An Homage To Batting Average

CHICAGO, IL: Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox strikes out against Carlos Zambrano of the Chicago Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Maybe batting average isn't a very good stat by itself, but that doesn't mean we can't have fun with it. Here are three batting average-related questions for the end of the season.

You shouldn't feel sorry for batting average. It still has its fans. There are people out there who still think it's extremely useful, even though it's outdated like compact discs, AOL subscriptions, and car insurance.

But it's hard to just give up on something like batting average. It was the constant -- something plastered all over the television graphics, baseball cards, and newspaper sports sections as you grew up. It's a simple enough stat. The problem is that when someone says He's a .300 hitter!, that's the baseball equivalent of "(Your blind date) has a good personality!" It's some information, but it leaves out so much. Does he hit for power/want to have kids? Does he swing at the first pitch every time/look like Julian Tavarez?

So these three questions are an homage to batting average, which straddles the line between useless and useful, but your dad still wants to talk about it.

1. Can Adam Dunn catch up with Rob Deer?
Rob Deer was like a prototype Adam Dunn that a focus group tested before Dunn went into mass production. Deer had 4,512 plate appearances, but just 462 singles in his major-league career -- an amazing display of doing anything but hitting singles. In 1991 Deer hit .179, which was the lowest mark for a qualified batter since Bert Adams at the tail end of the Dead Ball Era.

Dunn is struggling a little bit, if you haven't heard. He's hitting .158 this year, which is lower than the career batting averages of both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. If Dunn averages three at-bats in Chicago's remaining 64 games, he needs 50 hits to get to .200 -- a .260 pace. He's done that for a full season before, but you have to go all the way back to last year, which seems like a decade ago.

But while round numbers are nice, there's something significant to me about him catching and passing Deer. That was always the belittling comp for Dunn, and it was unfair to both Deer (who was better than a punch line) and Dunn (who was always way better than Deer ever was). And if Dunn has a batting average worse than that of Deer's worst season, that'd be a shame. It'd be like when Luke looked down at his mechanical hand and thought, "No! Maybe I'm just like my dad after all!"

2. Can the Mariners eclipse the average AL team from 1968?
In 1968, the Oakland A's hit .240/.304/.343. They scored 569 runs. They were one of the best offensive teams in the league that year, for it was 1968, the year some stupid kid lost the ball in March, forcing the entire league to play with a bunch of wet socks wadded together.

When I'm bored, I like to leaf through team pages for 1968 on Baseball Reference. It was like everyone was on heroin and playing night games during a power outage at Petco Park. The Detroit Tigers won 103 games because they scored 671 runs -- that's about what a pretty bad offense would score today, but in '68 it was a juggernaut. The Chicago White Sox hit 71 home runs, (now) just two shy of the single-season record for a player. Steve Carlton had a 2.99 ERA ... and an ERA+ of 97. I've always been fascinated by 1968. What was it like to watch baseball that season?

American League in 1968: .230/.297/.339

Seattle Mariners in 2011: .223/.288/.329

Maybe I'm cheating the theme by including OBP and SLG in those lines, but will you look at that? We're here! It's a time machine back to olden days! After I stop for a chocolate Coke at the soda fountain and burn a bra, I'm going to watch a Mariners game!

3. Will the Rockies finish with a batting average below the NL average?
A history of Rockies' batting averages:

 

See if you can guess the year they actively tried to normalize the hitting environment!

In the new era of Coors Field, the Rockies have come oh-so-close to a league-average mark, but they've never quite slipped below. This year the league average is .251, and the Rockies are hitting .255. So close! It would be an impressive feat for a team playing half its games in Coors, and they've never done it since coming into the league, but this could be the year.

So here's to the batting average -- that weird kid who you palled around with in grade school before he was held back a year. He seemed so nice.

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