Thorn: The strange story of the sacrifice fly

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on December 12, 2019:

This morning, while still on my first cup of coffee, I spotted an item of interest on Twitter, below. These AP and UPI reports of a December 12, 1930 change to baseball’s scoring rules recalled for me an ancient conundrum: if a batter was henceforth to be charged with an at bat for advancing a runner from third base to home, what would Ted Williams’ .406 batting average in 1941 have been if calculated today?

I knew, from years of editing Total Baseball, that sacrifice flies were counted in 1908–1930 and in 1939 but inseparably from sacrifice hits; thus a batter who advanced a runner to any base while being retired himself would be spared an at bat. For purposes of his batting average his sacrifice would be chalked up as a non-event, like a walk.

Play-by-play reconstruction by Retrosheet might permit some untangling of data for those years. In 1924, for example, Rogers Hornsby batted .424, including 13 sacrifice hits, the majority of of which may have been sacrifice flies. Maybe I’ll get around to an analysis of the Rajah’s daily record, but his batting average would be unaffected.

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Originally published: December 12, 2019. Last Updated: December 12, 2019.