Major League batters have combined for a .237 average through the first two-plus months of 2021, a number that if it keeps up over a full season will represent the lowest mark in more than a half-century.
Hitters hope that a MLB crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances on the ball will level the playing field and lead to increased averages as the year goes on.
One item of interest: Baseball announced about a week ago that it was going to crack down on cheating; in the last seven days, MLB hitters are batting a collective .248, a marked improvement from the overall number for the season. Whether that's just standard heating up with the summer or related to the crackdown is up for debate.
But on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast, Hall of Famer Rod Carew, a seven-time batting champion, said the approach of modern hitters has more to do with low batting averages than anything else. He noted that pitchers have been doctoring baseballs for decades but only lately have hitters been swinging for the fences as much as they do now.
"Today they're trying to get kids that can't hit home runs to uppercut the ball and make a lot of outs in the sky," said Carew, who in addition to doing work with Twins hitters in recent years just put out a new book called One Tough Out. "They forgot there are more base hits on the ground than hitting the ball in the air. I could have hit home runs if I wanted to, but that wasn't my job."
Carew, who never hit more than 14 homers in a season, said he could have hit 15 to 25 a season with a different approach.
But his way was good enough to yield powerful results: Carew led the league in on-base percentage four times and even led the league in OPS at 1.019 in 1977 when he won the MVP award with a .388 average — which included 14 homers, 16 triples and 38 doubles.
He did it against pitchers who were constantly looking for an edge — and who weren't afraid to skirt the rules to get it. Their methods might not have been as sophisticated as some of the substances allegedly used now, but they still had an impact, Carew said.
"I used to tell Gaylord Perry, you can throw (a spitball) to me as much as you want. I'm just going to pick out the dry side and hit it on the dry side. He threw me a lot of them, and I expected that to happen whenever I faced him. That's part of the game. Pitchers will do different things," Carew said. "We had pitchers that would have pieces of sandpaper in their gloves to scuff the ball. Before I started playing, one of the big-time catchers in the major leagues would just kind of clip the baseball on his spikes before throwing it back to the pitcher. It's amazing what pitchers can do with a little nick or rub."
Carew said he thinks the game would improve if hitters were more refined with their approach at the plate.
"I think the shift is overrated, and I'm disappointed in the players who don't try to take advantage by making adjustments to go the other way," he said. "So many kids in today's game are guessers. They're guessing what the pitch is going to be instead of learning how to track the ball and then having an idea of what they want to do with it. I learned how to track the ball by trying to pick the ball up out of a pitcher's hands and reacting to that instead of trying to guess along."