This question pops up every so often when somebody flirts with hitting .400 during a major league season.
But that’s all it really is, right? Flirting. Since Ted Williams hit that magical number of .406 in 1941, nobody has been able to hit .400 since. Williams was the eighth player in the modern era to hit .400 in a season, so it had been done a decent amount of times before, but is there something to the fact that nobody has done it since? Daniel Murphy of the Washington Nationals is hitting .397 coming into play on Friday. If the season ended today, that would be the highest batting average since Williams’ .406 season in 1941. We, of course, know that the season doesn’t end today, nor will it end any time soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still ask the question. Will we ever actually see another player hit .400 again?
No, we won’t. For one, the pitching is substantially better now than it was in 1941. But you can’t use that excuse as your primary reason, because Tony Gwynn hit .394 in a strike-shortened 1994 season, George Brett hit .390 in 1980, and Rod Carew hit .388 in 1977. You’ve had three players come somewhat close in the last 40 years or so, but even the guys who have come close, you can still kind of question it. Like I mentioned earlier, in Gwynn’s .394 season, the Hall of Famer only played 110 games because of the strike, and George Brett only played in 117 games in 1980. Ted Williams played in 143 games in 1941.
Continuing off of the idea that the competition is better now than it was back then (because it is), perhaps the biggest reason that we’ll never see a .400 hitter again — defense. The athletes in today’s game are far superior to what we saw in the 40’s. Hits that were falling in back then are now being caught by some of the bright, young stars of today’s game. And in addition to that, it’s also easier for them to make those plays because the ballparks are smaller and there’s less ground to cover than there was during that time period. Beyond that, what’s the biggest thing that has robbed so many of today’s sluggers of dozens upon dozens of hits? Defensive shifts. I mean, the best of the best will just hit the ball to the vacated spot, but there’s no denying that defensive shifts have taken a substantial amount of hits away from all the great pull hitters in the game.
Taking nothing away from Ted Williams — he was the greatest hitter who ever lived — but if he played in today’s game, I would bet my life savings that he never would’ve hit .406.