If More is Better, Why Are There No More .400 Hitters in Baseball?

More is better.

Several years ago, a Harvard professor named Stephen Gould tried to figure out why there are no more .400 hitters in baseball. The last .400 hitter was Ted Williams, who hit .406 in 1941.

This season, Jose Altuve, a 24-year-old right-handed Venezuelan who plays second base for the Houston Astros, hit .341 to lead the major leagues. Now .341 isn’t too shabby, but it’s far short of .400.

So it has been 73 years since someone hit 4 out of 10 pitches well enough to get on base. Curiously, the average hitting percentage of a major league baseball player in 2013 was .253, down slightly from .262 the year Williams hit .406.

Lots of baseball monkeys will argue, but baseball is a relatively simple game. You throw the ball. You catch the ball. You hit the ball. And if you’re good—really good—you get paid a lot of money. Altuve, by no means the highest paid baseball player, made about $1.5 million (base salary) this year, but that number will reportedly climb to $6.5 million in 2019.

Baseball and Gould’s study came to mind recently when I read a 2014 report from the FBI’s Training Division. The intent of the report was to study—yet again—the effectiveness of caliber. The theory the FBI questioned was that a large caliber bullet gave a cop better “stopping power” than a smaller caliber. The FBI noted that most law enforcement shootings result in only about 30 percent of the rounds hitting their target.

Thirty percent seems ludicrous. It means that 7 out of 10 cop bullets fly off to kill innocent bystanders or smash into brick walls. Pathetic, right?

Actually, when you stop to think about it, 30 percent is major league. A baseball player who consistently hit .300 could play until he needed a nurse to help him push his walker toward first base. Of course, the average annual salary of the local 30 percent police patrol officer is around $52,000 which doesn’t quite put him (or her) in Jose Altuve’s financial league even though over the duration of his major league career Altuve has only hit .302—30 percent.

Altuve_bat

A 30 percent hit rate doesn’t sound so good until you compare it to a commonly known statistic such as major league baseball hitting, for instance. The 2014 big league batting champion, Jose Altuve, hit .341—well shy of .400—but his lifetime major league average is only 30 percent. In a highly stressed moment, could you hit a target 30 percent of the time? Probably not, and thus more is definitely better, more cartridges in the magazine…and more back-up magazines.

So—and don’t you just love numbers!—for each percentage of on-base hits Altuve made $50,000. And your local cop? $1,733.

What does it all mean?

As a Harvard professor, it was probably a requirement that Stephen Gould frame his remarks about .400 hitting in almost incomprehensible terminology such as, “I have proposed that 0.400 hitting be reconceptualized as an inextricable segment in a full house of variation …”

When you at last fight your way past the off-putting jargon and Ivy League BS in Gould’s essay, you come to this final sentence (fragment): “… 0.400 hitting disappears as a consequence of increasing excellence in play.”

Widely recognized among America’s tightly-knit intelligentsia as a “veteran intellectual daredevil” (Publishers Weekly) Gould applied charts, graphs, and dozens of pages of inexplicably perplexing yammering to a simple baseball proposition. In the end, he believed, he felt, he thought, he guessed, he supposed that there had been a “general improvement of play” since Ted Williams hit .406.

To understand the world as seen through a cop’s eyes, he often has a few seconds to make a decision whether or not to draw a handgun and pull the trigger. That time is even less for a batter facing a 90 mph fastball. A fastball takes 0.4 seconds to reach home plate after it leaves a pitcher’s hand, but a hitter needs a full 0.25 seconds to see the ball and react.

So if a cop, a trained professional, only hits 3 out of 10 and a professional athlete has about the same proficiency, is there some magic in that statistic, that level of accuracy, that quality of shooting and hitting? Is the 30 percent level actually some sort of human benchmark? And how do we as non-professional, amateur concealed carry advocates measure up? My guess? Not so good.

FHP

Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Josh McLeod and his German shepherd Stazi. In a stressful situation, even a skilled law enforcement officer has difficulty putting more than 30 percent of his rounds on target. Given the statistical distribution of shots arranged on a bell curve, says Harvard professor Stephen J. Gould (since deceased), a modestly trained individual may or may not achieve even that level of success. What this suggests is that more is better. In a gunfight, a magazine that holds 15 rounds is going to be infinitely more comforting than one that holds six. The dog—Trooper McLeod warned me against trying to pet him—gives this law enforcement officer a distinct advantage in any critical situation.

It’s like Jose Altuve’s first game in the major leagues. He’s nervous. There’s a big crowd. He perspires. His hands shake. On this day, he isn’t hitting .341. He’s still at 0.000.

I’m imagining the scenario of a modestly trained individual—you or I (though I understand that I generalize)—with a concealed carry firearm. We find ourself stepping up to the plate on the biggest day of our life. We’re scared. Our hands shake. How many rounds does our gun hold? Are five, six bullets enough?

I’m thinking more is better because 30 percent of six bullets—double-tap, hell, in a life-threatening situation I’m emptying the magazine and reloading—is maybe two on target. Maybe. But 30 percent of a dozen or 15 with a loaded back-up magazine? That sounds much better—and from the lowest rookie cop to the highest paid major league batter to an effete Harvard professor, we agree that more is better.