Former A's Shooty Babitt, Bip Roberts on MLB's Sinking Batting Average

Back in 2000, Major League Baseball's league batting average was .270. Fast forward to 2018 and that number had plummeted to .248, MLB's lowest average since 1972.
Through the first half of the 2019 season, the league average has crept slightly back up to .252, still a far cry from even 10 years ago when it was .262.
There are also far fewer .300 hitters these days, with just 16 qualified batters reaching the achievement last season, compared to 42 in 2009 and 53 in 2000. Last year's batting champions, Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich, hit .346 and .326, respectively. In 2000, Todd Helton and Nomar Garciaparra each hit .372.
So what has caused this sharp decline in batting average over the past two decades? Former A's infielder Shooty Babitt, now an A's scout and NBC Sports California analyst, believes the main reason is an enhanced focus on hitting for power.
"No question about it," Babitt told NBC Sports California. "It's the approach and the ideology about hitting and what production is. There was a time when the game was played differently. You're going to talk to people from back in the day and they're going to tell you that it's a totally different game. ...  Everybody's hitting the ball in the air, everybody's trying to hit homers, and teams are structuring their lineups that way."
To Babitt's point, teams now are much more focused on slugging percentage and OPS than batting average. Hitters' swings have changed to try to maximize launch angle, leading to more home runs than ever before, but also more strikeouts.
"Me personally, I watched, I lived, I played through the old type of baseball," Babitt said. "This is a different type of thing."
Fellow NBC Sports California analyst Bip Roberts played 12 seasons in the majors and hit .294 for his career. He offers another explanation for baseball's sinking batting averages.
"Guys are throwing harder and guys have to get set up a little sooner because of that," Roberts said. "It's one of those situations where they've adapted to the miles per hour that have been added to the game. So I give them a lot of credit for that." 
As it relates to the A's, only four players are hitting above .250 this season, with Marcus Semien leading the squad at .271. As a team, Oakland is tied for 17th in MLB with a .246 batting average. However, the A's rank sixth with 145 home runs.
"A lot of these guys have different mechanics than we did because of baseball now," Roberts explained. "We were more of the mindset of using the 5 1/2 hole (between third base and shortstop) on the opposite side and using the entire field as an approach all the time. Now, some guys use that approach all the time, but the consistency, I think because of mph, makes a difference."
Despite the lower batting averages in baseball today, teams are actually scoring more runs than they did 10 years ago. MLB squads are averaging 4.80 runs per game this season, the highest number since 2006.

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For now, it appears that singles hitters have lost some luster, with home runs taking on more value than ever before. But Roberts isn't convinced that will last forever.
"I think it's always going to go back to pure hitting," he said. "That will never go out of style. It will always play. It's like having a good pair of shoes and a black suit."

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