Thorn: Who invented the batting average?

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on March 8, 2012:

Let’s return to the subject of how baseball’s statistics came into being and changed over time. The text below continues, in excerpted form, the publication online, for the first time, of the opening chapter of The Hidden Game of Baseball (1984). 

 Chadwick’s bias against the long ball was in large measure responsible for the game that evolved and for the absence of a hitter like Babe Ruth until 1919. When lively balls were introduced—as they were periodically from the very infancy of baseball—and long drives were being belted willy-nilly, and scores were mounting, Chadwick would ridicule such games in the press. What he valued most in the early days was the low scoring game marked by brilliant fielding. In the early annual guides, he listed all the “notable” games between significant teams—i.e., those in which the winner scored under ten runs!

Chadwick prevailed, and Hits Per Game became the criterion for the Clipper batting championship and remained so until 1876, when the problem with using games as the denominator in the average at last became clear. If you were playing for a successful team, and thus were surrounded by good batters, or if your team played several weak rivals who committed many errors, the number of at bats for each individual in that lineup would increase. The more at bats one is granted in a game, the more hits one is likely to have. So if Player A had 10 at bats in a game, which was not as unusual in the ’60s, he might have 4 base hits. In a more cleanly played game, Player B might bat only 6 times, and get 3 base hits. Yet Player A, with his 4-for-10, would achieve an average of 4.00; the average of Player B, who went 3–for–6, would be only 3.00. By modern standards, of course, Player A would be batting .400 while Player B would be batting .500.

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Originally published: March 8, 2012. Last Updated: March 8, 2012.