Relative Batting Averages

This article was written by David Shoebotham

This article was published in the 1976 Baseball Research Journal


Who has the highest single season batting average in major league history? The modem fan would probably say that Rogers Hornsby’s .424 in 1924 is the highest. Old timers would point out that Hugh Duffy hit .438 in 1894. But the correct answer is Ty Cobb with .385 in 1910.

How can .385 be higher than .43 8? The answer is when it is compared to the average of the entire league for the year in question. This is the only way performances from different seasons and leagues can be compared. Thus a hitter’s relative batting average, which is the true measure of his ability to hit safely, is computed as follows:

 

 

As a further refinement (since it is unfair to compare a player to himself) the player’s own hits and ABs can be subtracted from the league totals, thus giving an average relative to the remainder of the league.

As an example, compare Bill Terry’s National League leading .401 in 1930 to Carl Yastrzemski’s American League leading .301 in 1968. At first glance the 100-point difference would make it appear that Yastrzemski’s average should not be mentioned in the same breath as Terry’s. But look at the calculations of relative averages:

 

 

The relative averages are almost identical, meaning that had the two performances occurred in the same season, the batting averages would have been within a few points of each other. The big difference, of course, is that in 1930 the National League had a combined average of .303, the highest of any major league in this century (and two points higher than Yastrzemski’s 1968 average), whereas in 1968 the American League had a combined average of .230, the lowest for any major league ever. (A relative average of 1.30 indicates that a player’s batting average was 30% higher than the remainder of his league.)

The following two graphs show league averages since 1900. It can be seen that the 1 920s and 30s, following the introduction of the lively ball, were fat times for hitters. Both leagues reached their recent lows in 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher.” Note that for the last three seasons the American League’s Designated Hitter rule has artificially raised the league’s average and thus lowered individual relative averages.

 

 

The table below shows the highest single season relative averages since 1900. The list is clearly dominated by Ty Cobb, who has 10 of the top 19 averages, including the highest of all: 1.594 in 1910. Interestingly, the second highest relative average is Nap Lajoie’s 1.592, also in 1910. That epic batting race, enlivened by the offer of a new car to the winner, resulted in a major scandal, the awarding of two automobiles, and incidentally the two highest relative averages of all time. Rogers Hornsby’s .424 produced the highest National League mark of 1.51, but this ranks only 14th on the list. (Duffy’s .438 reduces to a relative average of about 1 .42.) Note that five of this century’s .400 averages do not qualify for this list.

 

Single Season Relative Average Greater Than 1.45








Lea.

Rel.

Rank

Player

Year

League

AB

Hits

Avg.

Avg.

Avg.

1

Ty Cobb

1910

Amer.

509

196

0.385

0.242

1.594

2

Nap Lajoie

1910

Amer.

591

227

0.384

0.241

1.592

3

Nap Lajoie

1904

Amer.

554

211

0.381

0.243

1.570

4

Tris Speaker

1916

Amer.

546

211

0.386

0.247

1.570

5

Ty Cobb

1912

Amer.

553

227

0.410

0.263

1.560

6

Ty Cobb

1909

Amer.

573

216

0.377

0.242

1.560

7

Ty Cobb

1917

Amer.

588

225

0.383

0.246

1.560

8

Ty Cobb

1911

Amer.

591

248

0.420

0.271

1.550

9

Nap Lajoie

1901

Amer.

543

229

0.422

0.275

1.530

10

Ty Cobb

1913

Amer.

428

167

0.390

0.254

1.530

11

Ted Williams

1941

Amer.

456

185

0.406

0.265

1.530

12

Ted Williams

1957

Amer.

420

163

0.388

0.254

1.530

13

Ty Cobb

1918

Amer.

421

161

0.382

0.252

1.520

14

Rogers Hornsby

1924

Nat.

536

227

0.424

0.281

1.510

15

Joe Jackson

1911

Amer.

571

233

0.408

0.271

1.510

16

Joe Jackson

1912

Amer.

572

226

0.395

0.263

1.500

17

Ty Cobb

1916

Amer.

542

201

0.371

0.247

1.500

18

Ty Cobb

1915

Amer.

563

208

0.369

0.247

1.500

19

Ty Cobb

1914

Amer.

345

127

0.368

0.246

1.490

20

Honus Wagner

1908

Nat.

568

201

0.354

0.237

1.490

21

Cy Seymour

1905

Nat.

581

219

0.377

0.253

1.490

22

George Sisler

1922

Amer.

586

246

0.420

0.283

1.490

23

Joe Jackson

1913

Amer.

528

197

0.373

0.254

1.470

24

Tris Speaker

1912

Amer.

580

222

0.383

0.263

1.450

25

Stan Musial

1948

Nat.

611

230

0.376

0.259

1.450

26

George Stone

1906

Amer.

581

208

0.358

0.247

1.450

27

Joe Torre

1971

Nat.

634

230

0.363

0.251

1.450

28

George Sisler

1920

Amer.

631

257

0.407

0.282

1.450

29

Honus Wagner

1907

Nat.

515

180

0.350

0.242

1.450

 

With the modem preoccupation with home runs, high relative averages (not to mention high absolute averages) have become rare. The only relative average over 1.45 in recent years is Joe Torre’s 1971 mark. For a look at other recent high marks, the next table shows the highest relative averages of the last 20 years. It is interesting to note that Rod Carew’s 1974 and 1975 marks would probably be well over 1.45 except for the Designated Hitter rule in the American League.

