As I watch this, Joe Mauer is being intentionally walked for the second time tonight (Friday, July 14). He’s currently .373 and I don’t think that will change tonight. .373 is impressive batting average for any player in any given month. .373 is an even more impressive average for any player after half a season. .373 for a catcher who plays above average defense? Well, that’s pretty much ridiculous. A quick sojourn to baseball-reference.com (which is one of only two historical baseball statistic sites–along with retrosheet.org–that you will ever need) taught me (as well as reminding me that Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were really, really amazing) that no everyday catcher has hit .373 for a season since 1895 when some guy named Jack Clements hit .394 for the Philadelphia Phillies. However, as my roommate will tell you, nothing that happened before 1900 counts anyway. I mean, was it really baseball if there was only one league? What the heck?
Regardless, it’s been a really long time since any major league catcher hit better than .373. If Mauer maintained current batting average for the remainder of the season, it would be **** impressive.
However, I’ve listened to some silly people who, apparently, aren’t content with their sideburn-clad hero hitting .373. These people like to talk about a mystical .400 average. While I’ve not heard many sources I would deem credible really discuss this as a legitimate possibility–even two weeks ago when Joe was hitting .391–I thought I’d do a little statistical investigating.
As we’ve already established, Mauer is hitting .373. The Twins have played 88 games in which Mauer has gotten 292 at bats. His 109 hits are impressive for a catcher and lead to the high average. Very simple math tells me that Mauer will get about 246 at bats in the twins remaining 74 games. If that estimate is correct, then Joe needs to get 107 hits in order to hit .400 on the season. In other words, he would need to hit .435 over the remainder of the season in order to finish the season at .400. That’s pretty much impossible to do. Joe would need to get only two fewer hits than he already has in 46 fewer at bats. I just don’t see it happening, especially if he can’t bust this mini-slump he’s in right now.
So I don’t think that Joe Mauer can hit .400 this year. I would say the odds are worse than 1:1000. But you know what? That’s okay. If Mauer hits above .350 that would still be considered one of the best hitting seasons for a catcher in history, and that should be enough.
Not only do I not believe that Joe Mauer won’t hit .400 this season–or any season–but I don’t think anyone will ever hit .400 again unless the rules or strategies of the game change dramatically. There are reasons that no one has hit .400 since Ted Williams last did it in 1941. The game of baseball was very different then, and I think it’s changed in such a way that has disadvantaged stand-out players, both hitters and pitchers.
Something happened to baseball in 1947 that changed the game forever. Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers did the unthinkable and signed an African American second baseman for his team, making the major leagues accessable to huge portions of the population who had previously been denied access. A plethora of talented black players came into baseball and brought the overall talent level way up. When this occured the players who previously looked like dieties instantly became mortal and began regressing to the mean.
It’s a sad state of affairs that the number of black players in the league has been dwindling since the 1970s. It’s true that Joe really only faces one black starter, C.C. Sabathia. But the infusion of black players into the leagues also made the league accessable to dark-skinned latinos, and there are plenty out there who are dominating–or at least above-average–pitchers. There are two on Joe’s team.
People say that expansion has diluted the talent level of baseball. There is probably some truth to this, as the worst players in the league now are likely less talented than the worst players in the league in the 1960s. But I’ve seen little that’s convinced me that this has resulted in the overall talent in the major leagues dropping. Without expansion, some truly great players who didn’t look so great before getting the chance to shine, like Mike Piazza (who might only be the best hitting catcher of all time), would never have made it to the big leagues. I think that you could argue that expansion, but creating more opportunity for players, has actually driven the talent in the league up. I think this is evidenced by the fact that we no longer see players like Rogers Hornsby who lead the league in batting by 70 points anymore. Truly great talent just isn’t as overwhelming to the rest of the league any more.
And that’s why nobody–Joe Mauer included–will ever hit .400 again.