MLB: Who Cares About Batting Average Anymore?

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

There are so many new statistics in baseball that we would never expect fans (or writers for that matter) to get a handle on all of them. However, we have to say that the usual standard three stats for hitters — batting average, home runs, and RBI — do not tell half the story of the guy standing at the plate. With the emphasis on batting averages bogging down so many national broadcasts, we’ll explore why it isn’t very useful as a statistic to most fans and present the case of Anthony Gose versus Brett Gardner as proof.

Every time you watch a baseball game on television, you get a peek at each hitter’s big three stats. No one disputes the power of the home run — the round-tripper, the four-bagger, the tater, the dinger of yore — — but the sabermetric set has a beef with RBI and the old batting average, and with good reason. Leaving the RBI for another day, we’ll jump into the problem with averages in getting a decent picture of offensive performance.

To start, we look at the averages of two players as of June, when hopes were high and the postseason was still a dream:

  • Anthony Gose, .312
  • Brett Gardner, .273

Both had respectable averages at the time, but Gose’s was a full 39 points higher, which one would imagine means a great deal over the course of a season. Both Gose and Ellsbury have above-average speed, so that would place the Tigers outfielder way ahead of the Yankees left fielder in value if we go by average. Neither shows off a ton of power (Gardner had 4 HR to Gose’s 1 HR). But we should also consider the impact both have standing on first base, where the speedy players both are a threat to steal.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Obviously, getting to first base is possible by walk, hit by pitch, or a base hit, among other ways. Already, on-base percentage appears as important a metric as batting average. Here’s how Gose and Gardner  were stacked up in that department going into the first real month of summer.

  • Gose, .355 OBP
  • Gardner, .352 OBP

For all those extra hits Gose picked up per at-bat, Gardner turns the tables in his walks per plate appearance. In the end, they have both ended up on first base a virtually equal percentage of times. Once there, Gardner has stolen 12 bases in 15 attempts, while Gose has notched 8 SB in 13 attempts. Gardner rounded the bases to score 31 runs (in six more games played) to Gose’s 21 runs.

In other words, which player would you rather have if salary were equal (they are not)? Some front offices would take the added base stealing acumen of Gardner or his knack for getting around the bases and touching the plate. However, in the end Gardner only has three total bases more than Gose in 16 more at-bats. It’s a wash.

Both ballplayers have nearly a identical OBP, total bases, and other key metrics. In terms of WAR, Baseball Reference gave them both 1.5 WAR on the young season. One could confidently say they are virtually the same offensive player, with more power in Gardner’s corner. (Gose has more defensive value as a center fielder and is seven years younger, so there’s that, of course.)

Gose is not 40 points better than Gardner by any metric, so we should never see such a stat flashing on big screens. It is meaningless, and only serves to confuse young fans and casual fans trying to get a grasp of the game in passing. We are not asking for crazy SABR stats covering the screen each game. Just give us on-base percentage and retire batting average for good.

Statistics, current as of June 2, are courtesy of Baseball Reference.