On Effectively Wild episode 948, Banished to the Pen contributor and Baseball Prospectus author Rob Mains discussed, among many other things, the importance of the batting title back in the 1930s and 1940s:
“The batting title was absolutely the biggest story in terms of individual races…in terms of the individual race that the newspapers covered most closely, it absolutely was batting title.”
At one time, batting average was THE way to evaluate a batter. Particularly if there wasn’t a pennant race in your city, the run for the batting title might be the baseball story grabbing headlines.
However, Rob also goes on to explain that in recent years the batting title has fallen on hard times. Now people use other metrics to determine the best hitter in baseball, be it WAR, or WRC+, or TAv, or some other Metric Of Choice. In the Post-Moneyball World, batting average has lost almost all of its ground to on-base percentage and other stats both simple and complex, and with the exception its constant presence in the television chyron, it’s a relic of years gone by.
Today, and for the last decade-and-a-half, batting titles aren’t all that memorable except for maybe a couple. Just try to name all of the batting title winners in the last 15 years before we continue. Go ahead, I even made a Sporcle!
That wasn’t fun, was it? A lot of Rockies! And Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer sure did win a lot of these. How about the NL, though? What a rotating bunch of “wow THAT guy won it?” Yeah, that’s how the Batting Title is at this point.
So, here we are in 2016, with the season about to end. Admittedly, I had little idea who was really in the race for the batting title this season, but Rob inspired me to take one last look at the race for the batting title this season.
Jose Altuve has a very firm hold on the American League batting title, sitting comfortably at .338 after a 2-4 Saturday out of the DH spot, even though that’s down from a season high .366 on August 11. His closest competition on the year has come from three Red Sox — Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, David Ortiz — and Mike Trout. Pedroia is currently in second place, a full .018 behind Altuve after going 0-4 on Saturday against Toronto.
Although he’s since dropped to 4th in the AL, Ortiz was the last out of the Red Sox trio to lead Altuve – where Pedroia, Betts and Trout have all maintained steady averages above .300 most of season, Ortiz started on a tear. Papi had a lead over Altuve on June 18, and had a .340 average as late as July 1. However, he’s slipped off since then, and Altuve likely won’t lose the title on the last day of the season, claiming his second AL batting championship in the last three seasons.
The National League is where things get a little interesting:
By mid-September we had a thrilling race for the batting title in progress. Colorado Rockies second-baseman DJ LeMahieu and Washington Nationals second-baseman Daniel Murphy were neck-and-neck, and at the end of play on September 16, both were tied with a .349 average.
LeMahieu took the lead after keeping his average steady with a 1-3 day, while Murphy slipped a point after going 1-4 on September 17. Then the unthinkable happened:
Well damn, a sore buttocks.
Murphy has played in two games since, both pinch-hit appearances, in which he is a combined 0-2. LeMahieu has managed to keep his average steady the last two weeks, and going into the final game of the season has a .001 lead over Murphy for the NL batting title.
Rockies Manager Walt Weiss has said that he’s going to sit LeMahieu this weekend in their final series of the season against the Brewers. That is, unless Murphy comes back to play on Sunday. Via FoxSports:
“It’s a unique situation because Murphy’s injured, he’s not playing,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. “If he’s playing, they could fight it out. I don’t want DJ to lose a batting title that way (with Murphy not playing), so I’m going to pay attention to the math. My philosophy, whether you like it or not, is I’m going to take care of the guys who take care of our team. DJ’s one of those guys that takes care of our team.”
I, for one, am hoping to see Murphy in the lineup on Sunday to mix some Batting Title Drama to go along with Wild Card Drama, but with the Nationals having secured a playoff spot as well as home field in the first round, I’m not optimistic.Next post: BttP Podcast 62: ’16 Regular Season Wrap-Up
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