I was reading through Ken Burns Baseball over the weekend, and I was struck by a passage that noted Ty Cobb struck out 357 times in his career and sported a .367 lifetime average. While this passage turned out to be incorrect, since it didn’t count the first eight seasons of the Georgia Peach’s career, it got me thinking. Treating batting average as a round number, I wondered how many players who had at least 5,000 plate appearances retired with a higher batting average than number of strikeouts. From what I can tell, it’s a rare feat, and it might be unheard of today.
Baseball’s undergone many shifts over the years, and one of them is that players strike out much more these days. Joe Sewell played from 1920 to 1933 and fanned just 114 times in his career. Mark Reynolds almost did twice that in 2009. Heck, Sewell had whole seasons where he struck out less than Reynolds does in a day. Granted, Reynolds is far from the only player seemingly less concerned with making contact than swinging for power. The trend seems to go back to at least the 1950s. I don’t know what it is, if pitching has gotten better or coaches have de-emphasized contact hitting, but batters like Sewell are long gone from baseball.
The following is a list of players with at least 5,000 plate appearances who retired with a higher batting average than number of strikeouts. The list is by no means comprehensive, and I invite anyone to add to it. I organized the list by year of debut, and I think it’s worth noting that I didn’t find anyone who has played in the last 50 years or retired with a batting average below .300 and accomplished this feat. This exercise would also appear to favor lighter-hitting players, though Joe DiMaggio may deserve an honorable mention for his 369 lifetime strikeouts against a .325 batting average and 361 home runs.
The list is as follows:
|Shoeless Joe Jackson||164||.356||5690||1908-1920|
I wonder if any current or future player will eventually make this list.