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While .300 hitters are vanishing breed, Phils may value it more than most

PHILADELPHIA — Bryson Stott grew up viewing a .300 batting average as a certain measure of success on the baseball diamond. If you hit .300, you were doing something right.

That understanding still applies, but it comes with some nuance. And as the .300 hitter becomes an endangered species, Stott has the fortune of occupying a clubhouse uncommonly rife with them.

“That’s all you hear when you’re playing baseball growing up – the good ones hit around .300, or that .300 is really good,” the Phillies second baseman said Friday. “But I think I’m more of, I wouldn’t say old-school in a sense to where I still value it, I think. Obviously there’s a bunch of other things to see if a guy is really good, too.”

Batting average increasingly seems like a dated stat, a sepia-toned relic of eras when the wrong things were valued in making a good ballplayer. But no one seems to have told the Phillies, who have three players chasing that mark and a handful more who’ve been there before.

Entering Friday, only eight qualified batters in MLB had an average of .300 or higher. The two closest to it were Phillies: Bryce Harper is ninth at .299, followed by Stott at .297. Add in Alec Bohm’s .282, good for 18th, and the Phillies are the only club with three hitters in the top 20 in batting average.

They also have Trea Turner, the 2021 batting champ with a .328 average in Los Angeles, and Nick Castellanos, who hit .309 with the Reds that year. Their manager still values batting average, even as his preferred leadoff man seems trapped in the .180s.

“I think I’m more of a historian, so I think if you hit .300, that’s top shelf to me,” Rob Thomson said. “That’s a goal people should shoot for.”

Not many people are shooting for it, at least not successfully. Only eight qualified hitters stand to cross .300 this season. Corey Seager is hitting .345, but behind on required plate appearances. So, too, Josh Naylor and his .306.

The last time so few hitters batted .300 for a season was 1968, the fabled Year of the Pitcher, in which six guys crossed the .300 mark and the mounds subsequently had to be lowered.

High-average hitters have vanished in recent years. Eleven players hit .300 last year and 15 in 2021. Contrast that to 24 in 2013 and 40 in 2003.

Some of that is due to a data-driven reappraisal of what actually leads to offense. Pick your analytics-fueled revolution, but on-base percentage and the launch-angle emphasis on power are more reliable predictors of runs. Hitting three singles in 10 trips can be less conducive to scoring than one home run and nine strikeouts.

The Phillies’ history is instructive. Harper hit .309 in 2021, making him the first Phillie to cross the threshold in a full season since Ben Revere hit .306 in 2014 and .305 in 2013. (Bohm hit .338 in COVID-shortened 2020.) Yet because Revere had so little power – 162 of his league-leading 184 hits in 2014 were singles – and walked so seldom, his OPS+ was actually well below league average.

Some hitters can do both, Harper among them. But for most, when given a choice, power is prioritized.

“There’s a lot more stuff now that people look at to determine a good hitter, and I agree with that too,” Stott said. “But if you look up and see Bryce Harper hitting .305 or Mookie Betts hitting .310, it’s like, whoa. It’s not something you can take away.”

Stott is more worried about what balance is best for him. He hit .234 as a rookie, with a long struggle to start the season before settling in. He’s not just improved his batting average by 61 points but he’s done so while raising his slugging percentage 90 points. In 127 games last season, he hit 10 homers and 31 extra-base hits. He’s at 41 extra-base hits and 12 homers this year, while his walks have stayed flat.

Stott likens the push-pull to a pitcher’s velocity. A reliever can come in and bring it at near 100 mph each pitch. But that might not suit his aims. You sacrifice control and finesse to be one-dimensional. Hitting is the same way, whether that dimension is power or pure average.

“It’s finding that balance, in what each individual does,” Stott said. “You get the guys like Mookie and Freddie (Freeman) and Bryce, you get those super freak athletes that are going to hit 30 home runs and still put up a high batting average. I think that’s just the type of players they are.”

It’s also a balance for teams, which Thomson has threaded pretty well. Someone like Kyle Schwarber, whose average (.184) is below what’s considered acceptable at the leadoff spot but still gets on base (.332) and slugs (34 homers), can make the most of high-average hitters elsewhere in the lineup.

Thomson, who has been steadfast with Schwarber leading off, doesn’t do it because he scoffs at batting average. On the contrary, he’s thrilled to see Stott and Harper challenge such a well-known standard.

“I think it’s even more special now, because it is rare; that .300 is not what it used to be,” Thomson said. “If you hit .300, that’s pretty good.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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