Nearly a decade after Moneyball explained the importance of on-base percentage — and how it was being undervalued at the time the book was written — Bob Costas and nearly every other baseball announcer still can’t help but announce every player’s batting average as they stroll to the plate for the first time in a game. Nonetheless, there may be a small sign that batting average has lost more of its juice: Curtis Granderson’s MVP candidacy.
We are well aware of why the Yankees center fielder deservedly is one of the favorites to win the award. As of this morning, he has 39 home runs and 111 runs batted in. Visitors to FanGraphs note his .399 weighted on-base average and 6.7 wins above replacement. On the other hand, Granderson is hitting a pedestrian .266. In contrast, Adrian Gonzalez is leading the majors in hitting with a .339 batting average, Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .317, Jose Bautista is at .306, and Dustin Pedroia is at .296.
To put Granderson’s .266 into context: No one has won a MVP award with a batting average so low. Not Cardinals shortstop Marty “Slats” Marion, who hit .267 (.686 OPS) during the war-influenced 1944 season. Not Roger Maris, who broke the single-season home run record in 1961 with a .269 batting average.
OK, there is little reason to expect that we will witness the same kind of rough-and-tumble debate over whether pitcher wins matter, since no one yet has claimed that Granderson’s low batting average should keep him from winning, in contrast to those who kvetched last year about Felix Hernandez’s 13-12 win-loss record. (He ultimately captured the Cy Young award.) As noted above, many old-school voters stubbornly see Ws as the holy grail of pitching, but will occasionally ditch BA in favor of other traditional statistics, such as HRs and RBIs.
Now about Granderson’s defense . . . (Just kidding — sort of.)