Athletics

Former A's Shooty Babitt, Bip Roberts on MLB's sinking batting average

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.

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for A's second half]
 
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."

Bruce Maxwell's Colin Kaepernick kneel still sparks hate, misunderstanding

Bruce Maxwell's Colin Kaepernick kneel still sparks hate, misunderstanding

Programming note: Tune in to "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. this week on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming here.

Like Colin Kaepernick, he is a black man who saw injustice and was compelled to respond.

Unlike Kaepernick, his chosen field is dominated by whites.

Like Kaepernick, he imperiled his career over a matter of principle.

Unlike Kaepernick, he has been largely forgotten.

Bruce Maxwell is neither bitter nor regretful. He is scarred. And when he speaks, it is with a strong sense of emotional fatigue. As if he has been through the fire and accepts that the burns upon him will ache forever.

“I still have the messages,” he says. “I had a kid the other day come out on my team and just said, ‘Eff you,’ on my Instagram. He was like, ‘People like you are the problem that we have in this country.’ I had a guy reach out to me last year ... in the middle of my season, down here in Mexico, that told me that he hopes me and my family die a horrible death. I still get ...

“Three years and I still get it. It's the hate. It's the hate.”

Maxwell was speaking this week as a panelist on an NBC Sports Bay Area roundtable discussion, “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” in reaction to global outrage after George Floyd was asphyxiated beneath the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. This was the latest example of the conduct Maxwell had hoped to eradicate.

On Sept. 23, 2017, Maxwell, a biracial catcher for the Oakland A’s, decided to bring attention to police brutality afflicting the black community. Following the lead of Kaepernick, Maxwell dropped to one knee during the playing of the national anthem before an A’s-Rangers game at the Oakland Coliseum.

“I was just going into a year in the league,” he says. “I was a nobody. I was still technically a rookie. I didn't have millions of dollars in the bank, but this was much bigger than my paycheck.”

With baseball being a sport that generally tilts to the political right, Maxwell might as well have put a bullet into the leg of his Major League career.

Maxwell finished the season with the A’s and, with 109 games on his resume, all with Oakland, hoped to compete for a job in 2018. Five weeks after kneeling for the anthem, he was arrested in Scottsdale, Ariz., and initially charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon – pointing a gun at a food deliverer – and disorderly conduct. In July 2018, after pleading guilty disorderly conduct, Maxwell was sentenced to two years' probation.

A bullet into the other leg of his career. Maxwell appeared 18 games in 2018 and saw his statistics decline for a third consecutive season. He was not re-signed by the A’s that November and has not since been signed by any of the 30 MLB teams.

Maxwell, 29, took his career to Mexico, where last season he was an All-Star, posting a .325/.407/.559 slash line, with 24 home runs and 112 RBIs in 109 games with Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican League.

Though the light that represents MLB gets a little smaller every day, Maxwell, 29, hasn’t given up. He’d love another chance at the bigs. He also realizes his social-justice moment has become a burden that can’t be rinsed off his back.

And he’s OK with that. Indeed, the Floyd tragedy causes Maxwell to relive his own experience, all while the resultant global outrage -- the rioting and looting and increasingly violent police response -- simultaneously drops a knot into his belly.

“I have so many raw emotions about this,” he says. “All I can see is everybody, including George Floyd, I can see everything that came before him. I see Breonna Taylor (an African-American EMT shot in her bed in Louisville on March 13) sleeping in her bed peacefully. I see everything. And it's so many ways to feel and you can't really put it into words.”

[RELATED: Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in "HEADSTRONG"]

What seems to bother Maxwell most is not what he might have given up, or what he might never again have. It’s the lack of progress on an issue that, in all humanity, should not be an issue at all.

“Nobody wants to see the message,” he says. “All they see is who's doing the stance. It's difficult to comprehend. It's sometimes difficult to stay on that path, but at the same time, it makes it worth the fight because these things need to happen for change to commence in the world that we live in.”

Maxwell dared to make a highly visible but inarguably peaceful protest for a cause any human must consider just. He did it on a baseball field, which takes monumental courage.

Bruce Maxwell should be remembered. Forever. As will Colin Kaepernick.

Why A's Lou Trivino feels bad for minor league players during MLB halt

Why A's Lou Trivino feels bad for minor league players during MLB halt

Editor's Note: NBC Sports California spoke with Lou Trivino on Friday, May 22, four days before the A's announced they would stop paying $400 weekly stipends to their minor league players for the remainder of the season, and other teams released players.

For reasons of sanity and economy, the return of Major League Baseball this summer is the primary focus of the league and the players' association.

But A’s reliever Lou Trivino also realizes the entire minor league ecosystem would suffer in a multitude of ways, potentially going dormant.

At this point, there are no imminent plans for 242 farm teams and its players across the continent.

“You feel bad for those guys,” Trivino said. “Especially the ones that need the development, that need the reps.”

Most big league players have the advantages of time and accessibility to personal training facilities. They can stay conditioned during shutdowns, without much setback.

But it’s not the same for everyone.

“Some of these minor league guys, they’ve been stuck inside all day and not maybe able to do stuff,” Trivino said. “That really hinders their ability to perform on the field next year.”

Another lesser-discussed aspect to keep an eye on is MLB’s annual amateur draft, which has been reduced from 40 rounds to five rounds.

[RELATED: Braden opposes MLB's proposal]

“You’re not going to see the 11th round guy like myself maybe make it,” Trivino said. “You’re not going to see the late-round guys potentially get that chance and that’s heartbreaking. I’m that guy.”

Trivino started his minor league career in 2013, appearing in 170 games as a starter and reliever at every level, until getting his first chance at the major leagues with Oakland in 2019.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]