WILL TIM MAKE RUN AT .400?
In abbreviated season, hot and cold streaks can have exaggerated effect on batting average
When we last saw regular-season baseball, White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson was finishing up a breakout season in which he led the majors with a .335 batting average.
Anderson’s chance to defend that title begins Friday in a 60-game season in which early streaks take on exaggerated importance.
The qualifying standard for a batting-average title is 3.1 plate appearances per team game. In a 162-game season, that’s 502 plate appearances; in a 60-game season, it’s a mere 186.
Imagine a hitter with 170 at-bats and 16 walks. That adds up to the required 186 plate appearances. This hypothetical hitter bats .300 with 45 hits in 150 of those at-bats but has a hot week in which he goes 12-for-20. That one week lifts him from .300 to .335.
In a long season, if the hitter had 510 at-bats and hit .300 with 147 hits in 490 of them, a 12-for-20 streak only would raise his average to .312.
The flip side is that a cold streak can sink a season batting average. Assume an 0-for-20 streak instead of a 12-for-20 one, and the .300 hitter sinks to .265 in the season with
170 at-bats but only to .288 in a season with 510.
In the extreme, the shortterm effect could give us the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941.
The last hitter above .400 after his team’s 60th game was the Braves’ Chipper Jones at .409 in 2008, on his way to a .364 season. But we can see some challenges in equivalent time frames in the last 10 years. In the decade 2010-19, no qualifier hit higher than Josh Hamilton’s .359 in 2010. But the situation is different in a breakdown of averages from the start of a season through June 7 and from July 23 through the end of a season.
Two players hit .390 or better in that sample, both in the span from July 23 to the end of the season. The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera posted a .390 average in 2011, and the Reds’ Joey Votto hit .397 in 2016. Votto was 95-for-239 during his hot stretch. If just one out had dropped for a hit, his average for the dates baseball is being played this season would have been .402. Cabrera was 90-for-230. Two hits instead of outs would have made that .400.
Last season, the leaders were the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger at .365 in the early span and the Twins’ Nelson Cruz at .370 in the late span. Three Sox have been leaders: Paul Konerko at .371 early in 2011, Jose Abreu at .355 late in 2014 and Avisail Garcia at .361 late in 2017.
Anderson was strongest at the end, hitting .357 from July 23 onward. That was propelled by a .430 batting average on balls in play. There’s a certain amount of chance in BABiP, and high batting averages fueled by BABiP usually decline the next season.
To defend his title — or, with some BABiP magic, challenge Williams — Anderson is likely to need a super-hot streak without falling into the frigid zone. The short season just leaves no time for the probabilities to balance out.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson (shown scoring in the first inning of an exhibition game Monday against the Cubs) led the major leagues with a .335 batting average last season.