The batting average is one of the basic statistics in baseball. It is calculated simply by dividing the total number of hits by the total number of official at bats. For example if a player has 100 at bats and has 25 hits, his batting average is written as .250 and is called “batting two-fifty.”
Henry Chadwick, an early baseball writer and statistician, is credited with first calculating the batting average. His pioneering work made baseball statistics easily understandable which enabled the American public to understand and enjoy the game.
The batting average is a simple statistic. It does not differentiate between singles, doubles, triples or home runs. All hits are counted equally. Batting average also does not include walks or hit by pitches. Because neither of those count as official at bats. Over the years, additional statistics (OBP, Slugging, OPS, etc) have been calculated to incorporate more factors into a single statistic.
Generally a player who has a batting average over .300 is considered a good hitter. A player who has a batting average below .200 is considered a poor hitter. This number is affectionately referred to as the Mendoza line, named after a defensively minded shortstop named Mario Mendoza who has a career batting average of only .215. The Major League average all time is somewhere between .260 and .275
Napoleon Lajole owns the Major League batting average record of .426 which he set in 1901. While Ty Cobb has the highest career batting average in Major League history with .366.
Each season, the player with the highest qualifying batting average in either the National or American league wins the batting title (one-third of the Triple Crown). Currently, a player must average 3.1 plate appearances (PA) per game over the course of a season (502 appearances in 162 games) to qualify for a batting title. Ty Cobb holds the record in the American League by winning the batting title either 11 or 12 times (some statisticians claim that Cobb won the 1910 title, while other claim it was Lajole). In the National League, Honus Wagner and Tony Gwynn both have 8 titles. If Cobb won 12 titles, then he also holds the record for most consecutive titles with 9. If not, the record belongs to Rogers Hornsby who won 6 in a row from 1920-1925. Hornsby also has the second highest batting average (.358).
The Holy Grail of batting average is .400 which has not been achieved on the Major League level since Ted Williams did it in 1941. In 1994, Tony Gwynn threatened to become the first batter since World War II to reach .400. He was batting .394 with 45 games to go when the season suddenly ended with a strike.
The batting average is an easily identifiable statistic in a league that is in love with stats. It may not be the most accurate way to calculate a player’s effectiveness, but it is a solid way to generally assess a batter’s ability to generate hits.