NEW YORK – Higher velocity and increased shifts led to the major league batting average dropping to .243, its lowest since 1968.
Defensive shifts and 100 mph pitches set records this season, contributing to the worrisome offensive decline Major League Baseball is trying to address.
When the average dropped this low more than a half-century ago, MLB lowered the pitcher’s mound. Next year’s rules changes announced last month include the first restriction on shifts, a decision made over the objection of the players’ association.
“We’ve engaged in a process to develop rules that will bring back the best form of baseball,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the time.
The major league average was .269 in 2006 but fell to .254 in 2016 and .245 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then dropped by one point in each of the following years. The only seasons with lower averages than this year were the record low of .237 in 1968 along with 1967 and the deal-ball era seasons of 1884, 1888 and 1908.
Defensive shifts on balls in play totaled 66,961 this season, Sports Info Solutions said Monday, up from 59,063 last year and 2,349 in 2011. The major league-best Dodgers led this year with 2,912 shifts and NL Central champion Cleveland had the fewest at 1,600.
Batting average for left-handed hitters was .236 this year, down from .254 in 2016, when lefties were one point below the big league average.
Luis Arraez’s .316 average for Minnesota was the lowest by an American League batting champion since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski hit .301 in 1968.
Velocity has a lot of do with the fall. There were 3,356 pitches of 100 mph of more, 0.05% of the major league total of 703,918, according to MLB Statcast. That was up from 1,829 in 2021 and 1,056 in 2019.
Minnesota’s Jhoan Duran had the most 100 mph pitches with 392, followed by Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene (337), St. Louis’ Jordan Hicks (274) and Ryan Helsey (237) and Seattle’s Andrés Muñoz (209).
Duran averaged 100.8 mph with his fastball, Muñoz 100.2 and Hicks 100.1.
“Every time that bullpen door swings open, it’s velocity,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “The guys, they weren’t like that. The closers weren’t throwing like they are now. But it’s kind of the way they are growing up and now they are trained — and amazing to me, the number of them, too. It’s like they just keep coming.”
The average four-seam fastball velocity was 93.9 mph, up from 93.7 mph in 2021 and 93.1 mph in 2015, when Statcast first began measuring.
“The way the game is now, everybody’s throwing that hard. It’s not fun to face, but it’s just how the game is,” Seattle’s Ty France said. “To be able to step in the box on this stage, it was pretty cool.”
Home runs dropped to 5,215 from 5,944 last year and a record 6,776 in 2019.
The gap between strikeouts and hits narrowed to 1,135 from a record 2,661 last year. Strikeouts topped hits for the first time in 2019. After increasing annually from 2005 through 2019, when there were a record 42,823 whiffs, strikeouts dropped to 42,145 in 2021 and 40,812 this year.
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