Batting average is probably the most famous and most often used statistic in all of baseball. It allows a good measure of a hitter's ability and success ratio at the plate. Whether comparing contemporary hitters to one another or comparing today's ballplayer to the all-time greats of the game, calculating batting averages can make for some interesting comparisons. Learning how to calculate batting average and interpreting the number can help you with pinch hitting decisions in your fantasy baseball league or allow you to properly keep statistics for your neighborhood Little League team. Batting average is probably one of the simplest of all baseball calculations and can be mastered in minutes.

The formula

The mathematics behind calculating batting averages is very simple. The formula:

Batting Average = Hits / At Bats

Ichiro Suzuki single season hit leaderSo for example, Ichiro Suzuki had 262 hits (a major league record) in 2004 with 704 at bats. His batting average is easy to calculate.

BA = H / AB

BA = 262 / 704

BA = .3721 or .372 (a batting average is normally rounded to three digits)

The math is simple and the only real problem is determining what counts as an at bat. Many people confuse at bats with plate appearances. There is NO at bat credited for the following reasons: a base on balls, hit by pitch, reaching base on catcher interference, sacrifice fly or sacrifice bunt. These all count as plate appearances but not an at bat. For example, a hitter gets a single, double, walk and is hit in the arm. In this case he has two hits in two at bats and is batting a perfect 1.000 for the game, but he has four plate appearances.

What is the highest and lowest average possible?

A really good hitter in baseball bats .300 and a great hitter will bat .350. A truly rare event is for a batter to bat .400. This has not happened since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. Even our greatest singles hitters of the last two decades: Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Ichiro Suzuki could not hit .400. A batter hitting a strong .300 mean he is only successful 30% of the time. That doesn't sound very successful, but that just demonstrates how hard it is to hit a baseball! The lowest average possible is .000 which is zero hits in any number of at bats because zero divided by any number is zero. The highest batting average possible is 1.000 which means a hit in every at bat. There have been a handful of people retire with the highest batting average possible because of only having 1 or 2 at bats. People use the phrase 'batting a thousand' to imply perfection. Even though batting averages are decimals, they are spoken as if they were hundreds. For instance a .375 average is said as "batted three seventy five" and not "batted three hundred seventy five thousandths" which is the mathematical way to properly say this decimal.

How batting leaders are determined in the major leagues

A hitter leads the league in hitting if he has the highest batting average and also has at least 3.1 plate appearances for every game his team has scheduled. In a current 162 game schedule, this means a hitter must have 502 plate appearances to qualify. Years ago, the minimum qualification was based on at bats. This actually penalized hitters who drew a lot of base on balls. Ted Williams once lost the batting title even though he had the highest average because of this rule. He had enough plate appearances but he had so many walks that he didn't have enough at bats to meet the league minimum qualifying level. Situations like this was one of the reasons the rule was changed over 50 years ago to the current rule based on plate appearances.

Tony Gwynn most National League Batting TitlesAnother special rule applies to today's potential league leaders as well. Suppose a hitter is substantially ahead of everyone else in the league in batting average, but falls a few plate appearances short of the minimum 502. This does happen. In this case, the shortfall in plate appearances are treated as at bats and added to the batter's at bat total and his batting average is recalculated. If he is still in the lead, then he can officially be awarded the title. This does happen! In 1996, Tony Gwynn had a decent lead on Ellis Burks, but Tony had missed many games due to injury. His final stats for the year:

Plate Appearances = 498

At Bats = 451

Hits = 159

So his batting average is 159/451 which is .353 and best in the league. But Tony did not have 502 plate appearance, he only had 498. The adjustment calls for treating the missing plate appearance like hitless at bats. So to recalculate his totals for qualification purposes make his stats:

Plate appearances = 502

At Bats = 455

Hits = 159

This reduces his batting average to 159/455 or .349 batting average. Notice how the at bats were raised but NOT the hits. Tony still finishes ahead of Ellis Burks who batted .344 for the year. So Tony wins the batting title. It is important to remember that the statistics used to calculate his adjusted average are NOT reported in the official statistical register but just used to make sure he is the legitimate winner.

Batting average fun facts

When a hitter "hits his weight" this is very bad unless he is exceptionally fat! Ty Cobb holds the baseball record for highest batting average in a career with a whopping .366 average. Joe Jackson batted an incredible .408 in his rookie season. Carl Yastrzemski saved the American League from the embarrassment of having no .300 hitters by squeaking out a .301 average in 1968 – The Year of the Pitcher.

You are now well on your way to calculating batting averages with ease. There are online batting average calculators as well, but it is good to understand the meaning behind the numbers. It is also easy for you to make a simple spreadsheet in excel to create your own batting average calculator for doing multiple players at once. After you have perfected calculating batting averages then you can tackle the slightly more difficult jobs of calculating a pitcher's earned run average or a batter's slugging percentage. Now you can help your youngster understand what the numbers on the back of baseball cards mean. The more knowledge you have about baseball statistics, the more fun the game can be!