MLB .244 batting average worst since 1968, up after crackdown

Detroit News
By Ronald Blum |  Associated Press

New York — The major league batting average dropped to .244 this season, its lowest since the year of the pitcher in 1968, though offense picked up markedly following baseball’s midseason crackdown on grip-enhancing substances for pitchers.

MLB’s stricter enforcement had the desired impact, ending a run of 12 consecutive full seasons in which strikeouts had set records annually.

From opening day through June 2, the last day before the crackdown, batters hit .236 with a .395 slugging percentage, a .707 OPS and an average of 4.36 runs per team each game. From June 3 through the end of the regular season, the average rose to .248 with a .419 slugging percentage, a .738 OPS and an average of 4.62 runs.

There were a record 2,664 more strikeouts than hits, the gap increasing from 1,147 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 784 in 2019, when strikeouts topped hits for the first time.

While there were 42,145 strikeouts, a slight decrease from 42,823 in 2019, hits declined from 42,039 to 39,481 as computer-aided defensive shifts proliferated. The big league batting average was .271 in 1999 at the height of the Steroids Era, when there were 45,327 hits.

The major league batting average dropped to a record-low .237 in 1968, prompting MLB to lower the pitcher’s mound from 15 inches to 10 the following season and to shrink the strike zone.

Fastball spin rates declined from an average of 2,319 revolutions per minute before June 3 to 2,251 after, and velocity was virtually unchanged, increasing from 93.6 to 93.7 mph, the commissioner’s office said Monday. Curveball spin rates dropped from an average of 2,552 to 2,484 and sliders from an average of 2,462 to 2,393.

The percentage of plate appearances ending in strikeouts dropped from 24.2% before the crackdown to 22.7% after, while walks fell from 8.9% to 8.2%. Home runs increased from 3.1% to 3.4% and hit by pitches were stable at 1.16%. Those figures all exclude intentional walks.

This year’s batting average of .243799 was just below 1972′s .243807, down from .245 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and .252 in 2019. There average was in the .260s from 2001-09 before the rise of defensive shifts.

There were 5,944 home runs, down from a record 6,776 in 2019, which broke the mark of 6,105 set in 2017.

Baseball officials are concerned about the decreased action caused by the dominance of the so-called Three True Outcomes: home run, walk and strikeout.

MLB experimented with a 12-inch greater distance between the mound and home plate during a portion of the Atlantic League season but found the increased distance was largely not noticeable from the 60 feet, 6 inches, that has been standard since the NL moved back the mound by 5 feet in 1883.

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