NEW YORK — The final numbers are in, and Major League Baseball’s batting average hasn’t been this low since Richard Nixon was in the White House, a gallon of gasoline cost 55 cents and the designated hitter was a radical proposal limited to spring training experiments.
Big league hitters batted .251 this year, down two points from last season and 20 points lower than the Steroids Era peak in 1999. Lots of big names didn’t even reach the average, a group that includes Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, B.J. Upton, Brian McCann and Curtis Granderson.
The last time the average dripped this low was at .244 in 1972 — an offensive death that prompted owners to let American League teams start using DHs the following year.
Hall of Famer George Brett says times have changed from the days fastballers like Nolan Ryan and Goose Gossage stood out.
“Now a lot of guys throw 95 or higher,” Brett said. “Every team has them.”
For much of the season, most games seemed like throwback nights — and not just because of vintage-jersey promotions. Colorado’s Justin Morneau won the NL batting title at .319 — the lowest for a batting champion in either league since the late Tony Gwynn hit .313 for San Diego in 1988.
Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout had 111 RBIs, the fewest for an AL leader in a non-shortened season since Baltimore’s Lee May had 109 in 1976. Just 12 players had 100 or more RBIs, down from a record 59 in 1999.
“Before it used to be are we facing ‘that guy,’ and if we’re not we’ve got a good shot out there,” Granderson said after a frustrating first year with the New York Mets. “This season I’ve noticed each team you go up against you’re always facing ‘that guy,’ and it tends to be three, if not four or five times out of the rotation.”
And gas comes out of the bullpen, too. Dominant closers and setup man have led to a .241 batting average from the seventh inning on — MLB’s lowest since STATS’ records began in 1974. There were just 116 complete games — the second-lowest ahead of 112 in 2007 and down from 1,089 in 1974.
“There are so many teams that are bringing in guys throwing 95-98 (mph), more than I’ve ever seen,” San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Teams averaged 4.07 runs per game, the lowest since 1981 and down from 5.14 in 2000, when sluggers ruled the field and performance-enhancing drugs were rampant. The homers-a-game average of 0.87 hasn’t been this small since 1992.
Agents trying to sell teams on their position players tell executives that when it comes to home runs, 30 is the new 40 now that bulked-up boppers no longer are the norm.
“PED use is way down,” San Diego Padres manager Bud Black said. “I do think that has knocked down some of the averages based on what we know about PEDs and how they affect a player’s performance.”
With 95 homers, Kansas City became the first AL team to reach the postseason despite being last in the majors in long balls since the 1959 Chicago White Sox hit 97, according to STATS. Oakland pitchers had a .290 opponents’ on-base percentage, the lowest in the big leagues since the 1981 Houston Astros and the lowest in the AL since 1972.
“The sport is changing. Pitching has been dominant,” outgoing baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. “There are a lot of theories about it. But everything does go in cycles. There are a lot of good, young hitters coming in, so I’m not concerned about it.”
And with all that pitching, strikeouts per game set a record for the seventh straight season. Teams averaged 7.70 per game, up from 4.77 in 1979.
“Guys don’t care if they strike out. I used to get (angry) when I struck out,” Brett said. “Now strikeouts are part of the game.”
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen and Janie McCauley, and freelance writers Paul Ladewski and Scott Orgera contributed to this report.