So Aaron Judge didn’t win the Triple Crown after all? Big deal. He pulled up short of passing Minnesota’s Luis Arraez for the “batting title.” When it comes to the batting number that should matter the absolute most—what I call a Real Batting Average (RBA)—the Leaning Tower of 161st Street did more than just bomb his way to the all-time American League single-season home run championship.
How does Judge being a .764 batter this year sound to you?
Judge bombed, slashed, swatted, and walked his way to an RBA 286 points higher than the Twins’ infielder did. It isn’t even close. He did likewise to the tune of 256 points higher than Jeff McNeil, the Mets’ infielder/outfielder who finished as the National League’s “batting champion.”
“Purists” seeing that and jumping up and down kicking, screaming, and throwing things, sit down and listen up.
I’ve argued this before, and I’ll die upon this hill: The so-called “batting average” is a fraud. It treats all of a player’s hits as equal, and the so-called “batting champion” needs a) a minimum number of plate appearances to qualify for the title despite b) the so-called “batting average” being calculated strictly by hits divided by official at-bats. From this point forward, any reference to it will be called hitting average.
Getting lots of hits is wonderful. Freddie Freeman led this year’s offense-challenged Show with 199. (The Show’s earned run average and fielding-independent pitching were each under four.) He also finished one point below National League hitting average-leading Jeff McNeil (Mets). You’re also going to see Real Batting Average saying Freeman was light years better than McNeil at the plate this year.
Why on earth should you give shrift to a statistic that thinks every hit you got was equal value? There’s only one reason: you think a single is as good as a double, a double’s as good as a triple, a triple’s as good as a home run. You don’t even have to pass third-grade math to see that and know it’s about as credible as a 70-dollar bill.
A few years ago, I reminded myself that total bases treats your hits the way they deserve to be treated—unequally. Let’s use Judge to explain. He had 177 hits this season and they were good for 391 total bases. He had 87 singles, 28 doubles, no triples, and 62 home runs. (Notice that almost exactly half his hits were singles, you who still dismiss him as just another all-or-nothing slugger.)
That’s 87 bases on singles, 56 on doubles, and 248 on his record-smashing home runs. Add them up. It’s 391. It’s a shame that his walks don’t count toward total bases, the way they do toward his on-base percentage (for 2022, it’s .425) because that would make his 2022 total bases 402.
The RBA formula I developed, seeking a way to explain a batter’s value simpler than weighted runs created (wRC), simple enough for a child of five or an old fart of 95 to comprehend, is as follows: Total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances. If you’d like to see it again in a non-intimidating mathematic formula, here it is:
TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP
The old/ancient school looked upon walks as either accidents or detriments, not stopping to ponder that a batter working out a walk if he couldn’t find something reasonable on which to swing was actually exercising a skill profound enough. Time was when observers kvetched about even the greatest hitters taking “too many” walks on too many “hittable” pitches, without asking themselves how hittable those pitches really could have been.
But why single intentional walks out, too, when calculating an RBA? Aren’t they part of the walk total for the season? Well, yes, to the latter. To the former, the answer is simple: If you’re at the plate, and the other guys would rather you take your base than their pitcher’s head off, why should you not get credit for it? There’s something they don’t want to deal with when they can deal with a lesser bat behind you to try doing the clutch hitting. To that, RBA says, basically, yay, you.
Yes, sacrifice flies are outs. But unlike sacrifice bunts, they’re not premeditated outs. You didn’t check in at the plate to make a deliberate out, which is the very definition of a sacrifice bunt. (Do I have to say it again? In four out of six “bunt situations” you have less chance of scoring the player you “sacrificed” ahead a base after the bunt than before it; in one, you have an even chance; in only one more—first and second, nobody out—do you have a slightly better chance.)
You checked in at the plate looking for a base hit. You didn’t think to yourself, “Boy, am I gonna put a thrill into those people in the stands by flying out deep.” (Well, you might, if the fly ball carries all the way to the fence.) But your fly out was deep enough to send that man on third home. You get credit for a run batted in but otherwise it’s as though you didn’t exist at the plate, because a sacrifice fly is counted no further as an at-bat than a walk. RBA says to a walk and a sacrifice fly: We know you were at the plate, that wasn’t a figment of our imagination. You’re going to get the credit you deserve for it.
We also know that, unless you’re Ron Hunt or Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, you weren’t up there looking to get hit by a pitch. But if the other guys’ pitcher is careless enough, control-less enough, or headhunting enough to plunk you, RBA’s going to give you credit for it—because you reached base. That’s another prospective run on the scoreboard. You might have preferred drilling a hole in the infield, putting a dent in the fence, or dialing the Delta Quadrant, but you became a baserunner on their dollar. Let it be to your credit and on their heads.
