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."

MLB rumors: A's have inquired on trades for Marcus Stroman, Mike Minor

MLB rumors: A's have inquired on trades for Marcus Stroman, Mike Minor

As the July 31 MLB trade deadline approaches, the A's are right there in the playoff hunt once again. 

Entering Monday, the A's currently are the second AL wild card team and sit just one game behind the Indians for the first slot. While they are 6.5 games behind the Astros in the AL West, there's no reason to completely count them out in the division race, too. 

With their eyes on October, could the A's be in the market to land a big name before the deadline? 

The A's "have inquired" on starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Mike Minor, The Athletic's Jim Bowden reported Monday. Both pitchers are highly likely to be traded, as the Blue Jays and Rangers are expected to be sellers.

Oakland could be a perfect match. 

Though the A's recently acquired Homer Bailey in a trade with the Royals, the team could use more help in their rotation as they lack a true ace. Stroman or Minor would fill that role right away. 

Stroman, 28, earned his first trip to the All-Star Game this year. He's bounced back from a rough 2018 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.249 WHIP in 20 starts this season. 

Minor, 31, also earned his appearance in the Midsummer Classic this season. He boasts a 2.86 ERA and 1.163 WHIP. 

[RELATED: A's get taste of playoff baseball in series split vs. Twins]

Through the first half of the season, the A's have dealt with multiple injuries to their rotation and lost Frankie Montas to an 80-game PED suspension. Help should be on the way in Sean Manaea and A.J. Puk, but this team has seen firsthand how important depth is with their staff. 

Quietly, the A's have positioned themselves for another push for the playoffs. It's time they put their cards on the table and add an ace.

A's get taste of playoff baseball with four-game fight with Twins

A's get taste of playoff baseball with four-game fight with Twins

As the calendar speeds toward August, the A's have their eyes set on playing more than one October baseball game this year.

With a roster that has minimal postseason baseball experience, any taste of playoff intensity can be beneficial for Bob Melvin's club, and Oakland got a little dose of it over the weekend in Minnesota.

The AL Central-leading Twins and A's dueled it out in a four-game slobber-knocker that concluded with Max Kepler's walk-off single Sunday afternoon, giving the Twins a 7-6 win and series split against the A's.

It was a series that had a serious playoff feel to it, with neither team refusing to give in.

On Saturday, the A's stunned the Twins on Khris Davis' two-out, two-run single in the top of the ninth, giving the A's a 5-4 win. The Twins returned the favor Sunday when Luis Arraez singled off All-Star closer Liam Hendriks and scored on a triple by Ehire Adrianza to tie the game at six. After Hendriks struck out Jason Castro for the second out, Kepler roped a single into left-center field and the party was on at Target Field.

The A's leave Minnesota at 57-43, one game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for the second AL wild-card spot. The Twins currently lead the Cleveland Indians by three games in the AL Central and appear primed to make a return to October baseball.

An October return to Target Field certainly isn't out of the question for the A's, and this series helped give the A's another sense of what awaits them in the playoffs should they continue on their current trajectory. 

[RELATED: Optimistic Beane hopes A's are active at trade deadline]

Last season, the A's walked into the AL Wild Card Game against the New York Yankees and looked overwhelmed by the stage en route a season-ending 7-2 loss at Yankee Stadium. After getting a taste of playoff baseball last year, the A's are hoping to make a deeper October run this season. 

They got another taste of playoff-like intensity over the weekend against a team they could see in October, and it can only benefit them as the dog days of summer turn into tense fall nights.