Yesterday, Jscape asked whether or not a .400 batting average was possible in today's game.
It's not, and I'll explain why.
When you look at Ted Williams' stat line from 1941, there's one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb. In the process of coming to the plate 606 times, knocking out 185 hits, and hitting 37 home runs, he only struck out 27 times.
Let me repeat that. The year he hit .400, Ted Williams only struck out 27 times.
If you put aside expansion, integration, and other social and geographic issues, I would argue that the single biggest difference between the 1940s and today's game - and the reason why nobody will hit .400 again - is the increase in strikeouts:
There's probably plenty of reasons for this increase. Better conditioning, tougher competition, less of an emphasis on "small ball", PEDs, the list could go on and on. However we got to this point, it's clear that strikeouts are no longer abhorred but are instead accepted as part of the game.
What does any of this have to do with hitting .400?
We're all familiar with batting average on balls in play. Ted Williams BABIP in 1941 was .378, which was high, but not unusually high. Eight different hitters have exceeded that mark in just the past three seasons alone. How about batting average on balls NOT in play, though?
He struck out just 27 times, which is amazing in and of itself, but even more amazing is the fact that he did so while hitting 37 home runs. What this means is that his average on balls not in play - calculated as HR/(HR + SO) - was .578, which, put together with his .378 BABIP, nudged his overall average up to .406
If anybody hopes to hit .400 again, he's going to have to hit for a very, very high BABIP while posting about as many home runs as strikeouts. In today's game, this combination of skills is nearly non-existant.
In 2011, most of the best BABIP hitters are usually slap-happy middle infielders and centerfielders. They may only strike out 50 times per season, but are unlikely to hit more than 10-15 HRs. Conversely, most of the players capable of hitting 50 HR are going to strike out 150 times in the process.
This means Ichiro won't be hitting .400 any time soon. He's never hit more than 15 HR or struck out fewer than 53 times, and the.440 BABIP he'd need to offset the difference is downright impossible. In fact, Albert Pujols is probably the one and only active player who's chances of batting .400 even exist within the realm of slim statistical possibility, because he hits for power and strikes out very infrequently. However, he'd still need to match his career low in strikeouts (50) while hitting around 65 HR and posting a .380 BABIP to get the job done.
Impossible? No. Improbable? I'll let you be the judge.