champion” is determined by dividing hits by official at-bats, but it also treats all hits as equal. The champion is also determined based on having had a minimum number of plate appearances—and yet those PAs that don’t end in base hits don’t count otherwise. No matter what he did in them.
Can you really determine a batting champion without giving him due credit for bases on balls, too? For sacrifice flies? For being hit by pitches? “Official at-bats” make those types of plate appearances vanish. Thin air. Why on earth are we not allowing the whole picture of a man at the plate to factor into his “batting championship?”
Is it truly fair to anoint a “batting champion” when mere hits divided by mere official at-bats treats his singles equal to his doubles, his triples, his home runs? When that quotient treats his doubles like his triples and home runs? His triples equal to his home runs? When it says his home runs are worth nothing more than his singles, his doubles, his triples? When it says his triples are worth nothing more than his singles and doubles? When it says his doubles are worth nothing more than his singles?
Do you really watch a baseball game and believe every hit a player gets is equal? Well, they’d be equal if he goes 4-for-4 with four singles, or four doubles, or four triples, or four home runs. If he hits for the cycle, that’s a remarkable achievement. But you know bloody well that each hit in the cycle was not equal.
Here, we’re going to determine the real batting champions by—you guessed it—my concept of a Real Batting Average. For those ten of you who’ve read my prior writings about it, bear with me for the sake of those new to it.
Real Batting Average (RBA) adds total bases, walks, intentional walks, sacrifice flies, and hit-by-pitches, and divides that total by total plate appearances. We begin with total bases because that number most accurately credits a batter’s hits they way they deserve to be credited—unequally.
Why intentional walks, especially when the other pitcher doesn’t have to throw four wide ones deliberately to make it stick anymore? Very simple: why shouldn’t that batter get credit when the other guys would rather he take his base than their pitcher’s head off?
Why sacrifice flies, since the batter’s making an out? Well, a runner on third scores on the fly, right? That batter didn’t check in at the plate planning to make an out for any reason. So yes, he gets the credit for the only really, truly productive offensive out in any baseball game.
Why are you leaving sacrifice bunts out of the formula?!? Why, I reply, do you insist on a batter getting credit for a pre-meditated out? I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—outs to work with are the most. precious. commodity. a lineup has to work with when it’s their turn to bat in an inning. Handing the other guys a free defensive out relieves them of one full third of the responsibility of trying to get your lineup out of an inning without damage.
Sacrifice bunts don’t just waste precious offensive outs. In four out of six known sac bunt situations, a team is generally worse off, not better off, after that bunt, in terms of how likely it is for a run to score as a result of that bunt. In only one such situation (men on first and second and nobody out) is a team mostly better off after that bunt; in one more such situation (man on second, nobody out) is a team no better or worse off after that bunt.
I’m going to say it again: the only times any batter should even think about dropping a bunt are a) when he’s being overshifted defensively and has the gift of all that succulent free territory to work with (even and especially if the other guys are stupid enough to give it to him while protecting their pitcher’s no- or one-hitter); or, b) when he sees an infield full of stone hands he can exploit accordingly.
But I digress. If you’re unfamiliar with RBA, you want to know why I’m counting hit by pitches in the equation. Very simple—they want to plunk you, you ought to get extra credit for taking one for the team. They put you on base with malice aforethought, you take your RBA credit with cheerful afterthought. Hopefully, without taking a concurrent hole in the head the way Bryce Harper damn near did in April.
Now that you know (or remember) the thinking behind RBA, here’s the formula once again: TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP / PA.
So, how about we get to the good part—determining each league’s real batting champions according to RBA. Since Trea Turner’s .328 hitting average led the entire Show among qualifiers, who needed 501 PA or more to qualify, let’s begin with the National League—where Turner comes out number fifteen:
|2021 NL Qualifiers||PA||TB||BB||IBB||SF||HBP||RBA|
|Fernando Tatis, Jr.||546||292||62||6||4||2||.670|
So, considering Yuli Gurriel’s .319 hitting average, how do the American League title qualifiers stack according to RBA? Fair warning: Gurriel isn’t in the top twenty.
|2021 AL Qualifiers||PA||TB||BB||IBB||SF||HBP||RBA|
|Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.||698||363||86||7||2||6||.665|
|Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.||541||233||32||1||6||2||.506|
|Michael A. Taylor||528||172||33||0||5||5||.407|
You knew Ohtani was having a season so far off the charts for its unicorn nature—a pitcher who could hit well enough to be a designated hitter on the days he didn’t pitch? a hitter who could pitch well enough to lead his team’s starting pitchers in both earned run average (3.18) and fielding-independent pitching (3.52), not to mention strikeouts per nine (10.8)? You knew he could and did hit for breathtaking power enough to finish third in the American League home run race with his 46.
But did you realise Ohtani really was that good at the plate all year? Would you have expected him to beat Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. out among qualifying American League batters and finish second in Show among them with a .689 RBA? Now do you get why Ohtani wasn’t just the most must-see-television among the otherwise hapless (and still pitching-challenged) Angels in the too-long injury-compelled absence of Mike Trout?
What about Harper? Isn’t it time for his critics to shut the hell up once and for all? The guy who led the entire Show in on-base plus slugging (OPS) with his 1.044 this year also led the entire Show with his .706 RBA. Not to mention all but dragging his Phillies back to where they got thatclose to sneaking off with the National League East title—until they met the Braves last week, and ran out of gas or whatever, letting the Braves pin them to the mats and out of the runnings.
Harper opened the season with a lifetime .610 RBA. He closed it pushing his career RBA to (wait for it!) .620. That was despite that pitch off his nose and onto his batting-side wrist taking something off his swing for almost a month.
(It’s also to lament that that torn calf killed Trout’s 2021 after just 36 games played in April and May. When he went down for keeps, his RBA was .733. I’m pretty sure that allowed a full season he would have kept pace and finished with an RBA in the .700+ range. It wouldn’t have done the Angels any good so long as they still couldn’t build a viable full pitching staff, but think about a full season Trout and Ohtani combining for a .650+ RBA.)
So meet your real 2021 batting champions—Bryce Harper and Shohei Ohtani. Everything else considered, it may not be unrealistic to say that you’ve just met your 2021 Most Valuable Players as well.