Chris Davis Is A New Breed Of Mendoza Line Hitter

Illustration for article titled Chris Davis Is A New Breed Of Mendoza Line Hitter

Hitters at the Mendoza Line are almost definitionally not very good, and players with poor averages usually don't hit a lot of home runs. You have to hit the ball to hit it out of the yard, after all. Lately, though, there have been more exceptions to those rules than ever before.


This season, Chris Davis is in line to become the 25th player in MLB history to hit under .210 and hit 20 or more home runs. (.210 is an arbitrary mark, but we set the bar there to catch those whose flirtation with the Mendoza Line has turned to outright romance.) Mark Reynolds and Mike Moustakas are on pace to join the list as well. If all three maintain their averages and home run rates, this season will tie 2010 for having the most players to reach this "achievement."

This is an interesting thing, an expression of the modern offense. Despite a lot of handwaving about steroids and shifts and such, the real difference between baseball as it's played now and as it was played 10 or 15 years ago is just that hitters are striking out a lot more; when they actually make contact, they're hitting basically the way they did when every team had a chemistry lab set up in the clubhouse. More strikeouts lead to lower batting averages, meaning there are more sub-.210 hitters, but because balls are still flying when they are hit, some shitty hitters are going to show off some real power to go with their terrible averages.

The reason there were only three cases of this before the '80s is the same reason homers in general weren't as common—prioritization. It's common for hitters today to be willing to trade contact for power in a way that was pretty rare in the past. Consequently, of the 25 players to have this home run-batting average combo, eight of them (nearly one-third) have come since 2007, with a few more likely to be added by the end of the season.

Here's a table showing every player who batted under .210 with more than 20 home runs. As you'll note, it's not the worst list to be on. You have to be pretty good at something to keep a job while being unable to make contact with a baseball.

Daryl Spencer200.2081953NYG
Willie Kirkland210.2001962CLE
Dave Kingman240.2031973SFG
Dave Kingman370.2041982NYM
Gorman Thomas220.2091983TOT
Dave Kingman350.2101986OAK
Steve Balboni240.2071987KCR
Darrell Evans220.2081988DET
Rob Deer260.2101989MIL
Rob Deer270.2091990MIL
Mark McGwire220.2011991OAK
Rob Deer250.1791991DET
Rob Deer210.2101993TOT
Ruben Rivera230.1951999SDP
Todd Hundley240.2071999LAD
Mark McGwire290.1872001STL
Pat Burrell210.2092003PHI
Richie Sexson210.2052007SEA
Aaron Hill260.2052010TOR
Carlos Pena280.1962010TBR
Mark Reynolds320.1982010ARI
Adam Dunn410.2042012CHW
J.P. Arencibia210.1942013TOR
Dan Uggla220.1792013ATL
Chris Davis200.1932014BAL