The real batting champions of 2021

Shohei OhtaniBryce HarperTrea 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
Bryce Harper 599 300 100 14 4 5 .706
Juan Soto 654 268 145 23 5 2 .677
Fernando Tatis, Jr. 546 292 62 6 4 2 .670
Joey Votto 533 252 77 6 4 4 .644
Nick Castellanos 585 306 41 5 6 7 .624
Max Muncy 592 262 83 5 1 11 .611
Tyler O’Neill 537 270 38 0 4 13 .605
Bryan Reynolds 646 292 75 9 4 8 .601
C.J. Cron 547 249 60 3 4 13 .601
Freddie Freeman 695 302 85 15 2 8 .593
Will Smith 501 205 58 4 11 18 .591
Brandon Crawford 549 252 56 6 5 5 .590
Pete Alonso 637 291 60 6 4 12 .586
Austin Riley 662 313 52 2 8 12 .585
Trea Turner 646 319 41 2 4 6 .576
Paul Goldschmidt 679 310 67 2 5 4 .571
Mookie Betts 550 227 68 2 5 11 .569
Manny Machado 640 276 63 10 11 2 .566
Trevor Story 595 262 53 2 5 11 .560
Nolen Arenado 653 293 50 8 7 3 .553
Kris Bryant 586 247 62 4 2 9 .553
Avisail Garcia 515 226 38 5 5 11 .553
Jonathan India 631 244 71 1 4 23 .544
Josh Bell 568 237 65 2 3 2 .544
Justin Turner 612 251 61 0 6 12 .539
Andrew McCutchen 574 214 81 2 7 4 .537
Javier Baez 547 248 28 2 3 13 .537
Adam Duvall 555 252 35 1 3 4 .532
Mike Yastrzemski 532 214 51 4 3 9 .528
Ozzie Albies 686 307 47 2 7 3 .523
Jesus Aguilar 510 206 46 4 7 3 .522
Jake Cronenworth 643 261 55 6 3 10 .521
Luis Urias 570 218 63 3 3 10 .521
Eduardo Escobar 599 259 48 1 1 1 .518
Ryan McMahon 596 237 59 2 5 4 .515
Chris Taylor 582 222 63 2 3 8 .512
J.T. Realmuto 537 209 48 5 2 11 .512
Dylan Carlson 619 237 57 2 8 11 .509
Dansby Swanson 653 264 52 4 7 5 .508
Ian Happ 535 202 62 0 1 5 .505
Eugenio Suarez 574 216 56 0 5 8 .497
Francisco Lindor 524 186 58 4 3 5 .489
Trent Grisham 527 191 54 2 4 6 .488
Tommy Pham 561 182 78 3 4 4 .483
Charlie Blackmon 582 211 54 1 3 11 .481
Josh Rojas 550 199 58 1 3 0 .475
Jonathan Villar 505 189 46 2 0 3 .475
Jazz Chisholm 507 197 34 0 3 4 .469
Kyle Farmer 529 201 22 1 5 18 .467
Adam Frazier 639 237 48 2 1 10 .466
David Peralta 538 196 46 3 2 3 .465
Eric Hosmer 565 201 48 2 2 5 .457
Pavin Smith 545 201 42 1 1 4 .457
Miguel Rojas 539 194 37 0 1 5 .440
Jean Segura 567 224 39 3 4 9 .439
Tommy Edman 691 248 38 1 4 6 .430
Raimel Tapia 533 181 40 2 4 1 .428
Kevin Newman 554 160 27 3 3 1 .350

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
Shohei Ohtani 639 318 96 20 2 4 .689
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. 698 363 86 7 2 6 .665
Matt Olson 673 305 88 12 11 9 .632
Jose Ramirez 636 297 72 10 5 7 .615
Kyle Tucker 567 282 53 5 5 1 .610
Aaron Judge 633 299 75 2 5 3 .607
Rafael Devers 664 318 62 7 4 7 .599
Brandon Lowe 615 280 68 4 3 9 .592
Marcus Semien 724 351 66 0 3 3 .584
Yordan Alvarez 598 285 50 3 3 8 .584
Salvador Perez 665 337 28 4 4 13 .580
Giancarlo Stanton 579 263 63 1 3 3 .575
J.D. Martinez 634 295 55 6 5 3 .574
Cedric Mullins 675 312 59 3 4 8 .572
Joey Gallo 616 228 111 5 1 6 .570
Nelson Cruz 584 255 51 10 9 7 .568
Jared Walsh 585 270 48 6 3 4 .566
Josh Donaldson 543 217 74 2 8 4 .562
Teoscar Hernandez 595 288 36 1 2 7 .561
Xander Bogaerts 603 261 62 2 7 5 .559
Jose Abreu 659 272 61 3 10 22 .558
Carlos Correa 640 269 75 2 6 4 .556
Jose Altuve 678 294 66 3 6 4 .550
Jorge Polanco 644 296 45 0 6 5 .547
Hunter Renfroe 572 261 44 0 6 1 .545
Mitch Haniger 691 301 54 2 8 9 .541
Ryan Mountcastle 586 260 41 2 7 4 .536
Randy Arozarena 604 243 56 4 5 14 .533
Yuli Gurriel 605 245 59 2 12 4 .532
Miguel Sano 532 219 59 2 1 2 .532
Austin Meadows 591 237 59 3 8 6 .530
Bo Bichette 690 310 40 0 4 6 .522
Enrique Hernandez 585 228 61 0 7 9 .521
Robbie Grossman 671 231 98 3 6 8 .516
Ty France 650 254 46 1 6 27 .514
Jeimer Candelario 626 247 65 1 0 4 .506
Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. 541 233 32 1 6 2 .506
Yoan Moncada 616 214 84 1 2 10 .505
Kyle Seager 670 264 59 2 4 4 .497
Austin Hays 529 225 28 0 1 9 .497
Nathaniel Lowe 642 231 80 2 3 2 .495
Trey Mancini 616 240 51 4 1 8 .494
Tim Anderson 551 247 22 1 1 1 .494
Alex Verdugo 604 232 51 6 5 4 .493
Matt Chapman 622 213 80 0 9 4 .492
Mark Canha 625 201 77 0 2 27 .491
Adolis Garcia 622 264 32 0 4 5 .490
Andrew Benintendi 538 218 36 0 6 2 .487
Michael Brantley 508 205 33 1 1 5 .482
Yandy Diaz 541 180 69 4 4 3 .481
Jonathan Schoop 674 271 37 0 8 6 .478
Joey Wendle 501 194 28 4 3 10 .477
Jed Lowrie 512 182 49 1 4 2 .465
Randal Grichuk 545 216 27 0 4 3 .459
Hunter Dozier 543 192 43 0 6 7 .457
Cesar Hernandez 637 220 59 2 3 5 .454
Miguel Cabrera 526 182 40 0 9 5 .449
Amed Rosario 588 225 31 0 4 3 .447
Whit Merrifield 720 262 40 1 12 4 .443
D.J. LeMahieu 679 216 73 2 5 4 .442
Carlos Santana 659 193 86 3 5 3 .440
J.P. Crawford 687 233 58 1 4 5 .438
Gleyber Torres 516 168 50 1 4 1 .434
Nicky Lopez 565 188 49 0 3 4 .432
Jose Iglesias 511 189 21 0 1 6 .425
Nick Solak 511 166 34 0 2 15 .425
Myles Straw 638 196 67 0 4 2 .422
Michael A. Taylor 528 172 33 0 5 5 .407
David Fletcher 665 203 60 1 1 1 .400
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 677 227 28 2 2 11 .399
Elvis Andrus 541 159 31 2 4 6 .373

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.