Batting title requirements and Melky Cabrera
Recently, there’s been some discussion about Melky Cabrera being suspended for the rest of the season, while leading the league in batting. Some feel it is unfair to give the batting title to someone who was not only suspected of cheating, but was actually caught. Some creative minds have pointed to the regulation that states that batters must have 502 plate appearances (PA) to qualify for the batting title, and note that in an apparent fortuitous twist of fate Melky only had 501 when he was suspended. Problem solved! Since he doesn’t qualify for the title, there is no need to deal with the embarrassment of the batting champ being a convicted cheater. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple…
A couple of clarifications. First of all, note that the rule on minimum standards for individual championships (10.22) doesn’t explicitly state that 502 PAs are necessary. It is 3.1 PA per game scheduled – which does multiply out to 502 for a 162 game schedule (click here if you don’t believe me). But if a tie-breaker game is necessary or during a strike or otherwise shortened season, the number of necessary PAs will fluctuate accordingly. Well, this doesn’t look like it will be an issue this year.
More importantly, there is a provision that says that if a batter is short, but would have had the title, if he had enough PAs he would still get it. So, in Cabrera’s case, his average will be recalculated to what it would be if he made an out in his missing PA. So instead of calculating his batting average as 159 ÷ 459 = .3464 (Note: he has 501 PAs, the difference from 459 is walks and sacrifices) it will be recalculated as 159 ÷ 460 = .3457. Either way it would show up on the back of his baseball card rounded to .346. Currently in 2nd place is Andrew McCutchen. He is batting .341 which is close, but he will need to bat over .400 the last couple of weeks of the season to end up higher than Cabrera.
This rule is in place for very good reason. Imagine a batter who is batting .400 but is injured for a month during the season, and ends up with only 500 PAs. For the sake of argument assume all his PAs were at bats, so he was 200/500. Should the fact that he was 2 plate appearances short take away his batting title? This rule will work to recalculate his batting average as 200/502 which is .398 and if that is still the highest in the league will award him the title. I’ve heard some arguments that part of the title is endurance, so yes, if somebody is even one PA short they should not qualify. I don’t buy that logic. What if a player got called up mid-season and just missed the magic 502 number? What about a player who plays everyday hitting near the bottom of a weak hitting lineup? He could conceivably only get 3 PAs each game – that would only be 486 for the season. Finally, what if a batter played every game, but had an inordinate number of times he reaches base on catcher’s interference? For some reason of which I have yet to understand the logic, these are not counted as plate appearances.
And this rule HAS been applied in the past. In 1996, Tony Gwynn batted .353. But he only had 498 PAs, going 159 for 451. In second place was Ellis Burks at .344. MLB calculated that if Gwynn went hitless in his four additional necessary plate appearances he would have batted .349. Still enough to win the batting championship, and he was awarded that title.
So using the fact that he only came to the plate 501 times should disqualify him from getting the batting title, is a non-starter in my opinion. What if he had been caught the following day and had 505 plate appearances? If you want to argue that because he was caught cheating with PEDs he should not be eligible for any awards or titles, then feel free to do so. It’s a slippery slope, but at least it’s a stronger argument than “he was one PA shy of qualifying”.