The final table shows the all-time leaders in career relative average. Not surprisingly, Ty Cobb tops the list with an average that is just a few hits short of 1 .40. Close behind Cobb is Shoeless Joe Jackson, though the closeness of their averages is deceptive. Jackson’s career was abruptly terminated while he was still a star performer, and therefore he did not have the usual declining years at the end of his career that would have lowered his average. During the years that Jackson averaged 1.38, Cobb was averaging a fantastic 1.50.

It can be seen that despite the preponderance of pre-1920 hitters in the single season leaders, the career list contains players from all periods since 1900, including four who are active. Rod Carew, who in 1975 moved past Ted Williams into third place, seems destined to be one of the all-time leaders in relative average. Whether all four active players will finish their careers among the leaders is an open question, but at least they show that hitting for high average is not altogether a lost art.

 

Highest Single Season Relative Averages During Last 20 Years (1956-1975) 








Lea.

Rel.

Rank

Player

Year

League

AB

Hits

Avg.

Avg.

Avg.

1

Ted Williams

1957

Amer.

420

163

.3S8

0.254

1.530

2

Joe Torre

1971

Nat.

634

230

0.363

0.251

1.450

3

Roberto Clemente

1967

Nat.

585

209

0.357

0.248

1.440

4

Mickey Mantle

1957

Amer.

474

173

0.365

0.254

1.440

5

Rico Carty

1970

Nat.

478

175

0.366

0.257

1.420

6

Norm Cash

1961

Amer.

535

193

0.361

0.255

1.420

7

Rod Carew

1974

Amer.

599

218

0.364

.257*

1.410

8

Harvey Kuenn

1959

Amer.

561

198

0.353

0.252

1.400

9

Rod Carew

1975

Amer.

535

192

0.359

.257*

1.400

10

Pete Rose

1969

Nat.

627

218

0.348

0.249

1.390

11

Carl Yastrzemski

1967

Amer.

579

189

0.326

0.235

1.390

12

Ralph Garr

1974

Nat.

606

214

0.353

0.254

1.390

13

Pete Rose

1968

Nat.

626

210

0.335

0.242

1.390

14

Roberto Clemente

1969

Nat.

507

175

0.345

0.250

1.380

15

Bill Madlock

1975

Nat.

514

182

0.354

0.256

1.380

16

Hank Aaron

1959

Nat.

629

223

0.355

0.259

1.370

17

Matty Alou

1968

Nat.

558

185

0.332

0.242

1.370

18

Tony Oliva

1971

Amer.

487

164

0.337

0.246

1.370

19

Roberto Clemente

1970

Nat.

412

145

0.352

0.257

1.370

20

Ralph Garr

1971

Nat.

639

219

0.343

0.251

1.370

*Designated Hitter rule in effect

 

Lifetime Relative Average Greater Than 1.20 (Over 4000 ABs)







Lea.

Rel.

Rank

Player

Years

AB

Hits

Avg.

Avg.

Avg.

1

Ty Cobb

1905-1928

11429

4191

0.367

0.263

1.390

2

Joe Jackson

1908-1920

4981

1774

0.356

0.258

1.380

3

Rod Carew

1967-1975*

4450

1458

0.328

0.247

1.330

4

Ted Williams

1939-1960

7706

2654

0.344

0.261

1.320

5

Nap Lajoie

1896-1916

9589

3251

0.339

0.258

1.310

6

Rogers Hornsby

1915-1937

8173

2930

0.358

0.275

1.300

7

Tris Speaker

1907-1928

10208

3515

0.344

0.266

1.290

8

Stan Musial

1941-1963

10972

3630

0.331

0.258

1.280

9

Honus Wagner

1897-1917

10427

3430

0.329

0.258

1.280

10

Eddie Collins

1906-1930

9949

3311

0.333

0.265

1.260

11

Rob.Clemente

1955-1972

9454

3000

0.317

0.254

1.250

12

Tony Oliva

1962-1975*

6178

1891

0.306

0.246

1.240

13

Pete Rose

1963-1975*

 8221

2547

0.310

0.251

1.230

14

Harry Heilmann

1914-1932

 7787

2660

0.342

0.278

1.230

15

Sam Crawford

1899-1917

 9579

2964

0.309

0.252

1.230

16

George Sisler

1915-1930

 8267

2812

0.340

0.278

1.230

17

Babe Ruth

1914-1935

 8399

2873

0.342

0.279

1.230

18

Matty Alou

1960- 1974

 5789

1777

0.307

0.252

1.220

19

Joe Medwick

1932-1948

 7635

2471

0.324

0.266

1.210

20

Paul Waner

1926- 1944

9459

3152

0.333

0.275

1.210

21

Lou Gehrig

1923-1939

 8001

2721

0.340

0.281

1.210

22

Bill Terry

1923-1936

 6428

2193

0.341

0.282

1.210

23

Joe DiMaggio

1936-1951

 6821

2214

0.325

0.269

1.210

24

Hank Aaron

1954-1975*

12093

3709

0.307

0.254

1.210

25

Jackie Robinson

1947- 1956

 4877

1518

0.311

0.260

1.200

*Active player

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