On the assumption that I haven’t lost you, or prompted you to send the Cuckoo’s Nest Coach to my driveway yet, what follows are this year’s top forty “batting title” qualifiers across the Show board according to Real Batting Average. Those with .300 or better hitting averages are marked with (*). (If you must throw things, please throw them through an open window facing your backyard, not with your spouse, your significant other, your children, or other family or friends in the line of fire.)
|Aaron Judge (Yankees) *||696||391||111||19||5||6||.764|
|Starling Marte (Mets)||505||218||97||26||0||13||.701|
|Yordan Alvarez (Astros) *||561||288||78||9||7||6||.692|
|Rafael Devers (Red Sox)||555||289||50||11||3||6||.647|
|Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals) *||651||324||79||1||4||5||.641|
|Jose Ramirez (Guardians)||685||309||69||20||9||6||.603|
|Pete Alonso (Mets)||685||309||67||16||9||12||.603|
|Shohei Ohtani (Angels)||666||304||72||14||3||5||.598|
|Jose Altuve (Astros) *||604||281||66||2||1||10||.596|
|Freddie Freeman (Dodgers) *||708||313||84||12||7||5||.595|
|Manny Machado (Padres)||644||307||63||10||2||1||.595|
|Nolan Arenado (Cardinals)||620||297||52||3||4||7||.585|
|Austin Riley (Braves)||693||325||57||1||4||17||.583|
|Julio Rodriguez (Mariners)||560||260||40||4||1||8||.559|
|Vladimir Gurrero, Jr. (Blue Jays)||706||306||58||6||4||6||.538|
|Taylor Ward (Angels)||564||234||60||0||5||4||.537|
|Nathaniel Lowe (Rangers) *||645||292||48||2||0||4||.536|
|J.T. Realmuto (Phillies)||562||241||41||1||5||12||.534|
|Carlos Correa (Twins)||590||244||61||2||4||3||.532|
|Andres Gimenez (Guardians)||557||229||34||4||3||25||.530|
|Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) *||631||254||57||2||7||10||.523|
|Yandy Díaz (Rays)||558||200||78||2||1||6||.514|
|José Abreu (White Sox) *||679||268||62||2||4||12||.513|
|Jeff McNeil (Mets) *||589||242||40||1||5||11||.508|
|Justin Turner (Dodgers)||532||205||50||1||8||6||.508|
|Trea Turner (Dodgers)||708||304||45||1||6||3||.507|
|Brandon Nimmo (Mets)||673||251||71||0||3||16||.507|
|J.D. Martinez (Red Sox)||596||239||52||1||5||5||.507|
|Bo Bichette (Blue Jays)||697||306||41||0||2||2||.504|
|Ty France (Mariners)||613||241||35||3||5||21||.498|
|Alejandro Kirk (Blue Jays)||541||195||63||2||4||4||.495|
|Dansby Swanson (Braves)||696||286||49||0||4||3||.491|
|Luis Arraez (Twins) *||603||230||50||2||3||3||.478|
|Steven Kwan (Guardians)||638||225||62||2||4||7||.470|
|Andrew Benintendi (KC/Yanks) *||521||184||52||0||5||2||.466|
|Nico Hoerner (Cubs)||517||197||28||4||2||6||.458|
|Alex Verdugo (Red Sox)||644||240||42||2||6||3||.455|
|Alec Bohm (Phillies)||631||233||31||1||10||4||.442|
|Amed Rosario (Guardians)||670||257||25||0||4||4||.433|
What probably doesn’t surprise you: the top ten guys for RBA this season. What might come a little more clear to you: just how much the Mets really missed Starling Marte—the National League’s RBA champion this year—in the lineup for most of September and most of this month so far with that finger injury, especially when the Mets couldn’t muster offense enough to overthrow the Braves last weekend.
What might surprise you a little bit: Matt Olson didn’t get anywhere near the top forty for hitting average, but his .548 RBA shakes out as 47 points lower than the guy the Braves let walk as a free agent right before dealing for him. I’m not convinced yet that the Braves got the better end of letting longtime franchise face Freddie Freeman walk into the Dodgers’ arms. (The Braves also won ten fewer than the 111 game-winning Dodgers did.)
What might jolt you a little bit more: The Guardians and the Mets (four each) have more men in that RBA top forty than anyone else this season.
What might jolt you a little bit more than that: A certain unicorn finished in the top ten for RBA in the same season during which he posted an 11.9 strikeout-per-nine rate, a 4.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 2.33 earned run average, and a 2.40 fielding-independent pitching rate. That helped him earn an American League-leading 9.0 total wins above a replacement-level (WAR) player for the year. Across the board, that was second only to Judge’s 10.6.
Shohei Ohtani finished eighth for RBA among the top forty hitting titles and had a pitching season that might be a Cy Young Award season in a different year. He ducked offseason arbitration by signing a one-year 2023 deal for $30 million. He might still be getting underpaid.
And, what of his future Hall of Famer teammate Mike Trout? Well, now. Trout missed a third of the season on the injured list. And he still finished the year with 6.3 WAR (an All-Star-worthy season level), 40 home runs, an OPS one point shy of 1.000 . . . and a .691 RBA. (If he’d qualified in the “batting title” race, Trout would have finished one tick behind Alvarez.)
This ought to tell you why the best news for Angel fans this year—other than Shohtime; other than Trout returning down the stretch of a race out of which the team fell eons earlier—was the news that owner Arte Moreno (who learned and showed all others the hard way that marketing genius doesn’t equal team-building savvy) intends to sell the franchise.
Depending on the eventual buyer, Angel fans may feel the way Met fans did upon the end of the Wilpon Era. It would only begin with those fans singing “Happy Days are Here Again.”
Meanwhile, the Leaning Tower of 161st Street towers over all in this year’s RBA. Judge was so much more than just Roger Maris’s conqueror, but there isn’t a jury on earth who’d rule his 62 home runs anything less than the individual story of the season. With future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols—revived by the advent of the designated hitter in the National League, managed prudently by Oliver Marmol in St. Louis, and finishing the season with 703 home runs lifetime—tied with his former Angel teammate Ohtani for an extremely close second.
If you find a panel that would rule that way, you ought to demand an investigation into jury tampering.