As further illustration that nobody seems to be able to hit in the majors this season, on-base percentages have dipped to historically low levels. If the season ended Thursday, the National League leader in on-base percentage would be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen with a .399 percentage.
The last time anyone in either the NL or the American League produced a league-leading mark that low was 1988 when Kal Daniels topped the National League with a .397 on-base percentage for the Reds.
Dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, there have only been a handful of occasions when the league leader in on-base percentage dropped under .400. It practically never occurs. The last time anyone led the AL with a mark under .400 was Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski with a .395 in 1965.
This season’s American League leader is Detroit’s Victor Martinez and he is at .403. If he goes into a slump Martinez could fall below the .400 mark, too. The only time in baseball’s modern era when the on-base percentage leader in both leagues came in below .400 was 1965. The same year Yaz led the American League with his .395, Willie Mays led the National League at .398. Outside of that season you have to go back to 1883 when the American Association was the other major league besides the National League for on-base percentage league leaders to both have sub-.400 totals.
To some degree this is rather an abrupt change. Before this season Cincinnati Reds first-baseman Joey Votto led the NL in on-base percentage for four straight years with a magnificent high of .474 in 2012. However, Votto has been injured most of this season.
Likewise, in the American League, for three of the past four years Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera has led the league, with a high of .448 in 2011. While still producing an excellent all-around year Cabrera has been a tad off this year and his on-base percentage is .379 – good, but not great.
Leadoff men are supposed to be the ones who reach base most often. It’s part of the job description. But nobody in the job in either league is leading either league. Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon has been hailed for knocking in a large amount of runs from the leadoff spot (70, while clubbing 18 home runs and batting .285), but his on-base percentage is .331.
Year of the pitcher
This is all additional evidence that 2014 has been the year of the pitcher. Lower on-base percentages are a byproduct of more strikeouts. We are on a path where no single batter is likely to hit 40 home runs. The absolute best power hitters have accumulated runs batted in totals in the low 100s. (Just last year Baltimore’s Chris Davis drove in 138 runs.
With a couple of weeks left in the regular season there are only nine .300 hitters in the American League and only seven in the National League.
Throughout the history of the sport, Major League administrators have tweaked rules to keep the offense and defense in balance. Right now pitchers are dominant. Those in charge must keep a close eye on the trend to ensure that not every future game ends 1-0.